Soaking in history

Posted in Travel at 13:47 by RjZ

Windmills, Oia, Greece Older pictures of these windmills
show sails only on the higher one. Looks like the lower
one has since been restored as well. Ha, we did see
something special!

Well, alright, in spite of what I wrote here, the sun did come out for brief periods. It was Greece after all. I waited for about forty minutes in the cold wind to capture a few sunset pictures like this one on the almost absurdly picturesque, Oia (ee-ah). At least fifty people milled about on the corner of the island where the views of the traditional windmills and the sunset side of the city are best. They snapped dozens of pictures, too. Wait a few weeks and search the internet; I bet I won’t be the only one with a pretty picture.

The weather didn’t hold though. The Acropolis in Athens was shrouded in scaffolding and grey skies. The mountains of Kalambaka were barely visible in the mist around the monasteries perched on top of rock pinnacles at Meteora. The sites were amazing, just the same, even if my pictures won’t prove it.

Meanwhile, I gained a new appreciation for greek classical art. That stuff we see everywhere and all the time, because western civilization has been copying it, more or less (mostly more), for the last 2600 years. Not because that was so long ago; I’ve been to older places. What piqued my interest was the sophistication of Greek classical art and how it compared to the art, sculpture and pottery I’ve seen in European cathedrals and Mexican jungles. You have to wonder how so many people forgot this stuff. It seems like it was more than 1000 years before the West would create art at the level of this small community of ancient Greeks on a warm Mediterranean peninsula.

It’s interesting because I should know all this already. Greek classical art is everywhere. Fluted columns with Corinthian capitals are now seen decorating suburban homes. Still, there’s something about standing next to Zeus’ temple that really drives home how large the temple was. There’s something about looking at a traditionally decorated amphora from the 5th century BCE and wondering if they used single haired brushes to paint the eyelashes of the athlete motif. Walk along the marble (!) street to the ancient agora, (essentially the shopping mall of 2300 years ago, and where we get the word agoraphobia, fear of crowds, and maybe shopping), and it’s hard not to notice how far we haven’t come.

The ancient Greeks we’re creating beautiful architecture on a monumental scale, ornate pottery, suitable for the most chic tables, and, well, shopping malls. They had it together. The astounding thing for me, the question I kept asking, is “what happened?” How was this knowledge and skill lost for so long? How far would we be today, if we hadn’t forgotten the skills and aesthetic they had already developed, only to finally notice after 1500 years, that Aristotle already knew that the earth was a sphere.

Just like our medieval ancestors, I should have known all this, but somehow, either I forgot, or I failed to really take it in initially. But even the rain during this trip could stop me from noticing one of great advantages of travel: nothing allows you absorb history like walking around on it.

See my flickr site for a few more pictures of Greece, including a rare shot of the Acropolis in scaffolding! More to come as I sort through them.

1 Comment »

  1. Aaron said,

    May 15, 2006 at 5:19

    I wonder how much influence
    the pantheon of gods
    had on the aesthetics.

    Sure they had sun gods
    and moon goddesses
    but they also worshipped
    artisan deities
    like Hephaestus and Athena.

    Perhaps the course
    of Western Art
    would have been different
    if Paul modeled his Christ character
    after a god of the forge
    rather than a sun god.

    The religion
    could have focused
    on his carpentry…

    What Would Jesus Make

Leave a Comment