Feeling lazy, I borrowed this post from my blog on MySpace…
When philosophers, historians and writers look deep into the past for examples of truly good old days, their time machines often linger in Greece between 448 BCE and 429 BCE or even 404 BCE.
Whether we consider the Age of Pericles to be the 19 year period between the end of the Persian Wars and the Athenian leader’s death in 429 BCE or whether we say it lasted until the end of the Peloponnesian War 25 years later, these were the days of splendour when history, literature, politics, architecture, sculpture, and philosophy were the brilliant, well-nourished, and widely appreciated flowers in their elected leader’s garden.
In his book Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, Donald Kagan writes that Pericles “met the challenge of the heroic tradition by showing that democracy would bring to all the citizens of Athens the advantages heretofore reserved for the well-born few. The Athenian democracy would encourage merit in its traditional form and reward it with victory, glory and immortality.”
A quick review the discoveries and advances in all areas of art, science, and quality of life since Pericles died will convince most people that they wouldn’t want to turn the calendar back over 2,436 years even if they knew how.
Yet the Age of Pericles, within the consciousness of our world community, is a highly charged archetype that invites us to ask each other what—quite precisely—we must do to create a golden age now, living and breathing in the present tense.
It’s all too easy—and quite misses the point—to focus such a discussion on the pro and con talking points of our highly charged issues: immigration, the Iraq war, overpopulation, affordable medical care and global warming. There are larger issues afoot and they involve process more than a “fix” here and a “repair” there.
Jean Houston, in The Hero and the Goddess, aptly compares our present day mode of thinking with that of the “Homerically inspired Greek mind” as it was 2,436 years ago as linear vs. nonlinear.
Today, she writes, we “persist in looking for cause and effect and remain monotheistic (having one god or supreme principle), monophrenic (having one personality), and monocular (having one way of seeing) in our epistemology. We tend to think in a straightforward, linear fashion. All we need do is accumulate enough facts and look at them rationally and the truth—of which there is only one—will reveal itself.”
This limiting, though highly addictive approach, is rather like comfort food—fattening without a lot of nourishment. Yet, our reverence for the ways and means of science and technology brings us back to this patriarchal approach whenever we have a problem to solve and/or whenever we think solving a problem is the Holy Grail we’ve long been seeking.
Contrast this, to the mindset found during the Age of Pericles. It was, as Houston describes it, “polycentric (having many centers), polytheistic (having many gods), polyphrenic (having many selves), and polyocular (having many ways of seeing), conceiving of many causes—all of which provided a rich weave of explanation. They viewed reality as a field of unity in diversity with the One, achieving its Oneness only from the interconnecting patterns of the many.”
The unexpected bedfellows of Eastern religion, modern new age thought, Kabbalism and physics appear to be drawing similar conclusions about the nature of physical reality, leading many from diverse backgrounds to question how linear thought and hierarchal models of behaviour can possibly blend into something so foreign to us as “the way things really are.”
I especially like Houston’s “rich weave of explanation.” How boring, how shallow, and how prone to us-vs.-them thinking is anything else. We will, I believe, have to understand the merits of the rich weave over the flaws of the single thread before we find out golden age again.