Epilogue from Toynbee's "The Greeks and their heritages"
In this book, we have looked at four heritages that have been received
by Greeks from Greek predecessors at successive stages of the Greek
people's history. This history is a long one. It can be reasonably held
to have begun at the beginning of the Neolithic Age in Greece, about
4,000 years before the arrival in Greece of the first contingent of
Greek-speakers. Reckoning even only from the probable date, either
just before or just after the beginning of the second millenium B.C.,
at which Greek-speakers first established themselves in continental
European Greece, Greek history has already been in the making for
about 4,000 years, and no end to it is yet in sight. In 1974 the
future of the whole human race may be in doubt, but the Greeks have
as much or as little chance of surviving as the other peoples of
the present-day world. In any case, the Greeks' history, within the
time-span of its first 8,000 or 4,0000 years, provides evidence for
the effect of heritages from the past on a people's efforts, at later
stages, to cope with the current problems of the day.
This is a subject of general interest, for every people's life is
affected, at every stage of its history, by its image of its past
--and this whether the image is or is not an accurate reflection of
the authentic historical facts. Few, however, of the peoples that
possess distinctive identities today have had as long a history as
the Greeks, if we interpret history as meaning, not simply
chronological duration of existence, but a continuity of identity
which has never ceased to be recognized and to be remembered.
Four thousand years of Greek history have produced four Greek
heritages, each of which has had an effect on the life of the
Greeks in later stages of their history. The Hellenic Greeks
received a heritage from the Mycenaean Greeks, the Byzantine Greeks
received on from the Hellenic Greeks, the Modern Greeks have
received one heritage from the Byzantines and a second from the
If we compare the respective effects of these heritages with each
other, we are likely to conclude that the influence of the past is
most beneficent when memory of the past is faint and when the
veneration for it is temperate. This was the Hellenic Greeks'
relation to their Mycenaean heritage, and the Hellenes found in
this heritage of theirs the inspiration for creating a great original
Hellenic work of art, the Homeric epic poetry, which was the first
instalment of a magnificent Hellenic literature. By contrast,
the Byzantine Greeks' knowledge of their Hellenic predecessors'
language and literature was so ample, and their veneration for these
Hellenic treasures was so intense, that they were almost completely
inhibited from attempting to create a Greek literature in their own
living language, which was Modern Greek at an early stage of this
language's development. As for the Byzantine Greeks' Modern Greek
successors, they have had to cope with both a Byzantine and an
Hellenic heritage, and both these heritages of theirs have been
will-'o'-the-wisps. The modern Greeks' Byzantine heritage lured
them into imagining the 'Great Idea' and into attempting to translate
this dream into reality. Their Hellenic heritage has plagued the
Modern Greeks with the 'language question'.
In looking at the Greeks' successes and failures at different stages
of their history, we have found that they have been beset, not only
by heritages from their own past, but by the impacts of contemporary
non -Greek societies. In the seventeenth century B.C. the Mycenaean
Greeks encountered the Minoans; in the second century B.C. the Hellenic
Greeks encountered the Jews; in the second millenium of the Christian
Era, the Byzantine Greeks and their Modern Greek successors have
encountered Western civilization.
The Mycenaean Greeks adopted the Minoans' style of art, but they
then gradually infused into it some of the spirit of their own previous
native art. The also adopted the Minoans' bureaucratic system of
administration, but apparently they did not succeed in establishing
on the mainland the peace and security that appear to have been
attained in Crete. The capitals of some of the Mycenaean states
were eventually fortified, whereas the capitals of the Minoan sates
were open cities-even Mallia, which lay on a plain with a stone's-
throw of the Cretan coast.
The Hellenic Greeks did not adopt Judaism, but they became converts
to a Helleno-Judaic religion, Christianity. There is an Hellenic
ingredient in Christianity, but the Judaic ingredient in it is
dominant. Indeed, Christianity is so strongly Judaic that conversion
to it brought with it, for the Greeks, a change in civilization.
In becoming Christians the Hellenes turned into Byzantines.
The Byzantine Greeks were under increasing pressure from Western
Christendom from the eleventh century until the rise of the Ottoman
Empire in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Byzantine Greeks
accepted political subjection to the 'Osmanlis as being, in their
estimation, a lesser evil than ecclesiastical subjection to the
Roman See. In the seventeenth century-the century in which the
West began to secularize its way of life- the Modern Greeks abandoned
the Byzantine tradition of hostility towards the West, and, after
that, they were attracted towards two new objectives; political
liberation from the Ottoman rule and cultural Westernization. It
has been noted that the Modern Greeks' increasing success in finding
a place for themselves in the Western World has given them the
confidence to assert their spiritual independence of both their
Hellenic and their Byzantine heritage.
This, however, will not be the end of the story of the Modern Greeks'
encounter with the Western civilization. Since the seventeenth
century the Western civilization in its secular modern form has
become a world wide civilization that has been adopted not only by the
Greeks but also by most of the other originally non-Western peoples.
However, at the very time when the Western civilization has been
captivating the whole world it has been showing signs of spiritual
sickness. It is not yet clear how serious this sickness is, but
it is already certain that the whole world is now implicated in
the West's future fortunes, whatever these may prove to be. Thus
the Modern Greek people's future seems likely to be determined by the
common future of a Modern world that has now been united on a
global scale within an originally Western framework.
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