Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3,000 Years Ago in Greece

It's really hard for Americans to get their brains around the concept of the "city-state."  I would say that Americans have a strong sense of national identity, the history that we share stemming from Lexington and Concord, Gettysburg from coast to coast.  Perhaps the closest we can come to understanding the "city state" is to relate to the city or state from which we hail.  For me, it was only when I moved to Massachusetts at the age of 30+ that I was stumped when posed the question, "Where are you from?"  For a number of years I clung to my Southern California roots, refusing to claim "being from" Massachusetts.  After nearly 20 years of residency in New England, Massachusetts is "home."   Yet I still pause at the question, "Where are you from?"  Where am I from?

In the ancient world there was no such confusion.  Identity was rooted in the village, or city state, where you were born...and your ancestors, as far back as anyone can begin to remember, were born.  Mycenae, nestled within the Arcadia Mountains, is considered, by southern Greeks, to be the place where Greece began, marking the "beginning" of Greek history.

 Myth and fact are inextricably entwined when speaking of Mycenae.  Heracles (Hercules), worked and performed mighty feats in this area.  King Agamemnon was from Mycenae.  Civilization there dates back to 1200 or 1300 B.C., the bronze age.  The time of pre-history, before the age of writing.  Mycenae was the dominant force throughout the region during this ancient time, sacking and taking control of many city states in the Aegean.  Finally Argos rose to power and took control of the region.  Homer mistakenly names Agamemnon the King of Argos; attributing this title to Agamemnon makes sense since Argos was the powerhouse of the Aegean later, after the "discovery" of writing.  It is simply mind boggling to consider the age of the artifacts found here, dating back over 3,500 years.

The geography of Greece is the driving force behing the development of the city state (a self governing region).  Mountains and the sea drive people to settle in contained pockets of communities.  The highest point within the region was usually fortified to withstand invasion from outsiders.  Within the walls lay more than just the palace.  There were also dwellings for living, graneries, burial grounds--everything the population would need to carry on, should there be an attack on the city.

Words can't adequately capture the simple geography of Mycenae.  The acropolis of Mycenae is on the top of a fairly tall hill.  Duh.  The word "acropolis" literally means city (polis) on top of the hill (acro).  But the word and desciption doesn't convey just how "on top of the world" you feel when you are standing next to the ancient palace ruins.  Imagine yourself on the top of Mammoth Mountain (or Wachusett, if you must).  The height is dizzying.  Now, replicate the mountain you are on into the view that meets your eyes and adjust the heights of the peaks, making some higher, some lower.  Now, carpet the slopes with olive trees.  You now have the view from the acropolis of Mycenae.

If it didn't take me about 4 minutes to upload a single photograph onto my blog (due to the limited power of my netbook), I would bore you with approximately 100 photos taken from the top of this acropolis.  I know, you are thanking God right now that I don't have this capability; I head to Athens today...home of the Parthenon!

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