Posted in book review, Miscellany

Philosopher, Poet, and Doctor

Edgar Allan Poe’s tribute of “To the glory that was Greece” sprang from my mind when I received this month’s subscription to a British history magazine BBC History Revealed. It came in the magnificent package of ancient Greece Special, ranging from the Archaic to Hellenistic periods, from slaves to Socrates, and from Auspices to trepanation. I feel dutiful that writing about my thoughts from the reading serves a purpose of writing to achieve experiential value to gain refreshing knowledge about the famously glorious ancient Greece and creative value to record my thoughts about following impressive findings.

Surprising Opponent of Democracy
Socrates was the one who called upon Philosophy from celestial paradise into the world, took her to the villas and huts of mortals, and persuaded her to stay among them. He was indubitably the father of philosophy as Herodotus was of western narrative history. His submission to drinking fatal poison as execution for corrupting the Athenian youth by saying “Bad law is still law” is immortalized in works of art from painting to engraves, poems and plays. Woe betides anyone who would disbelieve that the most democratic thinker opposed democracy in his time. Yet don’t let sorrow turn into disappointment in betrayal because democracy in Socrates’s time was different from our modern concept and practice of republican democracy. Athenian democracy directly involved people of all classes in politics without representations for constituents. Any Athenian citizen- excluding women, slaves, and foreigners- could voice out and execute their wills however uncouth and unreasonable. This form of mob-style demagoguery without desires being reined by the judgment is what Socrates criticized, not freedom of human spirits. Naturally, having seen his venerable teacher killed by the will of demagogues, Plato was an even stronger opponent of Athenian democracy that ceased to reign in the early 4th century BC following the Greeks’ unsuccessful revolt against Macedonia rule.

Nothing is better than the simple.
Anyte of Tegea was a very popular poet of circa 3rd century BC. Anyte is considered one of the first poets to focus on the simplicity of beauty found in nature and life, which is different from most ancient Greek poetry eulogizing the mighty achievements of heroes and the majestic powers of gods. Her eloquently crafted poetry with comprehensively accessible use of simple language gorgeously manifests richly delicate emotional sensitivity that collapses the millenniums between her writing and our reading them. Although her popularity earned her the sobriquet of “Female Homer,” a comparison to nineteen-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is deemed more apposite and understandable for both poets sublimated the ordinary to the sublime with the feeling of beauty and love for nature and life.

A hole into the skull
Trepanation was a medical technique that Hippocrates, the father of medicines and doctors, codified in circa 5th century BC. He believed that there were four humors in the human body: Blood – Air, Yellow bile – Fire, Black bile – Earth, and Phlegm – Water. The idea of humourism consisted of thus: if one of them was redundant or deficient, ailments of spiritual and physical kinds arose. Therefore, drilling a hole into the skull of the affected suffering from depression, headache, fractures, or other symptoms of a mystical condition, would relieve the patient of malady. The Inca civilization was indeed famous for successful cases of trepanation, more favorably effectuated than those of 19th century American Civil War experience. However, it was Hippocrates who contextualized the procedural and impacts of the prehistoric operation. Trepanation is still performed today in the name of craniotomy.

The mists of the past seem strangely distant due to our conditioned sense of evolutionary scale in the continuum of prehistoric and modern times. However, history shows us in today’s world that the people who lived before us millenniums ago had emotions and concerns similar to ours and that human cultural progress is a collective enterprise without fully recognizing it within the circumferences of time and space. Just as Herodotus was gobsmacked by the sight of great pyramids built centuries before him, our descendants will be awe-struck to see the ancient ruins of the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building and the tires of the New York City or of Los Angeles. Time and culture are ephemeral, but cultural heritage and artifacts in the treasure of works of art and humanities passed down to posterity are eternal as long as the human race exists.