A slight digression into ancient history

Posted by Helen Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tory Historian was brought up by an historian father, who had an overwhelmingly high opinion of western civilization and its progenitors, the Greeks of ancient times. Inevitably, the battles against the Persians, Thermopylae, Marathon, Salamis and Plataea were all names, familiar as household words (as the Bard said about another great battle).

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae. Well, to be quite precise, the anniversary of its beginning. The Greek army, led by the Spartan King Leonidas, held up the vast Persian army for seven days before finally succumbing to the overwhelming numbers.

The battle has remained an epitome of strength through patriotism, training and obedience as well as final sacrifice. The memorial on the battlefield, with the words of Simonides on it, says it all:

Oh foreigner, give a message to the Lacedaemonians
that here lie we, their words obeying.
The battle may not have been successful from the Greek point of view but its length and the severe Persian losses allowed the Athenians to prepare for the subsequent, ultimately victorious fighting.

It was the West’s first victory, Tory Historian learnt early, the victory of freedom over slavery.

Well, we need not go into the detailed definition of freedom and slavery. However, imagine Tory Historian’s astonishment during a visit to the recent excellent British Museum exhibition of Persian art and artefacts when all these great battles were dismissed as mere border skirmishes that did not affect the great Persian Empire at all.

Just goes to show, history may be written by the victors but to define the victors is not so easy.

1 Responses to A slight digression into ancient history

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. The older narrative of Thermopylae as an epic of the defense of the free West against Asiatic slavery is ... basically correct.

    There is a continuity from Hellas to our civilization today. The Spartans at Thermopylae are our ancestors. The struggle against Asiatic despotism is still ongoing today, in different form.

    It is all very un-PC to say these things. Which makes it even more pleasant to do so.

    I just read Christopher Dawson's book the Making of Europe (1934). A good refresher course on the various elements -- including the Greco-Roman -- that make up the West.

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