Since I was a child and I use to read books about the Greeks and their mythology, the Acropolis of Athens became a familiar place to me. Not in a physical way, because until recently I had never visited it, but the gods and people honoured there.
Acropolis, in Greek, means ‘the higher city’, a name given because an acropolis was built on top of a hill, and all important Greek cities had one. Probably the most famous one is the Acropolis of Athens. As I ascended the paths through the hill that lead to the upper part, where the Parthenon and other important temples are, I could not help but feel that the people who built it were a different kind of men.
It is often repeated that the current western civilization is the product and inheritor of the old Greek and Roman civilization, but I don’t think that is the case. This is also the view expressed by Oswald Spengler in his book ‘The Decline of the West’. Spengler proposes that the Greco-Roman man, that he calls ‘Apollonian’, was different from the current man, product of the current world (current understood as belonging to the time from the beginning of the Roman Catholic empire to the present time), that he calls the ‘Faustian’. Of course, there are things that have been inherited, but their way of understanding existence was different.
For the ‘Apollonian’ man the concept of the abstract value existed neither in their mathematics nor in their religion, that is to say, in their cosmological view. The sacred and the profane was to be express in a way that it was measurable. They did not conceive the abstract number and for that reason, the exploration of the mystery of existence always had a physical and measurable expression, hence the conception of their gods as having human form and attributes and their highest art being the sculpture.
Now, this is a complete paradigm shift in the way history is usually taught and understood. It implies that history is not linear, there being an ancient-medieval-modern chronology, rather, each culture, the end of it being a civilization, it’s a different epoch and men in it are particular to that epoch.
This is a biological view of history. It means understanding a culture as a biological being that goes through the same stages as a plant -or a human being- goes through. There is a birth, growth and decay, with each phase producing a different output and necessitating a different action. If each culture were to be a tree, they would be different kinds of trees, each belonging to a specific soil, adapting to different weather conditions, forming its own shape and finally producing its unique fruits. They are all trees, but they are all different.
I might not agree with all the ramifications of Spengler’s theory, which affect every single sphere of human importance and that range from the understanding of mathematics to religion, war, architecture or even consciousness, but I do agree with a great part of it.
When I was walking uphill through the Acropolis and I contemplated the temples, theatres and statues (using the imagination quite a bit, because a most of it is in ruins) and I imagined the impact that it would have had in a man of its time, I could almost understand why they regarded it as sacred place.
When I, a ‘Faustian’ man, product of this culture and civilization, walked around there, for a moment I envied them. When the Acropolis was built the Apollonian man was in the peak of the phase of the creative exploration of the mystery of existence, whereas we, now, have long passed this stage of creative exploration and we are living on the intellectual and cultural achievements of our own past.
Maybe the time for something new is approaching.
*In an earlier version I said the regarding the greeks that they did not conceive the ‘negative value’ but that is not right, I should have said the ‘abstract value’, hence it has been corrected.