Here, alongside each other, lie an Iraqi ceramic model of a river boat from around 2900 BC; a model of a covered wagon from Syria from about 2300 BC, collected by Lawrence of Arabia; Cretan jars wreathed with sinuous, octopus designs from about a millennium later; and a sixth-century BC Attic vase from Sicily, decorated with an image of a chariot. The display is designed to illustrate ancient trade routes; but what if it told a deeper story, too?
As Tim Whitmarsh, professor of ancient literatures at the University of Oxford says: “What if what we think of as the classical world has been falsely invented as European, for reasons serving the cause of 19th-century imperialism? Should the Greek and Roman worlds, albeit in different ways, be seen rather as part of the Iraqi-Syrian-Palestinian-Egyptian complex? If so, what would that mean for ideas about European identity today?”
It’s not new to think in terms of Greece borrowing from the east and south in the period before its fifth-century BC efflorescence: Greek statuary and temple-building have long been known to have had their origins in Egypt, for example, and it is well-rehearsed that there is, say, a relationship between Homer’s Iliad and the much earlier Babylonian epic Gilgamesh. Continue reading “Ancient Greece, the Middle East and an ancient cultural internet”