So much to say thank you for

10 05 2016


Edith Hall’s book “Introducing the Ancient Greeks” claims that although never united in ancient times in a single homogenous group, the Greek city-states had ten traits in common which defined and shaped their brilliant civilization. These included, she says, an orientation towards the sea, distrust of authority, skill in oratory, highly competitive nature and belief in excellence, open mind towards new and foreign ideas and a thrilling, restless curiosity towards the world around them.

It is this last point, I thought, which was the most exceptional. Here in Hong Kong, for example, education is highly prized – but can we honestly say that our children, for all their hard-won knowledge, are truly curious?

The book also opened my eyes to the sheer vast scope and wealth of Greece’s legacy: it is everywhere, an undercurrent that flows beneath all of Western (and by extension, also other) culture(s). It is there in free speech, democracy, philosophy, in hedonism and epicureanism, in the names of plants and animals and planets and the myths of my childhood. But it also lies in sculptures glimpsed at night in gardens in Jakarta, Japanese cartoons whether Saint Seiya or Cretian Cow, Corinthian columns in the satai roman housing estates of Bangkok, in the schlockily homoreotic swords ‘n’ sandals epics with musclebound men in short tunics doing battle with Medusas and claymation scorpions, in (Hall argues) the curves of Southeast Asian Buddhist art, via the Greek Buddhist civilizations of Afghanistan.

Greece lives on in allusions echoing through the works of Shakespeare, the great romantic poets, Donna Tartt, in the names of Indonesia and the river Amazon, lawyers in Sao Paulo and dentists in Rio (think: Glauco or Heracles), in the bluff and blunder of political rhetoric in America ( the shining city on a hill) and the neoclassical grandeur of nineteenth century monuments, and not least of all in the remains of moonlit ruins on Sicilian crags and beaches…

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Ancient Greece gave us a world of beauty.





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