Friday, 26 November 2010

Know yourself and all things in moderation

These wise words may sound familiar to some of you and those who have classic history degrees are shouting at your screens right now. I titled the post like this for reason that will become obvious shortly.

It's Friday morning and day three of a full on flu, I can barely breathe, my throat hurts I have an earache and most of all, I am bored to tears! Normally I would have cooked several meals, I have lamb shoulder ready for Guinness stew, but no I can't even touch it at the minute. I would have been to the shops for food and maybe a new book. I even have three reviews pending  till I don't get tired from more than 20 minutes of writing.  in between bouts of sleeping, eating cream of wheat and drinking tea, I sit bolt upright being odd enough to not want to be at keyboard lest I write the madness down for all to see.  And yet I hear you say, you're writing now???! I've taken a hot bath and and I'm wide awake and the flu is lurking in a corner for now. Otherwise I wouldn't even bother.

And to the point of all this. I got an e-mail from somebody at the BBC early yesterday. Very nice man telling me how a problem currently rearing it's head will be sorted in December. Seeing as how he's never been too inaccurate, I believe him, but allowed myself a moan about how there wasn't anything on cept The one Show. Now regular readers will know I worship at the altar of the British Broadcasting Corporation, in particular BBC4 and the history and arts content. That day however, having scanned the TV schedule, I found nothing that seemed to catch my interest. That dear readers was the flu talking.

Right after seeing ginger twit Chris Evans trying on the chair Matt Baker had been in just the day before, I found myself watching a repeat of Top Gear, a good one, aren't they all? And stayed on BBC3 to watch ........Young hairdresser of the year.  Maybe that was the flu talking as well, but it wasn't half bad. I wouldn't let most of those people touch my hair, but hey somebody has to be a Guinea pig.  The eventual winner was a fair choice as she not only had proper personal fashion sense and did not wear the same weird hairdo all the time like the lost in space bird who dressed like an extra from Blakes 7 and  I CLAVDIVS . Her use of original ideas and creation of hair pieces showed skill and marked her as person who deserved to go up the ladder in the hair business. Then I did something I would never do normally, but having been made to watch a bunch of gardening shows by my wife on the iPlayer ( she's sick as well and so I let here choose too), I went straight to Autumn watch and stayed till Unsprung finished. I never ever watch this stuff, but it was fascinating, had I known these people were this interesting, I would have watched ages ago. Perhaps the fact we have three pots and a balcony planter  may have put me off in the past, but no more. It took me back to my scouting days and hanging out with my grandmothers as they pottered about in their respective gardens. I've even heard myself say we'll watch that Tichmarsh thing coming up later this week.

Yes know thyself and you will too discover a whole bunch of things you thought you'd hate. You know who else knows you? The iPlayer. Yep, it's got this canny way of finding out what you like, and just because YOU may not have seen it on the schedule, it will make sure it tells you later on. In my case I got several hours of brilliant telly I had missed for one reason or another. iPplayer knew I had been watching Ancient Worlds.. and suggested unto me the following feast of  history truffles. Nuggets of programming so rich and luxurious I could feel the addiction setting in.  First up I watched Delphi , bellybutton of the world  then God's and Monsters: Homer's Odyssey,  I followed this up with Greek Myths: Tales of travelling heroes. And for pudding I then watched Aristotle's Lagoon  .

Ancient Worlds, works well in telling the big threads of the story of civilization, it takes you on a journey across the old world to places seldom now visited and  explains in a concise well illustrated style designed to get the point as clearly as possible. The presenter Richard Miles, appears to stroll casually through history, but don't be fooled, it's a concise and accurate threading of the points which lead to cities, trade, empires and war. Great human and social tides are put in a context that show how they apply even to the modern story of man, except...this was the first time we as people had done so. In the latest ep The Greek Thing, Miles shows us a strange and contradictory blend of pride, cooperation and idealism that created the laboratory  that tried every known form of government in the space of only a few centuries.

Of the lot which were all exceptionally well made, The one that made me go to sleep substantially smarter was the Travelling Heroes one. In it Robin Lane Fox presents 35 years worth of research in a 90 minute film exploring the direct links between a group of South Eastern Greeks who travelled the Mediterranean trading & colonising and their special connection with the remnants of the Hittite Empire. These same Greeks learn to write from the Pheonecians in modern day Cyprus, and add yet more details to the life story of Zeus and his kin.  The previously known elements of the Olympian deities are filled in with entire chapters the Hittites still spoke of, and because it was an oral tradition, it made sense to these Greeks, it was their God's they were talking about. Clearly the story was far older than they ever had thought and like the Hittites before them, accepted the holy places as their own as well. Interestingly, the connection and linear flow of the mythology is so compelling and strong, that in later centuries, the Church feels to he need to either demonize these places or co-opt them. Even our notion of Heaven and Hell is rooted in the Hittite traditions, the narrative is so overpowering. While I was raised a Catholic and like the idea of the one G-d we get from the Jews, this much older story captures the imagination far more and finds echoes throughout the Christian faith, from saints to the notion of the Holy Trinity and immaculate conception. A particularly interesting side note is the realization, that Hebrew as old as it is, still owes it's development to the older Pheonecian and begs the question, of just how important the Pheonicians are to every culture in the region and just maybe if you draw a continuous line how many cultures were in actual fact not merely influenced, but logical continuations of the same people. It would certainly go a long way in explaining the strong similarities in some modern peoples and why they may prefer not to go too deep in their histories lest they find out they aren't as original as they though themselves to be.

Within the Slavic Pagan tradition, we have nearly blow for blow the same gods and goddesses, the same basic older and younger layers of power and the same notions of the deities being at odds with each other in constant struggle for the control of man's hearts and minds. As a Pole these older traditions have come down to us a children's stories and tales designed to scare us to sleep, but they are in fact the old ways, the ways that find their roots in the stories those Greeks found so long ago.

The other programme of the lot that was both eye opening and as detailed as a one hour film can be, was Delphi Bellybutton of the world. Better brush up on your French as there is a lot of it, but it's not a problem for me, any road there is a translation throughout the bits in French. Michael Scott dives in head first and tackles the basics like how Delphi worked, why the place was more than just a tourist trap for people wanting a reading and how it played a role in the distribution of information in the ancient world. And that my friends is in the first 10 minutes. Most programmes designed for beginners would have meandered for a good 40 minutes before getting to the point, Michael Scott assumes you know this and takes the least amount of time without losing the first timers. He then takes the rest of the hour and walks us through the rise and fall of Delphi, the various stages of Greek ascendancy and the final gasp of power under the Romans, before Christianity became the sate religion and the capital was moved East to Constantinople.From the first time to the last ever message from the Oracle, the maxims Know thyself and , all in moderation, fought the hubris and inconsistency of humanity that would always lead to the destruction of the state and the powerful if left unchecked. 

And to think I'd thought there was nothing on telly? Know thyself.... the motto of Delphi, even today it makes sense.

I'll add pictures later when I've had a kip and some more pills ....Don't wait for me, get on the iPlayer and watch these programmes before they go into the vault for another 6 months.

1 comment:

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