Why Greece?


Published: 02/08/2014

by Pedro Olalla


Cuts in education- especially in the humanities- are never intended to save money; they are meant to undermine dissident thinking.

Why Greece?

Pedro Olalla

Audiovisual lecture delivered to the Meeting of Classical Civilization of Sagunto, Spain, on November 17th, 2012
(in response to the proposed abolition of Greek studies in Spanish education)

To all teachers

When I was a child, it seemed strange to me that Greece was in the first chapter of every book; whether it was about history, mathematics or whatever else, Greece was always in the beginning, on the horizon.
I imagined it was green, with springs, forests and mist, like the landscapes of my mother country, Asturias.
These are the real landscapes of Greece: a place, a name which in one way or another has carved its own landscape into the mind of every westerner.
For many people, the Greek landscape is the balanced and timeless outline of an ancient temple;
for others, this landscape, rooted in fantasy, is one of ruined columns, the sea and the islands of Homer, the meek and peaceful pastures of Arcadia, or the magnificent silhouette of classical Athens.
But why Greece?

Why has Greece penetrated so deeply inside of us?
Why, again and again, do all paths lead to her?
No one contests the existence of other cultures, but it is certain that no other, no other culture has been reassessed reinterpreted, preserved and universalized as has the civilization of ancient Greece.
In the Greek landscape, the olive trees form a rhythmic and ancient geometry, disturbed here and there by the sudden appearance of a cypress tree.
As a tree which lives for centuries, each olive tree of this land is an authentic natural monument which brings the people of today in close contact with their most direct ancestors, who also grafted it and pruned it, beat its branches at harvest and grew up eating its fruit.
It is a fascinating thought that most likely, since antiquity, olive oil has always had the same taste.
It is a dizzying thought.
Homer called the olive “Chloera, [Green,] aglaiokarpos, [adorned with fruit,] tanyfyllos, [and narrow, dense leaves,] kai telethoousa elaia.”
[abundantly producing olive tree.] Even before the alphabet appeared, the inhabitants of these lands depicted, in almost iconic characters with eternal symbols that might be engraved today as well, the words “olive tree”, “olive”, and “oil”.
And it is said that the goddess Athena, who gave to man the flute, the plow and the clay pot, the yoke of the oxen, the horse’s bridle, the chariot and the ship, and who taught them the science of numbers and the arts of the kitchen and of spinning who founded the court in order to unite justice and logic, gave to mortals, as a symbol of complete divine benevolence, an olive tree.
It is the tree that Athena made grow, once, on the sacred rock of the Acropolis, around which was built, afterward, the Erechtheion.
The grapevine, also, was a gift of the gods.
Dionysus introduced it to human beings, and initiated Ikarios and Oeneus into the processes and secrets of wine.
For their part, Demeter and Kore, the goddesses of Eleusis showed Prince Triptolemus how to cultivate wheat, and gave him a chariot drawn by winged serpents in order for him to spread this knowledge in the world.
Wheat, grapevine and olive tree: bread, wine and oil; the three components upon which the Mediterranean culture sustained itself and has survived to this day.
And what do we know about these things before Greece?
Little, almost nothing.
Probably other ancient peoples knew about wheat, vines and olive trees, before or contemporaneously with the Greeks, but as in so many other cases, it was the Greeks who with their myths and works, used these things to create a civilization.
Every corner of this land is in reality the scene of a myth.
Here are the mountain peaks of Olympus, the sacred abode of the gods, the waters over which Charon crossed with the souls in his boat, the beach on which Athena made Odysseus realize that he had finally reached his homeland.
I have seen the January sky at twilight over the waters of the Elisson river, where the Furies pursued Orestes with the whips of their fingers.
My footsteps led me to the distant cave where Rhea tricked Cronus by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, to the peak of Alifeira, where Athena emerged as a fully-armored daughter from the head of her father Zeus, to the lagoon where Alpheus fell in love with Aretousa, and where Hercules defeated, with arrows and bronze gongs, the fearsome Stymphalian Birds, and to the lonely peak of Mount Lykaion, where the Pelasgians worshipped Zeus and Pan equally.
Undoubtedly, Greece owes a large part of the impact she has on our hearts to the charm of her myths.
The Greeks bequeathed to us their myths, the most ancient stories of our civilization.
Their pictures unite us with the people of every era; their symbolism has repeatedly enriched and strengthened the expressions of our culture, and their position in the collective memory can no longer be replaced with any other story, neither past nor future.
In reality, we are still ignorant of the amalgam which constitutes these strange stories of gods and people, but there is one thing which is very clear: Greek myth managed to accomplish the delicate operation of blurring the boundaries between man, nature and divinity.
Thanks to the myths, the geography of Greece is unique in the world, because there, natural history is also human and divine.
Situating the birth, development and adventures of the gods in the same places where the people lived, the myth was able to establish a place for man in relationship to nature and divinity, creating a shared function and harmony between them.
In this way, the ancient Greeks invented a method of understanding the world, rather than a naive way to explain it.
They were born and grew up as a people in the fantasy of myths, which at the same time gave them consistency in their identity as an ethnic group, gave expression to their religion and civilization, and cultivated a relationship of inclusion and respect toward nature.
And they were not only the creators of their myths, but also their first interpreters and critics.
The same Greeks who passed on their myths to us wondered repeatedly about their meaning, and defined the field of logic in regard to them.
For other peoples and other religions, the exploration of nature and the approach to the human, physical and mundane signaled a dangerous distancing from the divine; however, for the Greeks this conflict did not apply.
For this reason they also bequeathed to us a position foreign to dogma and open to wonder and knowledge.
Later, Europe discredited this attitude during centuries of obscurantism and religious fundamentalism, and when she tried to regain it, she did so looking again to Greece.
Favored by the open and unifying language of myth, the Greeks enjoyed a faith without dogma.
Their religion did not consist of a belief, but in an attitude toward mystery, and an attitude of the most apparent humility.
“Zeus, whoever you may be” -Aeschylus has the chorus say- “if by this name it pleases you to be invoked by this name I call to you”.
“As I weigh all things in the balance, I have nothing to compare save you, if in truth I must cast aside this vain burden from my heart…” This attitude counseled the Greeks not to leave out of their worship the gods they did not know.
For this reason, the apostle Paul, ascending these rocks to the Areopagus [Hill of Ares], came upon an unusual altar, dedicated “to the unknown god”, and he was thus able to say, to these people who were open to anything new, that about this god, whom they worshipped without knowing, he was coming to speak to them.
Everyone listened to him: some believed him, others did not.
In contrast to the holy wars which have filled the centuries with blood, in contrast to the religious intolerance which still manifests in the world we live in, such a humble attitude continues to be revolutionary.
The absence of unquestionable dogmas, openness to new ideas, admiration and doubt, made up the ingredients of a creative and brave attitude which the Greeks called philosophy.
Philosophy, as a free and critical act, as knowledge which does not come from above but is constructed through reflection and dialogue, is a specialty which was born and cultivated in this land.
In other places as well there were wise men, talents and enlightened people, but not intellectual companions, enthusiastic accomplices in the search for truth.
This place, the Agora [marketplace] of Athens, was for a long time the meeting place of those who amicably shared the name of philosopher.
These pioneers made their own thinking the object of their reflection; they practiced and analyzed incessantly the capabilities of argument, they taught themselves and others debate, and re-thought the establishment, without fear of being attacked in a vacuum.
Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Hippias, Gorgias, Critias or Socrates: they were not exactly wise, they were friends of knowledge, philosophers.
From Socrates, there has remained for us the portrait of the most genuine seeker of virtue, the existence of which he proclaimed, but never claimed to possess; from Plato and Aristotle, what remains are the greatest and busiest structures of the world’s thought, but all of them together, Sophists, Academics, Peripatetics, Epicureans, Stoics and Cynics, left a bequest truer and more subversive than their conclusions: their attitude.
In opposition to those who so often believed they possessed the truth or had the ambition to impose what was right, Greek philosophy suggested a humble and flawless attitude: seeking knowledge, practicing freedom.
Above the Agora of Athens rise three rocky tree-covered hills: the Hill of the Muses, the Hill of the Nymphs, and the one which is called the Hill of the Pnyx.
This last, the naked summit of which regards the Acropolis opposite, is the most emblematic cradle of another great legacy from the Greeks: democracy.
Contemporary historiography usually cites that the euphoria of the Athenian victories against the Persians and the following economic and ethical blossoming opened the way for the appearance of democracy.
What simplicity! We all know that in the history of the world there have been many victories which have brought material wealth and feelings of security and supremacy, but which, for all that, did not even begin to create something similar.
Democracy emerged from the soul of the Greeks who from the time of Homer had become conscious of the idea that the life of each person -“andros psyche-” is unique, and more precious than any treasure or ambition.
It was born from the wish to define what is innate in humanity, from the incessant search for the universal, and from the belief that the idea of justice and the impulse of the will exist naturally within each human being.
2500 years ago now, within the short time of only a few decades, a unique creation took on flesh and bones on the stage front of this square: for the first time a people was inspired by the lively feeling of a society of citizens who were active, free, responsible and democratic.
Throughout the era of Pericles in this open space, the following individuals met: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Phidias, Ictinus, Callicrates, Aspasia, Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Gorgias, Hippias, Antiphon and Socrates.
How easy it is to say it! From all of these figures and from all of those who came later we inherited civil society.
Until that time in the history of humanity, a human being was not a citizen.
There were civilizations of the peak, of power concentrated in a god-king, or power shared among members of a caste; but not, however, civilizations of societies of citizens.
Democracy was created on the basis of the “demos”: a people with consciousness of its own dignity and willing to exercise it.
The experience of the Greek “polis”-cities- whatever failings they may be marked with, conferred on the society of that time feelings of freedom, justice, equality, responsibility, and of participating together in defining and defending the “Common Good,” which was unknown then, and unfortunately, in the times which followed as well.
Greek democracy had as its supreme ideals freedom and equality, ideals which, from this tribune, the citizens defended through the power of speech.
On the one hand, freedom of speech, in private or in public; freedom to take part in politics, and freedom to live according to one’s own desires.
On the other hand, “isonomia” or equality before the law; “isopoliteia” or equality in political rights, “isegoria” or equality in the use of speech.
And together with these rights, one virtue: “parrhesia”, the virtue of participating, using language to defend the truth.
The brilliance of these ideas, now that we call them to mind in their purity from the height of this rock, reveals to us how fragile and unclear it still is today, democracy in the world.
Not only Athens but also the islands and other places of the Greek peninsula labored to cultivate the project of democracy.
On both sides of the waters of the Corinthian Gulf spread the territories of two of the most important confederations of ancient Greece: on this southern side, that of the Achaeans; on the opposite shores, that of the Aetolians.
Although in the rest of the world monarchies were dominating, and the authority of the established power, the Greek federations were driven by assemblies of free citizens, committed to the identification of the Common Good.
This fragile system, based on the political virtue of the individual, survived through many generations despite conflicts of interest among Greeks.
If finally it gave way it was due to the very difficulty of the undertaking, the greed of some traitors, or the arrival of invaders from outside.
In these beautiful waters at the entrance to the Ambracian Gulf, the famous Battle of Actium took place; the complete military destruction of Mark Antony and Cleopatra which anointed Octavian as the first Roman emperor.
It seems unbelievable but from the distant Octavian Augustus until the independence of the USA, the French Revolution and the subsequent civil revolutions, no country in the world was governed by a system with completely democratic and constitutional claims.
The representative democracies of today, inherited more from the Roman “Res publica” than from the Athenian democracy, are nothing more than oligarchies which seek a legal status through controversial popular support.
The Greek democracy fell into oblivion; even the word “democracy” was delayed two thousand years before it came into western languages, and the exact idea of what this form of government signifies was reconstructed by historians and scholars just two centuries ago, based on the texts of Thucydides, Isocrates, Demosthenes and Herodotus.
The investigation of the past in a critical and reflective manner was itself, in its conception, a Greek initiative.
Leading this undertaking was Herodotus of Halicarnassus, an eager traveller born in a Greek city which was under the control of the Persians.
Herodotus did not have an intention to carve a mythical genealogy nor to compose an epic, but to understand the causes that had given shape to his era, and the reason which led him to exile: to become conscious, in other words, of the real origin of the clash between Greeks and “barbarians”.
For that reason he began to travel in the Mediterranean, ardently seeking direct testimonies from eyewitnesses of the events and their successors.
In his research he traversed the islands of the Aegean, the shores of the Black Sea, Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, Southern Italy, and almost all of Greece, in order to reconstruct what had happened in the world during the epochs of the last four Persian kings: Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius and Xerxes.
With his long and conscientious work, Herodotus invented something new: History a word which appears for the first time in his work and means, precisely, “research.”
Intellectual toil gave Herodotus practice in tolerance.
This is the famous bay of Marathon, the scene of the great battle between Greeks and Persians recounted to us by the historian.
The story bequeathed to us by Herodotus is recounted without hatred, and with empathy.
It is the fruit of a viewpoint of respect and tolerance toward all peoples and toward their customs, the fruit of an open spirit.
On the other hand, he steadfastly condemns war while he sympathizes with the sufferings and the misfortunes of both sides.
In this reed bed more than six thousand Persians died, trapped; beneath this tomb in Marathon lie the remains of the one hundred and ninety-two Athenians who fell in that battle.
“In peace, the sons bury the parents; in war it is the parents who bury their sons”.
This sentence of Herodotus, which has been repeated so many, many times condenses anti-militarism and prudence, tools with which History started to be written.
The protagonists of the Histories written by Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybius are not isolated heroes, they are not even the Greeks as a whole: they are the people, all of the people.
In this the historians followed this universal line which Homer had carved, and which will never be eclipsed from the Greek spirit.
In this universality, History identifies itself with still another great find of the Greeks: Tragedy.
This is the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, the first stage of the great tragedies.
The word “theater” means “place for viewing”; consequently, theater is not an act which is understood from the stage or from the representation, but from high up here, the tiers from which the spectators watch.
From the 5th century B.C.
Greece filled up with theaters.
The stories which were represented in these theaters were arrangements of ancient, well-known myths.
The plot probably did not contribute something new; what was meaningful was to see the heroes alone in the moment of their decision, to see, from these silent seats, how the hero evaluates his acts internally; to feel enchanted by this call to bravery beneath the inexorable strength of fate and the disobedient and unpredictable materials with which the gods made us.
Tragedy presents the conflict but does not solve it; for this reason it was a school for deeper thinking and democracy.
Other peoples arranged the narrative material of their myths, but they did not manage to extract from them the ethical conflict of the tragedies.
In other words: other peoples could undoubtedly understand the agony of a person who kills his mother to avenge the death of his father, but none of them wrote the Oresteia.
The Greeks left us tragedy, but also comedy, and lyrical poetry, and epic poetry, and history, the treatise, the short story, the dialogue, the epigram, the encomium, the nuptial poem, interpretive [hermeneutics] and preparatory [educational] writing, chorography [geographical description].
All of the literary genres in which our civilization has expressed itself and continues to express itself are inherited from the Greeks.
The great value of these people consists in the fact that in every area they codified what they imagined and they did so masterfully.
That is why as many as have followed had to refer to them, to try to make progress in relation to them.
This is an unshakeable truth which characterizes world civilization.
Literature, history, politics, law and science were developed in written form by the Greeks; but this point of departure would never have become possible without the miraculous gift of the first complete phonetic alphabet, the instrument which made it possible to transport the voice to the silence of the glance.
This process would never have been put into action without those tiny and fragile little twigs without those “gifts with voice and soul” which Cadmus gave to Greece.
If Latin stopped, one day, being an unwritten language it is owed to the fact that they took the letters from the Greeks who came out of this port of Euboea, and if the western languages began one day to be written and developed, it is owed, as well, to the fact that they received the inheritance of this alphabet.
An incalculable number of words and abstract meanings with which we express ourselves today were used for the first time in Greek: idea, logic, problem, method, theory, analysis, system, symbol, phrase, dialogue, dialectic, ethics, politics, machine, energy, mystery, meter, music, melody, rhythm, harmony.
How would the world be if this language had never existed?
Undoubtedly more brutal and dark than it is today, as difficult as it is to imagine.
Greece gave us the first material of our thought, because “I think” means nothing more than that I correlate a world of images, sensations and words; I combine without limit a vast collection of little pieces which strangely bear the imprint of the Greek stamp.
The language which for 3500 years reverberates without interruption in these landscapes is the mother tongue of abstract thought, the mother tongue of all our phonetic alphabets, the first “lingua franca”, the oldest of those still alive in spoken and written tradition, the first in literary and historical influence, the language with the first grammar and the first metalinguistic reflection.
And if we must judge by the enormous influence which it has exercised and continues to exercise over the rest, the Greek language is the most vital language in the world.
Probably the Greeks weren’t the first in everything but certainly they were the first who told us systematically about everything.
Their writings are the oldest and most complete recording of human thought and knowledge, an entry which still has not been completely understood and which, besides the fact that it inspires the present, will someday shed light on earlier stages of the world, on further knowledge of which the Greeks were simply the carriers.
Medicine, physics, science and technology left their first indelible testimonies in the writings of the Greeks.
This is the fatherland of Pythagoras, of Hippocrates, Archimedes, Euclid, Eratosthenes and of so many others who accepted the challenge of trying to understand the whys of nature.
Today, we continue to name the plants and the animals with the same names which were put into categories by Aristotle, Theophrastus and Dioscorides.
Four hundred years ago Copernicus and Kepler supplanted the so-called “geocentric system of Ptolemy” which had dominated for fifteen hundred years, substituting for it a different system, a heliocentric one, which paradoxically resembled the one Aristarchus of Samos had described in the 3rd century B.C
On this mountain near Epidaurus was born Asclepius, the healing hero, and in the sanctuaries of Asclepius was born the science of medicine, connected with the search for harmony with nature and the divine.
The first to compose a complete group of scientific treatises confronting disease as a physiological phenomenon was Hippocrates, a restless spirit from this island of Cos who paved the way for a new art, “long for a short life”.
Of the names of those who followed him we remember mostly Democedes, the doctor of the Persian king Darius; Diocles, the great student of anatomy, Praxagoras, pioneer in the study of the vascular system; Herophilos, researcher in the physiology of the brain, the eye and the genital organs; Erasistratus, who studied the functions of the nerves and the circulation of oxygen in the blood; Dioscorides, father of pharmacology; Aristotle himself and the unrepeatable Galen.
It seems unbelievable but for more than two thousand years the history of medicine was nothing more than the uninterrupted process of reading, commenting on, translating and experimenting on the knowledge of this handful of Greeks who considered man as nature accessible to reason.
The medicine of the Roman Empire was Greek, and Greek the pagan knowledge which reached this far away city of Harran, the famous hospital of Gundeshapur, the House of Wisdom of Baghdad, and the exemplary “Civitas Hippocratica” of Salerno.
Ibn Batriq, Ibn Isaaq and Ibn Qurra were Greeks in both descent and in spirit who translated into the Syrian and Arabic languages the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Galen, and the works of Euclid, Aristotle and Ptolemy which later reached Cordoba and Toledo.
The libraries of the Middle Ages were born from the desire of generating a civilization capable of opposing paganism, and from the enlightened attempts of some people to preserve the knowledge of the Ancients.
The academies of the Renaissance were born from the memory and rivalry of the Athenian Academy and the Athenian Lyceum.
If theocentrism, obscurantism and dogma had not undermined the foundations of the Greek spirit, science would today be at least a thousand years ahead, and millions of people would not have died at the hands of fanaticism and ignorance.
The attempt to understand life and nature sprang up in Greece from the love of both.
From the most ancient times the Greeks celebrated, in contact with nature, the inexhaustible energy of life.
This very ancient stadium, forgotten today on the top of Mount Lykaion in Arcadia, transports us to a faraway epoch in which young women and men in the bloom of youth competed for a symbolic prize of plant origin.
Those primitive celebrations, in which the elect embodied the reviving power of nature, constituted the seed of the athletic competitions and the Panhellenic celebrations, the faraway origin of our contemporary and controversial competition.
For those who ran in these stadiums or for those who watched, seated on the grass, the body was not yet “the hideous garment of the soul” as the great Saint Gregory concluded, perhaps forgetting that the god of the Christians incarnated in the flesh.
The Greeks praised beauty, 0:30:53.779
body, love and eroticism, and far from puritanism and humiliation, they acquired a civilization which was cheerful and innocent.
Among the ruins of the temple of Hera in Olympia, beside the ancient stadium, covered by the mud of the Alpheus river, there appeared, a century or so ago, Hermes of Praxiteles, the masterpiece of the Greek sculptor whose work had incited such admiration among generations of artists, only through clumsy Roman copies.
Beside these houses of the village Klima a plow one day brought to light the famous Aphrodite of Milos.
Both sculptures, freed from the mud, speak to us of our own body with an admiration and subtlety which the long centuries following the disappearance of these statues would not know.
Parallel with sculpture, the great Greek architecture was born from the desire to submit materials and space to a conceptual framework.
As did the mythology, it also undertook to integrate, in its creation, human beings, nature and divinity.
And it developed, for this purpose, a tool with as much precision and refinement as music, but more enigmatic, if nothing else, because it found expression in silence: geometry.
The Greeks lifted geometry up from the empirical rope which measured the fields to the ultimate mathematical abstraction.
Every segment of a Doric column is proof of this attainment.
In its proportions, each one of these tambours contains the whole temple.
The whole temple could take form again on the basis of one segment, thanks to the geometry which inspired it, and which reflects back the same harmony which is also present in the human body, the structure of plants, and in that of the universe.
Euclid and his school formulated these principles systematically and so persuasively that his work was passed down intact until the 19th century AD and was only fully integrated in the 20th.
Architecture, engineering, mechanics, physics, astronomy, topography, cartography, nautical arts and many other fields developed on the elements of Euclidean geometry.
Modern hyperbolic geometry and elliptical geometry are now expanding the scope of this science, but they have not stopped being defined in relation to Euclidean geometry.
These fallen capitals and large stones, these columns which are lying in the mud today or planted among the undergrowth were not then monuments, but living spaces, public places in which beauty was a value which sought expression through architecture, sculpture and painting.
These columns supported and formed harmonious colonnades [stoas]; and on these pedestals once rose beautiful statues.
The reason that in subsequent dark times the temples were destroyed, the paintings erased and the statues turned to quicklime is that they reminded us of the human measure, that they cultivated knowledge concerning humanity in the world.
Many Greeks, who were scornfully called idolaters, were expelled or martyred simply because books or statues were found in their possession.
Today, however, the words of Pericles to the Athenians seem to us good and blameless: “we love beauty without abandoning simplicity; we love knowledge without it making us soft”.
In such a way might the attitude of the Greek spirit be summarized.
Thus, or in the two axioms which for centuries have been found carved here, on the temple of Apollo in Delphi, to serve present and future generations: “Nothing in excess”; “Know thyself.”
With moderation, and with their searching, those brave spirits tried to build a new world, freed from dogma and the object of debate of ethics, of aesthetics, well-governed and free.
And we can say that they did not manage to do it completely, that they were not perfect, but equally justly we can say that they never failed because they never abandoned the search.
Of course not everything in Greece was always bright and cloudless.
Her history like that of all peoples’ is full of gestures of arrogance, of absurdity, even barbarism.
However, from this mist it managed to raise a spirit capable of fascinating the most strong-souled and conscientious human beings of all periods: the Humanist Spirit: concern for the human being in the world, trust in his capability and conscience to freely choose what is good, and the effort to defend the dignity of each individual against even the natural lower instincts of his kind.
This humanistic attitude, which naturally is not exclusively Greek, which certainly has been betrayed repeatedly by Greeks themselves, undoubtedly, however, was invented, cultivated, was supported and recovered, again and again in the course of history, having recourse, above all, to the Greek element.
This humanistic attitude owes much to Greece, but it is also true that the image of Greece owes a lot to this humanistic attitude.
Greece as an ideal is a spiritual homeland which is eternally youthful, a creation in the making, an open challenge, which traverses history like a permanent revolution, or even more, like a constant fascination with the better.
«Αιέν αριστεύειν», Homer has his heroes say: “try always to give your best”.
As follows, this was, from the beginning, the attitude of the few: an act of resistance in an adverse and barbarous environment.
That said, each time it has shone, throughout the passing of time, in the midst of an arbitrary act of extremism and obscurantism, humanity took a step toward wisdom, toward moderation, toward the dignity of man beyond interests and beliefs.
Naturally it isn’t certain that this laborious humanistic attitude will ultimately triumph over arbitrary and barbaric behavior.
It is, however, absolutely certain that arbitrary and barbaric behavior will prevail with greater difficulty among those who have adopted this attitude, as opposed to among those who ignore or scorn it.
These things Greece has left to us, together with the challenge that we be not only heirs but also continue the tradition: that we not be captives of the footprints of the Ancients but continue to seek that which they were seeking.
Sometimes, walking among the olive trees and the ruins of this country, I have wondered what would be left of our own civilization if the Greek element was erased from it, how we would be if we were deprived not only of this immense legacy but also of this valiant push which always moves one to be interested in humankind.
And I face, then, an enormous void.
The ruins alert us to the unavoidable fragility of civilization; they remind us that its victories are ephemeral, and deserve to be defended on each day that dawns, and that the only possible civilization worthy of its name is that which unites human beings against barbarism.
All of the above urges us in some way to comprehend what we would lose if we were to renounce the Greek element that we carry within us.
And for whoever thinks that it is not something important, seeking to lighten our “nostalgic load”, I ask them: If we renounced the Greek element what would we gain?
Would it be possible for this loss to be justified and offset by the prospect of some possible profit?
In the name of what do you propose the burial of Hellenism?
Sincerely, I believe that what makes a civilization great is its ability to evolve and inspire something new.
And that is exactly what Greece has left us.
Greece had the most inspiring civilization, the most completely and best codified civilization.
She gave the shape of civilization to natural truths; she left us with mythology, teaching us a humble and tolerant attitude toward mystery.
She invited us to the conquest of democracy and the ideals of freedom and equality.
She left us the society of citizens, politics, ethics, history and literature.
She left us the alphabet and the basic structure of our thought.
She educated us in beauty.
She left us the scientific perspective, the humanistic standpoint, and the spiritual homeland.
She chiseled the soul of the just and free human being, and showed us, well, that road.
Greece as an inheritance, as a challenge and as will, always pushes us to become better.
And forgetting her, removing, from the generations to come, the opportunity to know her legacy and attitude, we will minimize the possibility of a different world being built in the future, something that is not simply the perverse product of oppression and falsehood.

For this reason, Greece.

For all of these riches, Greece.

And because every step that man has made toward civilization, he has established, indebted to Greece.

Translation from Greek original: Eva Johanos