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Solon – where are you now!

September 15, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been listening to the Modern Scholar Series (Great Professors Teaching You!) A History of Ancient Greece, as taught by Professor Eric H. Cline of The George Washington University. Wow, that was a mouthful! Anyway, it’s great. I wanted to listen to it because somehow I missed any education on Greece in my time as a student, except when I was at the University of Colorado studying “Heroes and Heroines”: I read quite a few books in that class. But, as I was saying, I felt as though my knowledge of Greece was somehow lacking.

There is so much that is interesting about Greece.

  • This is where the word ‘ostracize’ came from. In the time of Cleisthenes (around 500 BCE), the entire citizen body of Athens was invited to submit the name of a man whom they thought might be growing too politically powerful, who might be a potential ‘tyrant’ in the making, and whom they thought should be exiled for ten years. They each scratched a name into the surface of a broken pot sherd, called an ‘ostracon’ which is where the name ‘ostracism’ comes from, and put the sherd into a voting box. Five to six thousand ostra sherds had to be submitted with the same person’s name on them in order for that person to become ostracized.
  • The reason the Olympic athletes were naked was because an athlete once tripped on his robe and was badly injured, so they decided the athletes better go naked. Sadly, this meant that no women were allowed to attend the Olympics. Too bad and probably not too smart either.
  • It’s not definite that Homer even ever existed. Homer could have been a man or a woman or many people. A ‘Homer’ could have been the name for a traveling bard – it’s just not for certain.
  • An archeologist, named Heinrich Schliemann, in 1870 while looking for Troy at Hissarlik, found 9 cities built right on top of each other. There he discovered what he thought was ‘Priam’s Treasure’ but which turned out to date to a period during the Early Bronze Age in approximately 2300 BCE.
  • The word ‘agoraphobia’ originated in Greece. An Agora was a central market place, and thus it means a person is afraid of open places.
  • The word ‘tyrant’ originated in Greece. ‘Tyrranos’ referred to someone who was an aristocrat and who had taken over – whether it was seen as good or bad.
  • What is a ‘marathon’ if it is not a run by the best long-distance runner, at the time, Pheidippides, between Marathon and Athens (26 miles) to warn the Athenians that the Persians were on their way – and where he promptly died after gasping out his news. After all, he had just returned from a run between Marathon and Sparta to try to get the Spartans to join the war against the Persians. Here’s a briliant idea we could take from the Greeks: every child of a man that was killed at the battle of Marathon was educated and raised for free. Hmm, why can’t we do that for our heroes?
  • Pythagoras is not just known for his infamous theorem: he believed that numbers were the key to understanding the universe and that there was an intimate relationship between numbers and music.

Here, I want to say something about Solon, who in the early 6th century BCE, was one of the foundors of Deomcracy (yes, this word originated in Greek also: demos=people, kratia=power). He completely revised Draco’s law code (um, yes the word ‘Draconian’ originated in Greece too), including changing many of the penalties, except for those of homicide. He reformed the consitution, created new classes of citizen, freed people from slavery who had been enslaved because of debt, created standard weights and measure, as well as the first official coins in Athens. But here is his crowning glory, in my opinion – he ABOLISHED DEBT! Can you imagine what it would be like if all debt was abolished! Would the economy collapse? I doubt it, as I believe banks would begin loaning money the very next day, and since most of us are addicted to spending money we don’t have, they’d been sitting pretty once again pretty quickly! But for those of us who have learnt our lesson when it comes to debt, wouldn’t that be nice. Buh-bye student loans and mortgage and credit cards. Hello debt-free life.

My conclusion: let’s get back to the basics. We should make decisions that make sense for the majority, not the powerful minority. Obama, you can take this to heart.

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