With the exception of the Renaissance scholars who fell in love with Greece, Christian commentators on Greece have never felt at ease with that country. Those of them who know that their religion, Christianity, murdered Hellas during the fourth to the six centuries keep silent. Classical scholars do much more than teach ancient Greek. Because most of them are Christian, they defame the Greeks with their pseudo-scholarship, suggesting that the Greeks stole the best things they did in science and civilization from the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Phoenicians and Jews. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Christian experts on Greece explain the uncomfortable relations of Greece with its European neighbors in the European Union by repeating a number of falsehoods.
First: the Greeks who made the Greek Revolution against the Turks in 1821 went out of their way in focusing on the Hellenic heritage of the country so they would impress the Philhellenes of Europe: Yes, they did, but not because they wanted to erase the country*#8217;s 1,400 years of Christian culture. The Greek revolutionary leaders were Christian. But they knew the Western Europeans well. They had a European education and could see the difference between Orthodox Christianity in Turkish-occupied Greece and Christianity of Western Europe: The Renaissance made the difference.
The Renaissance was an extraordinary phenomenon of philhellenism during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. European scholars dug in ancient ruins, monasteries, and libraries for Greek and Roman texts, which they published. Greek scholars also added their ancient Greek manuscripts to Europe*#8217;s thirst for Greek wisdom. It was that Renaissance, the rebirth of Greco Roman culture, that brought to an end the cold war of Christianity against the Greeks. As a result, science and civilization took off in Western Europe, creating our world. But at the moment when the Renaissance was spreading Greek light in Western Europe, in mid-fifteenth century, the Turks captured Greece. The country lost the little Greek culture that had survived the Hellenic-scorch policies of Orthodox Christianity for a millennium. Thus without a Renaissance, and with a barbarian legacy of four-hundred years of Turkish military occupation, Greece in the twenty-first century is trying to catch up with Western Europe, even in Greek studies. But what has remained nearly intact in Greece is Christianity, which had never had the challenge of the Greek critical spirit of the Renaissance. So Orthodoxy in Greece remains fanatical and anti-Greek, engulfing the country with a lingering dark age. There*#8217;s no separation between church and state in Greece. The clerics in Greece are civil servants, and their Church is the largest landowner in the country.
So in a still Christian Europe, it*#8217;s the quality of religion that separates the civilized from the backward. Christianity in Western Europe is receptive to Greek-inspired civilization. Christianity in Greece is not. Adding foreign technologies to Greece changes the superstructure in some detail. Preparing for the 2004 Olympics is making some cosmetic changes to Athens, but, fundamentally, Athens will remain an unlivable city. Greece has no public libraries to speak of. Its universities are glorified junior colleges. Its best students go abroad for studies. Foreign archaeologists do the most and best work in uncovering the Greek past, which Christianity buried. Only when the Greeks have a Renaissance will they be able to join the Western Europeans and North Americans in a relative equal basis of shared culture.
Orthodoxy in Greece remains
fanatical and anti-Greek…
All this is to suggest that the Hellenic proclivities of the Greek revolutionary leaders sprang from a memory of the Renaissance. They were a timely strategy telling the European Philhellenes they too were part of the same civilization.
Second: Adamantios Koraes created a hated linguistic archaism, which he passed it on the early Greek government that, in their turn, forced it on an unwilling people: Adamantios Koraes, 1748-1833, was the father of Greek freedom. He edited the Greek classics in Paris, which sparked the Greek Revolution. He did urge a gradual reintroduction of ancient Greek words into the Greek language of his time. This was necessary because the illiteracy of the Greeks living in the Turkish concentration camps had created an extremely impoverished Greek idiom full of non-Greek words. Koraes did not call his linguistic recommendations a new language, much less purist Greek or katharevousa. That was the doing of his enemies. Indeed the church has been using the Greek of the fourth century, a language far more pure than the modest reform of Koraes, who did not ask any Greek government to impose his speech on anybody. In fact, Koraes opposed John Kapodistrias, the first president of independent Greece.
Third: The Greek revolutionaries, mad with their Hellenic dream, and pleading for European acceptance, searched for a European blue blood for their king: John Kapodistrias served Greece from 1828 to 1831 when two of his enemies from Mani, Peloponnesos, Konstantinos and Georgios Mavromichalis, assassinated him. At that tragic moment, the European powers, and not the Greek revolutionaries, sent to Greece its first monarch: Otto, the seventeen-year-old son of Ludwig of Bavaria.
Fourth: Christianity was inevitable in Greece. The old gods were gone by the first century: One need read Ploutarchos, c.46-c.120, the Greek prolific philosopher and priest of Apollon from Chaironia, Boiotia, to figure out that the gods were very much everywhere in the Greek and Roman world of the first century. Another Greek philosopher of the second century, Kelsos, defended Greek religion and denounced the cult of the Christians who made it a policy hoodwinking innocent to their faith with faked healing and miracles. Kelsos accused the Christians for worshipping a dead man and for cutting themselves off from civilization. Other Greek philosophers in the third century and after speak of the gods and their vital role in the life of the Greeks. In 361-363 Emperor Julian restored the gods and Greek religion in the Roman Empire, which had been proscribed by the violent policies of Emperor Constantine and his son, Constantius. The Greek historian Zosimos, who did his writing in late fifth century, explained the fall of the Roman Empire as a result of the Christianization of Greece and Rome.
The Greek gods still cause a great deal of anxiety to Christians who cannot tolerate the thought that those gods were the principal reason for the genius of Greek civilization. In her 2003 book, Greek Gods, Human Lives, Mary Lefkowitz, a rare classical scholar and philhellene, urged us to see the Greek gods for their greatest virtue, which was the humanizing influence they exercised on the Greeks. The Greek religion of the gods, she says, is a religion for adults.
*E.G. Vallianatos is a visiting professor of agrarian policy and the global environment at the Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Maryland.