You are on page 1of 8

"Art Makes Us More Human and More Humane"

Jeremy Clark

SU17.HIST134

August 11, 2017

Throughout the course of human history, there have been ups and downs, highs and lows. The

aim is to create and sustain a culture that inspires its people to live good, decent lives and one

that allows its people to aspire to greatness. It almost sounds parental. You want for your

children to have a better life and more opportunities than you had. Perhaps another way of saying

it is to leave the place better than you found it.

The ability of a culture or nation to survive and to thrive to be able pass down its language, its

literature and its art is the most important, highest, beneficent thing that can be done for the

future of your community, your people and for humanity.

Our investigation into ancient history shows us the many skills/themes/criteria possessed

by the plethora of people and cultures spread across the globe and through the

ages. Technology, law, religion, economics, military, education, etc. were found in varying

degrees within those cultures. At different times and in distinct and separate places, these

previously mentioned skills and traits were developed, but never exactly in the same way or in a

similar mixture or recipe.

These skills, criteria, themes and traits sometimes worked side by side. At other times, these
skills interfered with each other not allowing for much progress. The dream would be to have

these skills work in a synergistic manner getting more out of each skill. Thus propelling your

culture and people to greater heights and newer and more successes.

When all of these skills and themes coalesce, that is when the arts and sciences truly develop.

When your people, tribe, city or nation are positioned in such a way, it affords you the distinct

advantage of luxury...perhaps, that's the right word... a certain luxury that allows you the time

and, hopefully, the desire to study astronomy, for example, which would improve your

navigation or, another example, to practice crop rotation which would tremendously benefit your

agriculture. As we have seen, seemingly tiny steps lead to big things: the idea of the

sarissa gave the Macedonian phalanx an incredible advantage over its enemies. In turn, this

advantage allowed for Philip II of Macedon to unify Greece, which was the springboard for his

son, Alexander the Great (Mark, Macedon). Thank you, sarissa!

If we remain short-sighted, we could train our Spartan boys from a young age to fight as an

impressive well-oiled army. However, as soon as the Thebans defeat you in battle, that one thing

that you specialize in, military science in this case, has failed you and your people. You aren't

acting responsibly to your people when you put all of your eggs in one basket.

My first example (which is actually two individuals that represent one civilization) is Philip II

of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great. We learned in Module 6 that Philip (with the

sarissa and phalanx) was able to unite the Greeks from many city-states. Philip made sure that

Alexander was trained to fight, but also skilled in generalship and battle tactics. This would be a
fine foundation for not only Alexander's success but that of the Hellenistic people as well. Philip

gave his son the greatest gift, which was Aristotle as his tutor.

Aristotle taught him logic, but also cultivated a calmness and equanimity in Alexander. With

a new found appreciation in the arts and philosophy, Alexander brought the things that were

important to him along with him as he conquered most of the known world. These things were

the Greek language, literature, architecture, pottery, etc. Art is the one thing that had the lasting

influence over the rest of the world. After Alexander's early death, his empire was divided and

began to crumble around the edges. However, the Hellenistic culture has survived. It is the art

that gives us the Hellenistic culture that has survived right up to our present day. We wouldn't

even know as much of Alexander himself if it weren't for the literature of Plutarch (yes, we

would know that Alexander was on some coins and that cities were named after an individual

with that same name). Our English language still relies on the Greek language and literature.

Architectural themes that are from this Hellenistic period are repeated over and over again

throughout history. Philip and Alexander served their people well by giving them a foundation

for the arts and sciences, which in turn has made the Hellenistic culture famous, still important,

integral and relevant to today's society. We remember their culture because of Philip and

Alexander.

Our second example is Emperor Augustus (from Module 9). Once Augustus allowed the dust

to settle, the Roman society was treated to two things that many cultures never experienced:

stability, which came in the form of Augustus's long reign, and peace, which came after

Augustus defeated his rivals for a strong control over the Roman Empire (The Roman Empire).
Augustus left his mark on the Roman Empire through art and, in turn, the Roman Empire left its

mark on the world. Similar to the Greeks, the Romans left us their language, Latin, which is the

other bedrock of our own language. The Romans relied heavily on the Greek architecture, but

gave us the dome and the arch. They mastered the aqueduct. Like the Greeks, they specialized in

sculpture and pottery. However, Augustus best served his people by giving them their own

literature. This literature, in the form of Virgil's Aeneid, gave his people their own history, their

own origin story and their own heroes. Other literature was allowed to flower in this conducive

environment as well. Ovid and Livy, as well as other Latin authors, are still read today. Augustus

bettered his people and extended the Roman culture by giving the arts a time and space to

flourish.

My third choice is not one individual or even a pair of individuals. However, my decision is a

very easy one. Nothing exemplifies the notion of contributing to society and of acting

responsibly to others individually and to the society as a whole more than the entire Minoan

civilization(as seen in Module 4)! In fact, the Minoan civilization would be my first choice to

show people interested in bettering themselves and improving their society (Zuk, Minoan). They

are a blueprint to success!

After its discovery, Sir Arthur Evans was even accused of inventing much of it and

exaggerating their spectacularly successful civilization. Up until the 1890s, the Minoans (even

the name "Minoans") were unknown. All anyone had to go on about this possible civilization on

Crete was some mythologies that centered on a certain King Minos, a labyrinth, Theseus and the

Minotaur. Some historians and archaeologists believed the Palace at Knossos was too good to be
true. Evans did too much reconstruction were the accusations (Athena Review). The frescoes

were overdone. They were too artistic. This civilization was too good to believe. However, many

years after Evans's death, archaeologists found another Minoan site this time at Akrotiri on the

island of Santorini in the 1960s. Akrotiri was destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption. It was

completely buried under. Slowly and methodically, archaeologists painstakingly went to work on

this site throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s. How did it compare to Knossos? Did Evans

fabricate his results? Was he heavy-handed with re-creations? At Akrotiri, the frescoes were just

as vibrant. The pottery was just as big and bold. The scientific advances were exactly the same as

at Knossos: indoor plumbing; decorative motifs on the pottery; advanced irrigation system;

roadways, etc.

Evans found minimal fortifications on Crete. Whether or not the Minoans enjoyed total peace

or just a fairly idyllic existence is still up for debate. What isn't up for debate is that the Minoans

had trade with other civilizations. They had agriculture and fishing. They enjoyed peace. While

they maintained this peace, their arts flourished: figurines, frescoes, pottery, written language,

etc.

Their demise was a slow drawn out death after a volcanic eruption and tsunami left them in a

tremendously weakened state susceptible to invasions. In this case, the Ice Age question has a

simple answer: you can't really prepare much for this. There was no rebounding from this. Not

much of a chance to adapt. The amazing thing about the Minoans isn't simply the tremendous

advancements in the arts and sciences that contributed to the betterment of its people and the

civilization as a whole, it's the fact that it was done so early in human history. By focusing on
commerce and trade and a peaceful existence, they accomplished much of this around 2100 B.C.

-1800 B.C.

There is an astounding 1700 years (even more in some cases) between the height of the

Minoan civilization and the height of Alexander the Great! Keep in mind that there is not even

1950 years between Nero and us. Perhaps the most amazing thing that we learned from this

entire course is that the Minoans, one of the earliest cultures that we studied, seemed so

advanced compared to others that were thousands of years later. The Minoans seem more

advanced than modern society. It appears as though that the Minoans should have been studied

last (and, for this reason, I saved it as my last example) because it seems to me that they were the

most advanced and the one civilization to which we all should aspire to be more like. Art was

enabled to flourish, creating a more human and humane society.

As previously mentioned, we didn't know about the actual existence of the Minoans until the

1890s. It has only been 115 years that the palace and its glory have seen the light of day. This

meant that approximately between 1500 BC and 1900 AD the Minoans were forgotten and

eventually unknown.

William McNeill says in "Why Study History?", "without individual memory, a person

literally loses his or her identity". Later, he adds, "memory, indeed, makes us human". There was

approximately 3400 years of no identity. This missing period of our knowledge of the Minoans,

1500 BC - 1900 AD, is tremendously similar to Jimmie and his Karsakov's syndrome.

Remember Jimmie? William Cronon discusses Jimmie in "Why the Past Matters". Jimmie is
from Oliver Sacks's essay, The Lost Mariner, included in his book, The Man Who Mistook His

Wife for a Hat. Jimmie had no memory or remembrances of his life from 1945-1970. We, as

students, as historians, as oblivious human beings, had no knowledge, memory or remembrances

of the Minoan civilization. It is, as if, from 2400BC-1500BC, we had knowledge of them. Then,

similar to Jimmie, we lose our memory, our history (or their history), between 1500 BC-

1900AD. Then, picking up again in 1900AD, unlike Jimmie, we regain our memory (because of

Arthur Evans discovery) and their history all over again.

It is interesting to think that there could be other buried, unknown civilizations around the

globe. Michael Postma in his essay, "What Can History Teach Us Today?" said, "knowing our

roots helps us create a better future". This is certainly true. We just have find these roots. I

believe that, eventually after it was finally re-discovered, the Minoan civilization filled with art

can teach us to be more human and act more humanely. It is there art that draws us into their

world. It is their art which seemed to humanize and advance them past other civilizations. It is

their art, all art, which humanizes us.

Bibliography

Athena Review, vol.3. no.3: "Minoan Crete". Athena Publications, 2003. Web. 9 Aug 2017.

Cronon, William. "Why the Past Matters". Wisconsin Magazine of History. vol.84, no.1, 2000.

Web. 8 Aug 2017.


Mark, Joshua J. "Macedon". Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2 Sep 2009. Web. 8 Aug 2017.

Masters, Ryan. "Ice-Age Education". Ocelot Scholars. 22 July 2014. Web. 9 Aug 2017.

McNeill, William H. "Why Study History?". American Historical Association. 1985. Web. 5

Aug 2017.

Postma, Michael. "What Can History Teach Us Today?". ASCD Express. vol.6, no.22, 2011.

Web. 5 Aug 2017.

"The Roman Empire in the First Century: Age of Augustus". Devillier Donegan Enterprises,

2006. Web. 8 Aug 2017.

Zuk, Matthew. "The Minoan Civilization: Proof of Advanced Nature". The Genius of Ancient

Man. 1 Jan 1970. Web. 8 Aug 2017.