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Ale to Polika

21 Pages 5180 Words

In M. L. West's exemplary edition of Hesiod's Theogony, published in 1966, W. claimed that "Greece is part of Asia; Greek literature is a Near Eastern literature" (p. 31), a remarkable claim when everyone knew that Greece is part of Europe and its literature unlike anything that appeared in the Near East. Yet in the last thirty years others have made similar claims. W. Burkert, especially, argued that "Akkadian cuneiform side by side with Aramaic, Phoenician, and Greek alphabetic script produces a continuum of written culture in the eighth century which stretches from the Euphrates to Italy" (The Orientalizing Revolution, Cambridge, Mass., 1992, p. 31). Here W. sets out to prove his thesis, now a generation old, and we might be disturbed that he has succeeded so well.

There are twelve chapters, which I will briefly review in order.

In the first chapter, "Aegean and Orient," W. takes a bird's-eye view of salient features of Near Eastern and Aegean cultures that for explanation cry out for direct transmission or a common origin. He does not say this, but if one were to compare Bronze Age Greece with Bronze Age China or the Hopi Indians of Arizona one would not expect to find such common elements, here traceable to ancient routes of trade and communication over north Syria, through Cyprus and Rhodes, to Crete and the Aegean. These are cultural artifacts and not the result of parallel evolution.

Such common elements include a substantial list of loan words, often designating commodities, but also social institutions such as kingship with its complex functions and trappings of ritual. The treaties cast by Aegean and Near Eastern kings contain similar formulas. Means of accounting, counting, and weighing are similar or identical. No one disputes the Near Eastern origin of writing on clay tablets or of the Greek alphabet. Musical instruments, and no doubt how they were played and for what reasons, are the same in East and West, as are...

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