My Pilgrimage Back to Greece
Three years ago, I fell off a ladder while painting my deck. That was a month or so before my wife, Ann and I were to go to Greece and Turkey. I was quite fortunate to have lived through hitting my head on paving stones and causing a subdural hematoma. With some slight hearing problems, I am fine and still work teaching the humanities at DeVry. This summer, we will be in Greece and Turkey for a month.
Ann and I have different ways of dealing with traveling. In the past decade, we have been to Tibet, India, Nepal, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, French Polynesia, Easter Island, Chile, Morocco, Mali, Egypt, and South Africa. We divide up our trips into what we call good trips/bad trips. Ann loves the good trips, which are usually places with warm beaches and sunny days. I, on the other hand, love bad trips, which are more adventuresome. The term, good trip/bad trip, was coined by her. I wanted to go to Timbuktu, which necessitated a long drive bouncing through the Sahara from Bamako to Timbuktu. My desire to see Indochina was also considered a bad trip. Both our trips to Timbuktu and Indochina lacked many beaches and included far more adventure than sunning ourselves on the beaches of Bora Bora or Easter Island.
The trip this summer was Ann's turn to sun at least for awhile on the lovely sands of Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, and Rhodes. All was progressing very well as we readied for the trip. Well, until riots started in Athens over the austerity plans approved by the Greek government to keep them functioning financially. Then there was the issue of Turkey and their response to Syria's crackdown upon dissent within that country and the resultant flow of refugees into Turkey.
I teach history, ethics, and humanities. Going to both countries during unrest in the region is a great opportunity for me to observe and learn firsthand what is taking place. By my reckoning, I am getting a bad trip experience during her good trip choice. Therefore, our next trip will be my time for a bad trip.
In the future, I want to go to Russia and do research on Russian history. I teach history, and I am especially interested in the Russian Revolution and the monk, Rasputin. So our trip to Greece and Turkey excites me, because it is a win/win trip for me. I get two adventuresome trips for one: this summer in Greece and Turkey and next in Russia and Rasputin related discoveries.
In addition, our trip this summer has a threefold issue. One is spending money in a difficult time in America and the rest of the world. People have told us that we should be saving our money for retirement or at least to get through these financially troubling times. However, I personally love travel; I have probably spent an accumulated total of over two years outside the country after grad school in 1968. I love to learn what the textbooks can't possible teach...the hands on experience and knowledge that one acquires from travel. After grad school, I went to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland for a year. In the summers before and after Edinburgh, I went to every country both large and small in Western Europe, part of Central Europe, and North Africa. The only place that I didn't go was Scandinavia.
In addition, I led two tours that I conducted to Greece/Turkey and the Holy Lands, which have added much to who I am and the way I think. It should be noted that methinks that I have Attention Deceit Disorder (ADD). While I am able to physically sit still, my mind is always racing. I have three additional trips floating in my ADD brain as I am writing this article.
I wrote the rough draft of this article at the U. of Chicago Hospital on my last day of radiation therapy for prostate cancer that had gotten outside the prostate. I am absolutely confident that I'll not die from prostate cancer. Therefore, travel will be in our lives for many years to come. My wife and family want to go with me to Paris and Scotland again. I would love to go to Russia and also travel through the stans...places like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc.
The second issue that intrigues and motivates me is going to Greece during these troubling times for that nation. Recall that I teach history, and I absolutely love to teach about the cultural treasure trove that the Greeks started. Much of who we are in the Western world is a product of what the Greeks gave us. I'd hate to think of our world without that vast amount of their positive influence. Everything from philosophy, math, architecture, ethics, etc. was started by Greece and carried to the entire known world of that time by Rome.
Often, we hear about this impact upon the West as the Greco-Roman influence. This Roman influence wasn't as much in adding to what the Greeks had discovered as it was in disseminating Greek culture and ideas to the world. Excluding the spread of Greek knowledge, the Romans didn't add much what the Greeks first started. Nevertheless, the Romans spread the Greek knowledge-base throughout nearly all of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
For example, most of us know of the statue called the Discus Thrower. It was merely replicated from a Greek statue done around 450 BCE. The Roman marble copy of the statue was done in the first century of CE...at least four centuries after the Greek Discus Thrower was done. The Romans couldn't duplicate the statue. They copied it but added a stump to keep the statue standing. A novice to art history can readily tell which is a Roman copy. If a statue has a tree stump supporting it, it is clearly Roman. The Romans mastered balancing statues containing contraposta with the assistance of the stump. That was accomplished by the Greeks centuries before without the use of a stump.
Fortunately for the Greek culture and civilization, their art, thinking, and culture had been exported by the Romans to their entire empire. The Greek culture and therefore the basis for the Western world was resurrected not in Greece or any other place in Europe. The Greek cultural heritage had died largely during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The one place in the known world that it was still alive and doing well was in the Muslim Middle East. When the West started a series of Crusades into the Holy Lands, they began a Christian jihad. While the Crusades had no ethical reason for invading a foreign country in the name of God, the Crusades produced ironically a renaissance (rebirth) of the West. The naissance of the West started by Crusaders going into the Middle East, stealing things, and returning to Europe with much of the Greek legacy as spoils of war.
The only positive benefit of the Crusades to the West was the rediscovery of the Greek civilization, which was held by the Muslims in the Middle East. Aside from that, the Crusades were a massive military blunder. They won the first Crusade and occupied parts of the Middle East, but the West lost that initial conquest and all the other attempts over the next several centuries.
One of the Greek contributions to the Western culture was the ancient story of the phoenix. The phoenix is a mythical bird that lived a very long life but was resurrected from its own ashes. Metaphorically, the phoenix resurrected Europe from its ashes of the Dark Ages. The Greek myth of the phoenix in reality caused the rebirth of the West.
As the Greek phoenix resurrected Europe, today, the European Union has the responsibility to resurrect Greece from its dark economic times. As with the rebirth of Europe at the close of the Dark Ages, that same issue exists in Europe today for Greece. Europe is helping the rebirth of Greece that is the very cradle of European and Western thought.
While our trip to Greece won't infuse much at all to their GNP, it is an example of my dedication to that nation and what its history means to an American who teaches the humanities, philosophy, and history - including art history. This article might generate some similar minded people to travel to Greece.
My wife and I aren't wealthy at all. Actually, a financial advisor wouldn't have suggested spending what it will take to go to Greece and Turkey for a month. However, being right brain, I'm not into details like saving to acquire a good or even average retirement nest egg. I am interested in a more global perspective. How will this experience benefit my teaching and my writing? In addition, I'm a recipient of the blessings which Greece bestowed upon us in the West and want Greece to receive that blessing back in the form of their rebirth of the phoenix of Greece.
We owe Greece much from the past. Therefore, we need to assist them become reborn. We, in America and Europe, can assist them in their endeavor to renew their society as they assisted us in our renewal back at the close of the Dark Ages. That only seems fair to me. What can you do to help in the resurrection of the Greek phoenix?
In a strange paradoxical way, the University of Chicago Hospital saved my life with the robotic surgical procedure called daVinci surgery and with radiation treatments. The logo of the University of Chicago is the phoenix.
For those of you who don't remember their Latin back when they were in high school, the translation above the phoenix is: Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched. The phoenix has enriched all of our lives...and we need to help others in their rebirth both here and abroad.