Sunday , September 20 2020
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The Good Fights

Summary:
SERIFOS—There’s no high life here, only family life, so I’ve been hitting the books about great Greeks of the past, and they sure make today’s bunch look puny. Philosophers, playwrights, statesmen, artists, poets, orators, sculptors—the ancients had them all. In 2,500 years they’ve never been equaled. I was once at the New York Met walking around the Greek wing and I ran into Henry Kissinger, whom I knew slightly. He asked me what ancient Athens’ population was. “About twenty to thirty thousand citizens,” I answered. He shook his head in amazement. “And they produced all this,” he said. When I first began learning about the Greeks—my great-uncle was the foremost intellectual of his time and a brilliant pedagogue—I was mystified

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SERIFOS—There’s no high life here, only family life, so I’ve been hitting the books about great Greeks of the past, and they sure make today’s bunch look puny. Philosophers, playwrights, statesmen, artists, poets, orators, sculptors—the ancients had them all. In 2,500 years they’ve never been equaled. I was once at the New York Met walking around the Greek wing and I ran into Henry Kissinger, whom I knew slightly. He asked me what ancient Athens’ population was. “About twenty to thirty thousand citizens,” I answered. He shook his head in amazement. “And they produced all this,” he said.

When I first began learning about the Greeks—my great-uncle was the foremost intellectual of his time and a brilliant pedagogue—I was mystified by the collapse of Athens and Sparta. Athens under Pericles reached its cultural peak, Western man was born, whereas in Sparta the martial state came into being. No state before or after has even come close to matching the martial readiness and spirit of my grandmother’s birthplace. Just imagine what those two, Athens and Sparta, could have accomplished together, but it was yet another Greek who managed it—conquered the known world, that is.

The Greeks invented modern warfare, a collision of soldiers on an open plain where courage, skill, and physical prowess were paramount. They also invented honor and fair play on the battlefield, and even protection of noncombatants. Archers and javelin throwers who launched from afar were not held in the same esteem as those who fought at great risk of themselves. (I wonder what they’d think of Saudis dropping ordnance on women and children in Yemen.) Sword and spear was manly and heroic, the rest was looked upon with suspicion.

In the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, the Athenians showed their mettle by fielding citizens, both young and old, from age 18 to 60, led by aristocrats using a phalanx of tight formation eight rows deep. Socrates fought his last battle at Delion at age 46. The Greek hoplite was most likely a farmer, middle-class and youngish. He did not fight for booty or plunder but for defense of his home and the right to vote. I shall never forget the first time the Battle of Marathon was read to me, when the citizen soldiers of Athens saw the Persians getting slowly off their boats and under Miltiades’ cry to attack sprinted into the sea and chopped them to pieces. That glorious sprint still thrills me the way it did back then.

Ten years later the Persians were back for another round, this time in Salamis, where Themistocles was waiting for them. Their heavy boats oared by slaves were no match for citizen sailors rowing for military glory, and our triremes sunk them by ramming them into oblivion. Weeks earlier King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans had given the Greeks time to plan and execute, and Xerxes fled, never to return. Alexander the Great finished them off but showed the Barbarians—which all non-Greeks were considered—what it is to be civilized by sparing Darius and marrying his daughter.

Taki Theodoracopulos
Taki Theodoracopulos (born August 11, 1936), originally named Panagiotis Theodoracopulos and best known as Taki, is a Greek journalist and writer living in New York City, London and Gstaad, Switzerland.

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