Guide The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age

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Orientalizing Phenomenon: Greek Archaeology Perspective

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Actually it is not really a translation but a resetting, yet in a way that shows the foreign framework. One might still believe this to be a deceptive coincidence, were it not for the special context of the Dios Apate where many different clues come together to point to the oriental tradition; in this case the coincidence hypothesis becomes the most improbable one" Taken as a whole, the work draws our attention to two critical and related methodological truisms of this line of inquiry.

First, the search for evidence of cultural interactions that occurred at the dawn of history is a damnably difficult, perhaps quixotic enterprise, since the survival of the evidence to a great extent turns on accidents of preservation and discovery. Second, the fact that today we cannot yet and perhaps never will come up with sufficient evidence for any water-tight "proof" of influence does not "prove" that such evidence or influences did not exist, simply that we cannot prove their existence one way or the other.

This "positivist fallacy" is particularly frustrating when the hypothesis in question seems quite likely in light of both common sense and comparative history. Cambridge, Mass and London: Harvard University Press, ; originally published in German in with the welcome additions of chapters on Egypt and Persia. A brief first chapter covers alphabetic writing.

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Burkert accepts an 8th century BCE date of transmission and suggests Cyprus as a plausible locus. Chapter Two's treatment of orientalizing features in Homer not only offers a comprehensive reexamination of Mesopotamian parallels to the Homeric poems epithets, repetitions, reported speech, verbal and thematic correspondences, etc. Especially intriguing is his observation that many of the most striking echoes of Mesopotamian literature in the Homeric Epics come from the opening passages of the texts of the Enuma Elish and Atrahasis --precisely the sections that a Greek seeking education would be likely to recall.

Burkert privileges cuneiform literature as a source of literary transmission in light of the continuous routes of contact between Mesopotamia and Greek speakers; these contacts reached an apogee in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. He also raises an intriguing paradox: Mesopotamian Epics share striking similarities with the Homeric poems in both content and style, although the former were based on a fixed tradition of writing, while the latter were orally composed and transmitted.

This chapter's centerpiece is a detailed discussion of the Dios Apate the scene of Hera's deception of Zeus in Iliad 14 , explaining the many peculiarities of language and content that long troubled commentators on the basis of parallels with the Atrahasis , Gilgamesh , and Enuma Elish. Burkert's Chapter Three, "Oriental Wisdom Literature and Cosmogony," presents an interesting taxonomy of the ideas that gave rise to and shaped the creation stories and wisdom literature that comprise the earliest speculative literature from the East.

The modes of thinking that engender these cosmogonies, as Burkert demonstrates, also appear in Homer, Hesiod, Orphic writings, and the Presocratics. Thus, Burkert sees no reason to isolate the mythological cosmogonies of the Greeks from their oriental counterparts: "They evidently belong to the same family, and it is no less evident that the Presocratics still follow in their steps" In the realm of more rational fields such as mathematics and astronomy, where Greek dependence on continuous and extensive contacts with the East is incontrovertible, the Presocratics like their contemporary Eastern counterparts can be shown attempting to square observed facts of the natural world with existing theologies: "Certainly we should keep in mind that Eastern cultures do not represent only the prerational, the mythical stage, leaving it to the Greeks to march the whole way from mythos to logos" Still, there is no question about the primacy of a Greek foundation for philosophy as we know it today.

Burkert likens the Presocratic transformation of Eastern wisdom to a process of building on an oriental scaffolding and explains the Greeks' philosophical achievements by their different social structure more freedom, mobility, and risk taking and the exceptionally flexible medium of their language. These factors enabled Greek philosophers to formulate an abstract fundamental category of "being" or disinterested and decontextualized "truth" that can be revealed by rational argument, and, after Plato, through mathematics.

On the last point, Burkert permits himself a rather touching personal coda: "Philosophy has largely tried to follow such an ideal of truth. It threatens to become obsolete, though, with the onset of relativity and deconstruction within the more modern trends in the social sciences and humanities. It is still to be hoped that the Greek heritage will not be totally lost" Burkert's Chapter Four, "Orpheus and Egypt," focuses on Graeco-Egyptian religious contacts, which intensify in the 6th century BCE with extensive Greek settlement and mercenary activity in Egypt and are reflected even earlier in the undisputed Egyptian influences on Archaic Greek art and temple architecture..

Among the few documented cases of instances of religious syncretism for the 6th century BCE, most notable is the Greek identification of Dionysus with Osiris; mystery rites promising a blissful afterlife provide the strongest basis for the association of the two gods.


The orientalizing revolution: Near Eastern influence on Greek culture in the early archaic age

From Dionysus it is a short hop to Orpheus. For the rest of this chapter, Burkert takes on the topic of putative Egyptian influences on Orphic religion, a question made very difficult by the fact that despite tantalizing new discoveries, 1 we still know so little about Orphic religion; 2 inevitably, those who think they know something about Orphism are hotly challenged by those who are sure they know better. This sorry state of affairs leave the rest of us -- those nonspecialists among whom I count myself -- a miserable silent majority, not knowing what to think, and surely in no position to enter the fray with any substantive criticism.

In a nutshell, Burkert argues the following: Orphism can be contextualized within a general family of teachings guaranteeing renewed life after death through the performance of ritual; such rituals or mysteries were associated with Orpheus as well as Dionysus and taught by itinerant teachers.

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Egyptian influences in the 6th century BCE were probably of prime importance for the transformation of the Mycenaean Dionysus into the Dionysus of mystery rites. The Derveni papyrus, with its Presocratic commentary on an Orphic theogony, provides Burkert's main evidence for Egyptian influences on Greek Orphism. In his reading, the detail of "the god [Uranus] who first had ejaculated the brilliance of heaven aither " is a mainstream Egyptian cosmogonic tradition which has the primal god Amun masturbating and ejaculating twin children. The Derveni text has Zeus swallow the phallus [of the king] prior to becoming "the only one" who carries within himself and then begets all gods, goddess, rivers, springs, and the rest of life.

Burkert finds a clear parallel to this theme in Egyptian iconography popular in the 6th century BCE showing a plurality of gods combined into one composite god figure. Thus, argues Burkert, the text of the Orphic theogony, as known to the author of the Derveni papyrus, can be understood as "the verbal representation of the Egyptian idea of the composite god" Burkert also finds an Egyptian parallel to the Orphic idea also found in Parmenides of the god who creates the world through thinking in the Memphitic Theology, which has Ptah produce the gods by thinking and speaking.

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Thus, concludes Burkert, "The ejaculation of air, the composite god, the creation by thinking -- it is almost uncanny to find so many Egyptian particulars. But the evidence is clear" With their post-Persian War polarization of Persia as the Asiatic "Other," observes Burkert in his final chapter "The Advent of the Magi," Classical Greeks themselves bear no small responsibility for our relative inattention to Persian influences on Greek culture. The difficulties of handling Persian sources are surely of equal causative weight.

Readers new to the subject will be grateful to Burkert for his clear exposition of the sources and their problems in his detailed introduction to this chapter. Written sources for one probable area of cultural influence, the religion of Zarathustra vary wildly over region Iran to India , epoch from Darius' sixth-century BCE commemorative monument carved in rock face at Behistun, to ninth-century CE Zoroastran texts written under Moslem rule , dialect and script e. It should come, then, as no surprise that Burkert summarizes our state of knowledge of pre-Persian War influences in two words: Megabyxos the Persian title of the priest at the temple of Artemis at Ephesus which was brought under Persian protection after the defeat of Croesus in BCE and Magos , a Persian loan word, variously used in Greek texts for priests and itinerant quacks.