Agon as the greek «genome» to the european culture 8
Two controversial views on the human being exist in contemporary social science. Te frst one understands human as a “naked ape”, as an aggressive animal, with the domination of the instincts of violence. Konrad Lorenz, who spent four years in Russian prison as a Nazi, wrote the book “Introduction to Ethology”, which got a Nobel Prize in 1973. Te book is focused on animal behavior, but includes also some sentences about human beings. Lorenz considered that tendency to aggression was based on biological nature and could not be controlled by social power. He suggested that aggression, division on aggressors and victims, is deeply rooted in human nature.
Te second view shows that human aggressiveness is a rudiment of archaic history, which had a great infuence on history, but could be somehow controlled and transformed by culture and social institutions. Tere are a number of authors with such ideas, who applied it to Greek history. Tey used an idea about “agonistic” traits of Greek culture.
Te frst one, who developed a notion “a g o n” and applied it to cultural history was Jacob Burkchard. In his lectures on Greek civilization, which followed his world known book “Culture in the History of Renaissance”, he wrote: “All high life among the Greek, active as well as spiritual, took on the character of the agon . Here excellence and natural superiority were displayed, and victory in the agon, that is noble victory without enmity, appears to have been the ancient expression of the peaceful victory of an individual”.
Tose two opinions are easily to fnd in many historical and cultural studies. Homer’s poems demonstrated a lot of violence and aggressive ness. But classical Greece showed a new cultural phenomenon: instinct of struggle survived, but from real battles and violent of wars it transformed aesthetically to peaceful competition. As Burkchardt wrote, agonale man belonged only to Greece, agon is a distinguished feature only for a Greek culture. “Agon ist Triebkraf, die kein anderer Volk kennt”. (Agon is an inner power, which does not exist in any other nations). Only classical Greece produced “agonale Man ”. We can not fnd agon in Oriental culture. Agon is a historical result of a new period of Greek history, which followed afer archaic. It became at the time, when wars were ended, and opportunities were opened for peaceful competitions. War and agon are diferent social events. As Burkchardt said, “Wer den Krieg hat, bedarf des Turniers nicht”. (Who run a war, does not need tournaments).
Tis agonistic phenomenon exists in every segment of the Greek culture: in philosophy, drama, music, poetry, visual art, sports. Agon – the place for wrestling, boxing and athletics – became the pra-phenomenon of this culture.
Agon is a result of great popularity of a competition in sports. In ancient Greece there were a number of national competitions, such as Olympian, Pythian, Nemian, and Istmian games. Winners of these games became national heroes. Statues were built in there honor, their names were kept in memory of many generations. Greek poet Pindar wrote a number of sentences about these games. His writings includes “moral credo” of the victors of agon : his success is a result of hard work, it includes strong morality, honesty, harmony between body and soul etc. Agon is a very good school for masculinity.
Te real kingdom of agon is drama, because it is a battle of characters, the struggle with the fatum . Greek tragedy was born not from the spirit of music, as Nietzsche said, but from the spirit of competition. Music itself was an emulative art. Greek literature is full of thousands stories about musical competitions. Te singer Famira tried to compete Muses in singing. A beautiful example is a myth about competition between Apollo, the god of Music, and Marcyas, the satyr. Te last one loved to play fute and challenged Apollo to the competition. But Apollo was a winner. Afer that he tied Marcyas to the tree and skinned him. He put a satyr’s pelt in the cave in the city of Kelenach. Te dead skin produced sad sounds, when somebody played the fute. Another myth tells us about musical competition between Apollo and Pan. Everybody, who was present at the competition, agreed, that the winner was Apollo, with the exception of king Midas. As a punishment, Apollo presented him the ears of a donkey.
Many agonal motives could be found also in painting. Pliny in his “Historia Naturalis” tells the story about a competition between two Greek painters – Appeles and Protogen. Once Appeles decided to visit his friend Protagen in his workshop. But at that time Protagen was out of his studio.
Te same was in Greek mind. In Greek philosophy agon created a dialogue as a method of thinking and discussion. Te nature of Greek Logos is agonistic. Plato’s dialogues are intellectual competitions, the battle of ideas. To the contrary of Oriental philosophy, Greek philosophy was developed as a struggle of diferent schools of thinking. Even the language was understood in terms of agonistic discussions. A Sophist philosopher Gorgias suggested that many speeches involved “demolishing of an opponent as one would destroy an enemy of battle”. Tat is why the competitive nature of language was using “warfare” metaphors.
In conclusion, we can say that the whole Greek culture was infuenced by agon . Tat was shown in many studies by Jacob Burckhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Johann Huizinga, Nicolay Bachtin, and many other historians of culture. Ancient tradition has a great infuence on European history. For many centuries Greek hero was a symbol of high morality and struggle against social chaos and barbarity. Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance try to revive many things from ancient Greece and Rome. Pedagogical system of Humanism was based on Greek education in attempt to harmonizing intellectual and physical exercises.
Ancient heroism was in the memory of many philosophers at the ages of Renaissance and Enlightenment. Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, the frst European philosopher of history, was focused on phenomenon of heroism in ancient history. In his pioneer work “Szienza nuova” (1725) he divided history into three periods: “age of the Gods”, “age of the Heroes” and “age of Humans”. Te frst one was ruled by Gods law, the second – by law of Power, the third – by law of Reason. Te frst period created theocratic government, the second – aristocratic state, and third one – democratic republic and monarchy.
Vico was the frst philosopher, who developed an idea of progress in history.
But in the 18th century ideology of Enlightenment tried to revive memory of Antiquity heroes. Robespierre in his revolutionary speeches in Convent mentioned the Greek and Roman heroes as examples for imitation for those, who wanted to build Republic in France. French paintings of this period, particularly special historical paintings of Jacques-Louis David, were full of images of heroes of Greece and Rome. French bourgeois made Revolution dressings in the style of antic costumes.
Drama and poetry of the Classicism tried to revisit the world of ancient mythology and antic heroes. Unfortunately, it was far away from a real ancient history. Among European poets, a Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was much closer to understanding ancient heroism., He preserved for Russian readers originality of Classical poetry. His poetry had many associations with Greek and Roman poetry. Pushkin’s relations to ancient poetry, to its heroic pathos is a great subject for studies in Russia and abroad. Roman Empire had a great territory, which needed a great army to defense and dominate. I think that the best image of militarism of Roman empire belongs to English poet Wystan Auden, who describes a Roman soldier on the wall, which was crossing Britain territory to save Roman army from the foreign invasions.
Over the heater the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.
Te rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I am a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.
Te mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.
Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his fact.
Piso’s a Christian, he worship a fsh;
Tere’d be no kissing if he had his wish.
She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.
When I’m a veteran with only my eye
I shall be nothing but look at the sky.
Here we could see an ironical view on a Roman hero as a controversy to the traditional image of Roman hero.
Tere are large theoretical literature concerning classical heroism and its role in history. It seems that antiquity was always used for ideological reasons. “Cult of Heroes” was developed by Tomas Carlyle, a philosopher from Scotland. In 1840 he published a popular book “On Heroes, Hero-worship and the Heroic in History”, where he interpreted heroism in terms of religious ethics. To him, hero is a prophet, who transformed Gods’ will to the ordinary people.
In the 20th century concepts of “hero” and “heroism” became synonymous to national patriotism and applied to diferent national histories – French, Russian, German, and Japanese. Tis created national images of heroism, sometimes very nontraditional. German philosopher Max Scheler connected heroism with militarism. For him a Hero is only a military man, an ideal Soldier (“Zum Helden”). Japanese philosopher Kitajama in his book „Heroics Ethos“ (1944) interpreted heroism as fatalism. He identifed heroism in tradition of samurai ethics with the drive for death.
Russian Marxist philosopher Anatoly Lunacharsky applied an idea of heroism to the class struggle. In his book “Heroism and Individualism” he negated all individual heroism and, as a contrast to it, proposed an idea of the “mass heroism” as a real power of the class struggle.
It seems that all such concepts could not negate that home country of hero and heroism is an ancient Greece. Contemporary meaning of these moral values is deeply connected with history and culture of that nation. Memory of heroic period of the ancient history is a Greek “genome” in the body of European culture.