I’ve been pretty remiss about posting lately, but I’m going to buck up and post more regularly for awhile. I plan on future posts on the Romans, on some of my recent book acquisitions with some thoughts on books and their uses, on the theory and practice of military prudence, the Early Moderns, running, Dreams and dreams.
For now, I’ll content myself with a short PS to my last post on the Greeks. I’ll state what is likely obvious by saying that the question posed on the Greeks in that post is a “second order” question as I have previously defined them; I only know part of the answer. In fact, this question on the experience of Greek battle is one that could benefit from further research and even experimentation. In order to enhance my own understanding of Greek and other ancient battle, I relied heavily on two books that I reference in Soldiers and Civilization. These are Ancient Warfare: Archaeological Perspectives and The Cutting Edge: Studies in Ancient and Medieval Combat. These works represent efforts to recreate ancient weapons and fighting techniques. Additionally, many reenactment groups have tried to simulate the conditions of ancient battle. Teachers and students can use these as resources, and even attempt reenactments of their own. These could be very fun and exciting! Still, as I’ve suggested before, the greater and more interesting challenge than the recreation of the physical or material aspects of ancient combat is in re-imagining the mindset of the combatants, some of it humanly familiar but some very strange. Greek soldiers went into battle bearing a belief in the gods, in savage rites, in an ancient social order that included slavery, and the whole dramatic, poetic, tragic basis of Greek civilization.
Can we think like this, or at least imagine what it would have been like to think like this?Do we want to? There are dark places in the mind of ancient Greece where we might prefer not to venture, but the journey could cast light on our own dark places, on aspects of humanity that the Greeks were more comfortable publicly exposing and enacting than are we of a more sanitized age. Battle can be an avatar for getting inside the Greek mind. To know the Greeks better is to better understand ourselves, and this, as Socrates and the Delphic oracle contend, is the knowledge most worth having.