The Closing Chapter of Histories

As some of my readers know, I’ve been reading Good Book: a Humanist Bible for over a year now, and have written a few reviews of its books as well as a general review for Society of Epicurus. I just finished the book of Histories and, it seems, the entire Good Book.

Overall, Histories was not my cup of tea. It mostly chronicles a long and tired list of attrocities and cruelties related to the hostilities between ancient Persia and ancient Greek states, framed initially in the book as an ancient “battle between East and West”, a theme which still holds huge resonance today.

In Histories, men of war are praised for their supposed great acts of courage. For a book that claims to be a philosophical Bible, not enough criticism of warfare and violence takes place in it, in spite of commentary by the likes of Philodemus about how “soldiers in battle die like cattle” and the harsh commentary against war, and in favor of non-violent conflict resolution, that exists in many philosophical traditions.

But in the final chapter of Histories, it becomes clear that one of the author’s intentions was to present the Good Book as a Western philosophical and secular alternative to the religious Bible, and to incorporate a certain sense of history and connection with the past by asking: “What if the Persians had conquered Greece in its early stages of development? What would have become of democracy, of philosophy, of humanism?” This hypothetical question made the entire book of Histories worth writing. I won’t endorse the reading of the entire thing, but here is a highlight of what the soldiers of Greece stood for–which is to say this is also a manifesto of what, to AC Grayling, Western civilization stands for–as narrated in the following verses from Histories 114:

So Greece expelled the Persians; so the cradle of the West repelled the East, then more powerful and more ambitious; 2. And which, if it had prevailed, would have commenced a far different history for the world …

13. … So that as one travels towards the setting sun one finds successors to Athens, none of them perfect, as Athens was never perfect, 14. yet inspired in the hearts of their better citizens by the hope of becoming more so. 15. For they remember what the inheritors of those who defeates Xerxes’ host heard, which were such words as these:

16. Let us take pride in what we are and what we might become, if we value our freedom and the good opinion of those who will come after us. 17. We are free people, or capable of being so, in mind no less than in our institutions. 18. This freedom was hard won and might easily be lost; but not if we are vigilant.

19. And for the sake of that vigilance, let us remind ourselves what we are. 20. Our affairs are in the hands of the many, not the few. 21. There exists equal justice to all in their private disputes, but the claim of excellence is also recognized …

23. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. 24. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes …

26. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, let there also be a noble attitude in our public acts, 27. where we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the laws, having a particular regard to those who are ordained for the protection of the weak and injured

29. Nor have we forgotten to provide ourselves many kinds of relaxations from toil; we have our recreations throughout the year; 30. our homes are comfortable and secure; and the delight we daily feel in all these things brings us cheer.

34. … For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act, and of acting too …

51. … We will have helped fulfil the promise that lay in the victory of the Greeks over the Persians: 52. to be free in honour, and wise in freedom.

The above passage might partially describe the American dream, or the European dream, or the Canadian dream … or even the Brasilian dream. In view of the recent migrant crisis, where tens of thousands of people from Asian countries are escaping their horrible fates and seeking refuge in Europe, it’s important to keep in mind what the West stands for to the rest of the world: a bastion of progress, liberty, democracy, peace, opportunity, and education. Let’s hope all future generations continue to value these things …

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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One Response to The Closing Chapter of Histories

  1. Antonio P.F. says:

    Como dice al final del artículo, sigue siendo un sueño de muchos pueblos y civilizaciones, aunque es una pena que la reciente crisis migratoria sea por huida de la tragedia atroz que suponen las guerras en los países de origen, en muchas ocasiones mantenidas por los intereses de la civilización a donde se dirigen.
    Ya es un reto la lectura de la Biblia Humanista. Importantes apuntes sobre el concepto de la libertad, democracia y progreso.

    Like

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