УДК 94

Ancient foundations of modern Western society

Кукатов Егор Андреевич – студент Брянский государственный университет имени Ивана Петровского.

Ленчук Владислав Юрьевич – студент Национального исследовательского университета "Высшая школа экономики".

Abstract: The influence of the ancient heritage in the history and development of Western civilization is extensive. Even after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, we are talking about the fact that the Western world speaks the same language and uses the technical achievements of its ancestors. In this article we will briefly highlight once again the important milestones of the formation of Western civilization.

Аннотация: Влияние древнего наследия на историю и развитие западной цивилизации огромно. Даже после падения Западной Римской империи мы говорим о том, что Западный мир говорит на том же языке и использует технические достижения своих предков. В этой статье мы еще раз кратко остановимся на важных вехах становления западной цивилизации.

Keywords: Antiquity, Public thought, Christianity, Western civilization.

Ключевые слова: Античность, Общественная мысль, Христианство, западная цивилизация.

The modern culture of Western society has very deep historical roots dating back to Antiquity. The culture of this era is a kind of basis for Western society. However, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by this concept. From the author’s point of view, the “West” is the regions of modern Europe united by a powerful layer of Greco–Roman culture, which not only were under Greco-Roman rule during this period, but also had a connection with the heritage of the ancient world and did not lose it under the influence of equally strong cultural, ideological, and religious phenomena. In simple terms, by “West” the author proposes to understand those countries and peoples that not only geographically correspond to the territories of the former Greek and Roman states, but also have cultural continuity with the heritage of Greco-Roman Antiquity. It is noteworthy that such a definition does not imply any clear boundaries for the Western world.

At the same time, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of Antiquity for the formation of a specific culture of the West. The most significant values and landmarks originate from this seemingly the most ancient period of European history. For instance, the confrontation between the West and the East, that is, the idea that has always consolidated the peoples of Europe in the face of the threat of foreign expansion, can quite reasonably have ancient roots from the confrontation of the Greek polis and Achaemenid Persia. Individualism, which also is a distinctive feature of Western culture, again has its origin in Antiquity, from the Greek and Roman institutions of citizenship, the right of the individual to protection, etc. In addition, of course, we should not forget that the Christian religion also comes from that era and, undoubtedly, it has absorbed a significant layer of ancient culture. In essence, Antiquity is the cultural and ideological basis for the Western world.

However, the ancient heritage that has come down to us can be considered quite modest. For example, the written heritage of this era, with all its diversity, is still only a small, although perhaps the most valuable part of the total volume of works created during Antiquity. This is eloquently evidenced by collections of fragments of Greek and Roman historians, that contain hundreds of names about which we usually know nothing except a couple of lines for their authorship. Moreover, the ancient culture that has come down to us is primarily a product of the activities of the elite, the cultural intelligentsia of the society of that period. A number of architectural monuments of the period have survived to this day, such as the well-known Colosseum or the Acropolis of Athens. Without going into details, we note that this already modest material is the product of more than 10 centuries of the history of the existence of large and developed civilizations. Quite naturally, the question arises: how can an entire cultural system be built on such a modest basis?

The fact is that Antiquity, despite the seemingly complete destruction of its beginnings during the decline and death of the Western Roman Empire, has not gone away, and even the invasions of German-speaking barbarians and the “Dark Ages” have not left Europe without an ancient heritage. Due to a single language, Latin, which later transformed into the modern languages of the Romance group, a certain linguistic unity was preserved. Moreover, Latin in one form or another remained the dominant language of the educated minority for 10 centuries. Besides, of course, Antiquity was preserved at the expense of Christianity, due to the impossibility of the existence of this religious trend outside the cultural context of its era. It also helped to convey the ancient heritage through the fires and devastation of the Eternal City, albeit in a distorted form. Undoubtedly, there were also other reasons.

One way or another, Antiquity was able to survive the rebirth of society, the bearer of this culture. Moreover, the paradigm of Antiquity was strong enough to turn to the stratum of this culture, albeit more indirectly, peoples who had not previously been adequately affected by Romanization or Hellenization. Otherwise, the bearers of the images of the era of Herodotus, Plato and Caesar would have remained only the peoples of Italy, Greece, and the South of France, which are quite limited in territorial distribution, where, in addition to the cultural component, the archaeological base is also strong. Instead, 11 centuries after the fall of the Western Roman civilization, in the backyards of the then world, in territories virtually unknown to the Romans at the time, the concept of the Third Rome was created. Even today, some peoples of Central Asia and India honor their descent from the soldiers of Alexander the Great, which, however, as studies show, is imaginary. These examples are intended to show that Antiquity lives not only in the memory of the peoples who inhabited Greece with its colonies and the Roman Empire, but also among people who at first glance were completely alien to it.

Even though, as it was mentioned, the ancient culture in one form or another was able to survive its carrier society and even spread to other cultures, it is quite difficult to meet the legacy of this era without living in the conventional surroundings of Pompeii. There are two most important reasons for this. Ancient culture has already become an organic part of Western culture in many ways, having dissolved into it. Firstly, the famous Napoleonic Code, a fundamental French legislative act that has become an example and a reference point for other legal systems, in its origins largely goes back to the traditions of Roman law. Another reason is a certain elitism of the ancient written culture, which, undoubtedly, can be called high. A competent appeal to the images of that era requires a good knowledge of the historical context, mythology, and culture of that society. At the same time, it should be noted that the written ancient tradition is still not the property of a narrow stratum of people, but in one form or another it is familiar to wider segments of the population.

 It is worth paying attention to the fact that it is impossible to create new samples of ancient art, since this period, for obvious reasons, already belongs to history. Therefore, in the course of the historical process and within the framework of modern times, Antiquity is represented, moreover, in a completely different way. The very concept of representation presupposes a secondary reading, but in fact it can mean both a clear adherence to the ancient tradition, and the use of images and backgrounds of this period, bordering on abuse. Undoubtedly, there are many examples of high-quality representation, sometimes seeming to complement our modest data on Antiquity. However, even such variants of involving tradition distort the facts to a certain extent, often by introducing ideas that are modern to the author-representative. In turn, the works, even of very high quality, but focused on the mass consumer, assume a rather free attitude to historical reality. The latter should not be completely attributed to negative trends. It is such works that most of all meet the needs of modernity, transmitting historical knowledge, albeit in a greatly modified form, to a wide audience.

To summarize, it should be said that Western society is not limited to the borders of purely former territories of the Roman Empire. In a certain form, reverence and knowledge of traditions are quite characteristic of peoples who did not once belong to the sphere of interests of ancient states, due to the high nature of ancient culture, as well as a well-known historical steadfastness. In addition, ancient culture has already become a part of the modern value system in many ways, dissolving into it almost invisibly. Now, the images inherited from those times are being processed, supplemented, and reinterpreted. They are not only part of the academic environment. They are also consumed in one form or another by much wider masses. Thereby, modern Western culture has an important basis of ancient origin, even sometimes in the most indirect details. Moreover, ancient images, due to their significance, are still widely used and enrich the culture.


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