GREEK MEDICINE AND WAR MACHINES
In my earlier posts I have spent considerable time stressing the BENIGN, and ALTRUISTIC aspects of the Human Mind as exemplified by the labours of Hippocrates and Galen.
In this blog I will concentrate on the OPPOSITE dimension of the Human Mind, the MALEVOLENT aspect. To look at this I will consider the rivalry and eventual warfare between Athens and Sparta, the differences between the two, the attack of Rome upon Syracuse, and ARCHIMEDES attempt to repulse the Roman Invaders by his War Machines.
Let us dig into Sparta and Athens to get hold of the idea of internecine rivalry. In some ways the behaviour of Sparta and Athens towards each other resembles the action of the two-headed snake in one of my previous blogs.
Although Athens and Sparta were geographically close to each other, in nearly every aspect of life they were totally different. It is too extreme to describe Sparta as ‘totally war driven’, nevertheless after the sixth century BC, warfare seemed its major pursuit.
Prior to discussing the LATER differences between Athens and Sparta, I want to point out the CULTERAL thrust of the latter, BEFORE MILITARISM came to personify Sparta.
RUINS OF ANCIENT SPARTA
For this, we need to travel back to the seventh century BC. At that time Sparta was renowned for choral lyric poetry. This was particularly seen in the work of Alcman, Terpander, and Thaletas.
Alcman, lived in the seventh century B.C. The exact date of this birth is unknown. Legend has it that the Oracle of Delphi ordered the Spartans to find the greatest living poet to sing for their city. If they did not the city would be destroyed by civil strife. As a result Alcman, considered to fulfill what was demanded of the greatest living poet, was brought to Sparta. Here he was installed as the official singer for public rites and festivals. The songs and poems were to be original, of course, and were collected in six books. Unfortunately, all that have survived are a few quotations and papyrus fragments. His Parthenaia or ‘Maiden Songs” were composed for a procession of female singers. He also wrote Wedding Songs, Hymns, and Love Songs.
Roughly around the same time Terpander wrote lyric poetry and music. He is believed to have founded a Music School in Sparta. As well as this, the invention of the seven-stringed lyre (cithara) has been credited to him. It is also believed that Terpander composed settings of epic poetry, preludes or introductions to the singing of epic poetry, and even drinking songs.
Finally, we must mention Thaletas who came from Crete in the seventh century BC. According to legend Thaletas came to Sparta to rid the Spartans of a plague, by appeasing the god Apollo with his poetry. Whilst in Sparta he composed Songs of Praise or Triumph (paeans), and what is known as Hyporchemata. This word simply means that he composed music for a chorus of singers at the festival of the God Apollo. At this festival a group of dancers cavorted round the altar, while others accompanied the action of the dances and songs with a mimic performance. So, Hyporcherma was the lyric dance and Hyporchemata was the music which Thaletus composed.
And then the storm clouds descended. The Cultural Life was blown away whilst the winds of Militarism began to blow. This is what people remember most about Sparta.
To emphasise the point again, Sparta seems a fitting example. In her case the dual aspects of the Human Mind could not coexist. The Cultured, urbane side of the mind flourished during the period when warlike strategies were not paramount.
Let us look then at the DIFFERENCES between Sparta and Athens as it emerged later.
Perhaps the eventual CULTURAL EMPHASIS may be explained by their different origins. The Spartans descended from the Dorian invaders from the North of Greece. On the other hand, the Athenians were of Ionian descent, from Western Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands.
The forms of Government were dissimilar. Athens had an elected democratic government and was ruled by upper class males. Whereas, Sparta was ruled by five men, chosen by Spartan citizens over thirty years old. In Athens Five Hundred men formed the Athenian Council and formulated Law. By contrast in Sparta only the five leaders decided Law and Punishment Codes.
THE SCHOOLOF ATHENS WITH PLATO AND ARISTOTLE
AS CENTRAL FIGURES
Whilst Athens continued to develop Cultural and Intellectual pursuits as seen in the writings of Athenians such as Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, to mention only a few, Sparta became a military State, which pursued an expansion of power and the domination of other kingdoms. This meant that the Athenians spent most of their time studying literature, art, and music.
THE PARTHENON, TEMPLE TO ATHENA, IN ATHENS
Meanwhile, the Spartans were training to be soldiers. This training began at birth and hardened the Spartan warriors to such a degree that they never lost a battle in the conflicts with their neighbours. Apparently, the Spartan Elders tested a newborn baby for deformities and if the baby seemed unlikely to become a soldier, the child was hurled into a gorge to die.
Even the economy was different. The Spartan State relied on agriculture to maintain their economy. But Athens became the foremost Mediterranean Trading Power and thus became considerably more prosperous than its rival, Sparta. This played itself out on the Military Front. Whilst the hardened Spartan soldiers held the advantage on land, the Athenians made up the difference by Sea Power.
A clash would soon come between the intellectual and physical Athens and Sparta. The two halves of the Greek mind would soon manifest itself. How did this reveal itself?
To get at the roots of this we need to go back to the fifth century BC. By then, the growing power of Athens, ensured by commerce and their navy, so alarmed the Spartan State that war between Sparta and Athens seemed inevitable.
ANCIENT GREEK GALLEY. NOTICE THE BANKS OF OARS
In the fifth century, then, backed by commerce and their naval power Athens began to dominate the other city-states throughout Greece, except for Sparta and its allies. Thus the Athenian Empire arose, also known as the Delian League. Whilst Athens increased its own power, a number of its formerly independent allies sank to the level of tribute-paying subject states. This Athenians used this tribute to support a powerful fleet and, eventually to fund massive public works programs. Such developments caused resentment, particularly in the mainly agrarian, Sparta.
Another cause of friction between the States arose after Athens had received an insult from Sparta. The cause of the offence was this. In 465 BC a revolt broke out amongst the serfs (helots) in Sparta. At once, the Spartans summoned forces from all of their allies, including Athens, to help them suppress the insurrection. Along with the other City States Athens responded and despatched around 4,000 Hoplites. Clearly the last thing the Athenians wanted was any sort of revolt to spread to its own domains.
A HOPLITE SHOWN IN TWO ATTACK POSITIONS: UNDERHAND AND OVERHAND THRUST. NOTICE THE SHIELD AND SPEAR
Then the insult was delivered. On the arrival of the Athenian force, the Spartans dismissed them and sent them home. However, the troops from all the other allies were permitted to remain. Apparently, the Spartans acted in this way because they suspected that the Athenians would switch sides and support the insurgents. In disgust, the humiliated Athenians abrogated their alliance with Sparta. The rebels were finally defeated and permitted to evacuate the country.
When hostilities finally broke out between Athens and Sparta, the Athenian General, Pericles advised against confronting the superbly trained and more numerous Spartan army in a land battle. He directed that they use the more powerful Athenian fleet. Even so, after many confrontations, the Spartans were victorious. This series of conflicts known as the Peloponnesian War brought to an end the ‘Golden Age of Greece.’
GREEK HOPLITES IN BATTLE FORMATION KNOWN AS THE PHALANX. NOTICE THE SPEARS RESTING ON THE SHOULDERS OF THE TROOPS PRESENTING A WALL OF STEEL.
The belligerent tendency of the Greek mind had overcome the peaceable, cultured inclination.
I move now to the final point on the warlike, or bellicose propensity of the Human Psyche. To illustrate this I shall draw on the ability of Archimedes to design weapons of war.
ARCHIMEDES WORKING ON A PROBLEM
Archimedes was a Greek born in Syracuse, Sicily, around 290 Bc and was killed during the siege of Syracuse in about 212 BC. I have chosen Archimedes because he illustrates both propensities of the Human Mind. On the one hand he could work out complex problems in Hydrostatics (problems concerning liquids); engineering principles concerning the lifting capabilities of a lever; the screw pump, which would enable water to be lifted from one level to another and much, much more. All of these would be of benefit to mankind.
However, this same Mind could just as easily run in the opposite direction. Let us see how.
I want to reintroduce a quotation from Plutarch that I used in an earlier Post and break it down.
The Syracusans were struck dumb with fear, thinking that nothing would avail against such violence and power. But Archimedes began to work his engines and hurled against the land forces all sorts of missiles and huge masses of stones, which came down with incredible noise and speed; nothing at all could ward off their weight, but they knocked down in heaps those who stood in the way and threw the ranks into disorder. Furthermore, beams were suddenly thrown over the ships from the walls, and some of the ships were sent to the bottom by means of weights fixed to the beams and plunging down from above; others were drawn up by iron claws, or crane-like beaks, attached to the prow and were plunged down on their sterns, or were twisted round and turned about by means of ropes within the city, and dashed against the cliffs. … Often there was the fearful sight of a ship lifted out of the sea into mid-air and whirled about as it hung there, until the men had been thrown out and shot in all directions, when it would fall empty upon the walls or slip from the grip that had held it.’ Later Archimedes set fire to the Roman ships by focusing the power of the sun by an arrangement of mirrors.
Let us take it apart piece by piece and see exactly what sort of instruments of war Archimedes had devised. The reason for his construction of these machines is that the City of Syracuse, where Archimedes was living, had come under attack from the Romans. This attack took place in 214 BC in what were known as The Punic Wars.
The Romans attacked the city with a huge force under the command of General Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The fleet used to transport his soldiers was composed of at least 120 Quinquremes (a battleship with five banks of oars). Thus Marcellus was
transporting some 12,000 soldiers for the siege. At this point we can look at the long quotation I have fielded and break it down to see what happened.
A TYPICAL ROMAN WARSHIP, THE TRIREME, SMALLER THAN THE SHIPS LAUNCHED AGAINST SYRACUSE
It must be said, that without the War Machines that Archimedes had devised the city would have fallen sooner to the Roman troops. The siege lasted two long years.
Now what does Plutarch’s statement show? Firstly, that the defenders of Syracuse were terrified at the sight of the approaching Romans. But good old Archimedes came to the rescue.
1. He had devised a series of Catapults capable of hurling huge missiles long distances to crushing effect
2. Weighted Beams were directed onto the ships and so great was the weight of these bams that the ships on which they landed were sunk instantly. The oarsmen and soldiers perishing of course.
3. Huge Claws, ancient historians describe it as type of crane equipped with a massive hook that was able to lift the Roman ships partly out of the water, then either cause the ship to capsize or suddenly drop it.
4. Burning Mirrors or the Archimedes Death Ray were also used. This was an arrangement of powerful Mirrors which focussed the sun on the timbers or sails of the Roman ships as they came within bowshot range. Such was the intensity of the foccused rays that the Roman ships caught fire. Of course those on board the ships perished.
THE BURNING MIRRORS
CATAPULT SIMILAR TO ONES USED AT THE DEFENCE OF SYRACUSE
Despite the ingenuity of Archimedes the city was finally taken in 212 BC.
Archimedes, according to some accounts was killed by a Roman soldier whilst he was busy pondering a mathematical problem in the sand.
Well that is all. I leave you with this question. Why does the Human Mind behave like Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
I hope you liked the blog. Time to move on.
Back to the Victorian Consciousness next.