Saturday, May 30, 2009

History of the World, Condensed Version, Part III, Clearly Hampered By My Having Studied Mostly Just Western Civ.

Okay, we're up to the Renaissance now. Except that I think it should be referred to as the "Renaissance." The word "renaissance" is French for "rebirth." The implication is that ancient culture, especially Greek culture, was reborn in Western Europe beginning around the 14th century.

But Greek culture, philosophy based on thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, literature inspired by Homer and the Attic tragedies and Alexandrian comedies, art inspired by the ancients, had not died out, just because the West was ignorant of such things. People never stopped reading ancient Greek in the Eastern Roman Empire, in "Byzantium." The ancient Greeks were also very widely studied in Islamic lands while Western Europe was ruled by illiterates in its Middle Ages. Then, eventually, the West became more literate, and learned to study the ancient Greeks, learned with a lot of help from Greeks, and Arabs, and Turks, help which they rarely acknowledged, and rarely acknowledge to this day.

But despite my etymological problems with the word "Renaissance," in its original sense of the rebirth of a culture which had never died, and despite the fact that it's inaccurate to say that you rediscovered something you didn't know to begin with, as opposed to acknowledging that someone else taught it to to you -- despite all that, there's no denying that in the age known as the Renaissance great changes occurred in the West, great advances in science and technology -- again, often acclaimed as Western "discoveries" when they were actually borrowing from elsewhere -- great growth of cities, of trade and commerce, great plunder of the civilizations of the Western Hemisphere whose people were devastated by European guns and diseases and ruthlessness.

It's well established by now that Leif Ericsson reached Canada around AD 1000. He may not have been the first European to sail west to the "New World." Irish monks, hermits who took to the sea because Ireland didn't have any deserts, got as far west as Iceland before any Scandinavians did, and who knows how far west some of them got. Samuel Eliot Morison covered the Age of Discovery very well in The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, A.D. 500-1600 and The European Discovery of America the southern Voyages 1492-1616

With Columbus and his followers we're getting into the age of European colonialism, and thinking about that is making me very depressed. It may be a while before I get to Part IV.

End of Part III of the Condensed Version.

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