Classical greek vs. Medieval world view

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Our modern world view is derived from the ones from other periods in our history. All of the world views differ in many aspects. It is sometimes unbelievable how dissimilar they can be. Medieval world view and classical Greek world view are a perfect example of such distinction.
Human life, according to the Greeks, is to pursue excellence- arête, as Homer, a great Greek writer, named it. A man can win this noble prize in a victorious battle, and poet Pindar indicates that, as we read an excerpt “The Pursuit of Excellence”. He also implies that the essence of life is tragedy, and even arête is short-lived, because humans aren’t perfect and make mistakes. “Man: a shadow in a dream,” (M.Perry Sources of the Western Tradition Vol.I, p.58) have to prove his worth by striving for superiority, and if it is achieved, it is the supreme reward. Sophocles, a great Greek playwright, also has a positive outlook on the human condition. In his famous play Antigone we read that man should strive for intelligence and self-mastery. Although a human being is very small comparing to the “heaving gray sea,” (Perry, p.58) a man is still a “great wonder”: skilled, brilliant, ready and resourceful. Man had taught himself speech, thought and “the mood and mind for law” (Perry, p.58). Such wonder has only one stop in his continuous search: Death.

On the contrary to the Greeks, Lothario dei Segni (Pope Innocent III) in his writing On the Misery of the Human Condition implies that only God is perfect; moreover, human is not even close to God’s excellence. Pope Innocent III wrote, “Men and women were weak, egocentric, and sinful,” (Perry, p.278) and gave many evidences to support his notion. First of all, man is formed out of “dust, slime and ashes” (Perry, p. 278). Second of all, he was conceived in guilt. Moreover, his every act is “depraved, illicit, shameful, improper, vain and unprofitable” (Perry, p.278). One can put it in one statement: people are born to die. Pope’s view on honor is also pessimistic, because he writes that striving for it leads to narcissism, which is opposite to Greek’s view of honor. And after the whole sinful life of a common man, death comes, because no one can escape it. The only comfort is that good people will go to Heaven, and will be happy there for the eternity. There is no comfort for the “bad” people, because they will suffer for their wrongdoing in Purgatory, or Hell- the worst of the afterworlds.

There are also some interesting insights into the medieval mind that are found in Dante’s Divine Comedy. He tried to portray the afterworlds: hell, purgatory, and heaven. Hell, the Inferno, is depicted as nine concentric circles, in which the suffering is greater in the most-inner one. There is also an entrance gate, over which there are words \\\"Abandon every hope, you who enter here”, which implies that there is no way to escape the pain of the one’s punishment. It is also appealing that the greatest sin is betrayal, according to Dante, since three-headed Lucifer in the most-inner circle of hell chews on the three greatest conspirators of all times: Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. Heaven on the other hand is depicted as paradise. Dante couldn’t find words to describe God, because He is the greatest of all things. All we can learn from his ecstasy is that God is in form of three light circles, each one in a different color, symbolizing God, Christ and The Holy Spirit.

It is apparent that there are enormous differences in classical Greek and Medieval world views. While human being in Ancient Greece is a superb creature, as Pindar and Sophocles imply, in Middle Ages he is just a mixture of dust and slime, nothing compared to God, according to Pope Innocent III and Dante. Even such ideals as honor are valuated differently, since Greeks valuated it the most, and people in Middle Ages were taught not to strive for it, because it concludes in “wretched days and more wretched death” (Perry, p.278). I prefer classical Greek outlook on human life, because it gives much more comfort than Medieval world view. By the way, who would like to think about himself as the creature that is not suitable to live? No one is such a pessimist; most of us would love to think about ourselves as great. According to the medieval way of thinking we should spend our lives on excusing God for our mere existence, while waiting for “blessed” death. If one is lucky, he may go straight to Heaven, the only comfort this philosophy provides, which is not comforting enough anyway. Fortunately, our modern world view had changed for better since the Middle Ages.

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