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Cyprian Norwid and the History of Greece

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Maciej Junkiert

Ancient Greek history holds a special place in the works of many 19th-c. writers. The same goes for Cyprian Norwid, one of the most eminent poets in the history of Polish literature, a thinker, and an artist. This book scrutinizes Norwid’s fascination with Greek history and culture, especially his peculiar synthesis of Greek thought and Christianity. It focuses on the key themes of the relationship of Platonism with early Christian writings and their presence in Norwid’s contemporary culture, the opposition of memory and history in 19th-c. literature and social life, and the image of the artist and its influence on social life in modern everyday. The book analyzes Norwid’s oeuvre in a broad comparison with representatives of French, German, and British literature and the humanities.

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Chapter II. Greek Stories

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1. Creating Greece

In Jack Goody’s 2006 book The Theft of History, he asks the fundamental question why only European civilization has an ancient era in its history, while other civilizations such as Indian, Chinese, or the Middle Eastern do not use this term. The answer is focused on the European tendency to make one’s own past a unique phenomenon and make it impossible to compare the “Greek” version of the birth of culture with any other situation. The moment that allegedly determined the radical difference in the creation of Europe was the end of the Bronze Age. From this “moment” on, Goody suggests, in the opinion of all proponents of the uniqueness of Greek model of civilization’s development, ancient Greece’s path was different from that of all the other tribes of the Mediterranean Basin and Asia Minor.

Goody’s observations are a devastating criticism of Eurocentric writing about world history. In particular, these observations strike at teleological thinking that led to the situation in which Greek beginnings of history are judged from the perspective of later events. An example of such approach for Goody is the study of Robin Osborne, whose book Greece in the Making 1200–479 BC refers to the myth of Greece as the culture whose discoveries decided about the fate of the whole world:

It is not entirely a European myth that in the classical Greek world we find the origins of very many features which are fundamental...

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