One of the benchmarks established at the start of this book, to determine marks for and marks against, was the question of how far a country had progressed during the course of chronological time, and what contribution it had made to civilisation.
So, now, we come to Greece, a desolate Third World country with a collapsed economy, failed government, third rate culture, but nonetheless, in other people's libraries (their own copies were burned centuries ago), the works of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, of Plato and Aristotle, of Ptolemy and Galen, of Hippocrates and I could go on for several pages, all of which serve to remind us that human progress is not connected in any way with linear time, nor with economic success.
The once glorious Greece was two millennia ahead of the rest of the world, two millennia ago; today it is about five hundred years behind even where it was back then, not counting the technological toys, which frankly don't count when you are measuring human progress on a scale of human behaviour and intellectual achievement; perhaps, who knows, one day an Aristotle or a Plato, an Aeschylus or a Sophocles, might come along and lift Greece out of the troglodytic desolation of its unculture; but at present rate it does not seem likely, and what they are depending on is not culture anyway, but a second bail-out by the European Union, because they can't manage to repay the loans from the first bail-out (click here for more details).
Lord Byron went to war to save this proud people from enslavement to the Turk; only to discover there was no pride, only enslavement, and had he not contracted dysentery and died, he was ready to walk away from the terrible mistake he'd made in coming there; whereas he ended, ironically as he did absolutely nothing, as the hero of Missolonghi. Read more in my life of Byron, "A Drop Of Ink", due for publication very soon. And in the meanwhile, there is always this:
MARK TWAIN: THE INNOCENTS ABROAD (Chapter XXXIII) 1869
From Athens all through the islands of the Grecian Archipelago, we saw little but forbidding sea-walls and barren hills, sometimes surmounted by three or four graceful columns of some ancient temple, lonely and deserted—a fitting symbol of the desolation that has come upon all Greece in these latter ages. We saw no ploughed fields, very few villages, no trees or grass or vegetation of any kind, scarcely, and hardly ever an isolated house. Greece is a bleak, unsmiling desert, without agriculture, manufactures or commerce, apparently. What supports its poverty-stricken people or its Government, is a mystery.
I suppose that ancient Greece and modern Greece compared, furnish the most extravagant contrast to be found in history. George I, an infant of eighteen, and a scraggy nest of foreign office holders, sit in the places of Themistocles, Pericles, and the illustrious scholars and generals of the Golden Age of Greece. The fleets that were the wonder of the world when the Parthenon was new, are a beggarly handful of fishing-smacks now, and the manly people that performed such miracles of valor at Marathon are only a tribe of unconsidered slaves to-day. The classic Illyssus has gone dry, and so have all the sources of Grecian wealth and greatness. The nation numbers only eight hundred thousand souls, and there is poverty and misery and mendacity enough among them to furnish forty millions and be liberal about it. Under King Otho the revenues of the State were five millions of dollars—raised from a tax of one-tenth of all the agricultural products of the land (which tenth the farmer had to bring to the royal granaries on pack-mules any distance not exceeding six leagues) and from extravagant taxes on trade and commerce. Out of that five millions the small tyrant tried to keep an army of ten thousand men, pay all the hundreds of useless Grand Equerries in Waiting, First Grooms of the Bedchamber, Lord High Chancellors of the Exploded Exchequer, and all the other absurdities which these puppy-kingdoms indulge in, in imitation of the great monarchies; and in addition he set about building a white marble palace to cost about five millions itself. The result was, simply: ten into five goes no times and none over. All these things could not be done with five millions, and Otho fell into trouble.
The Greek throne, with its unpromising adjuncts of a ragged population of ingenious rascals who were out of employment eight months in the year because there was little for them to borrow and less to confiscate, and a waste of barren hills and weed-grown deserts, went begging for a good while. It was offered to one of Victoria's sons, and afterwards to various other younger sons of royalty who had no thrones and were out of business, but they all had the charity to decline the dreary honor, and veneration enough for Greece's ancient greatness to refuse to mock her sorrowful rags and dirt with a tinsel throne in this day of her humiliation—till they came to this young Danish George, and he took it. He has finished the splendid palace I saw in the radiant moonlight the other night, and is doing many other things for the salvation of Greece, they say.
You can read the whole of this splendidly ironical account of Americans on the Grand Tour, for free (you, not them!) at Project Gutenberg
Marks For: 2
Marks Against: 7
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