This week we wrapped up our look at ancient Greek civilization. The death of Alexander the Great allowed for the Greek city-states to try and rebel once more from Macedon. They did not have the strength to do it on their own, so they asked for help from Rome.
As the Greek’s found out, however, it’s dangerous to ask Rome over to visit. They had a knack for overstaying their welcome. From around 200-150 B.C., Greece became a satellite of the then mighty Romans. Their culture lived on in a kind of degenerated way afterwards (see Luke’s comment in Acts 17:21), but as an independent political entity, they were done.
As we leave Greece and introduce Rome I wanted the students to think about the following choice. I chose basketball because of March Madness, but one could apply the same concept to other areas of life. In class we had fun thinking about the ultimate hamburger, for example.
You will be given the ability to dunk, but only one time. However, this dunk can be the most spectacular dunk you can possibly imagine. You can jump from half-court, do a double summersault reverse spin, twirl, reverse jam — whatever you can think of. Furthermore, you will execute this dunk in stadium full of people, and it will immediately go viral on You Tube. The dunk will be forever known as the greatest dunk of all time.
You will be given the ability to dunk as often as you like. You will be able to dunk in games, but the dunks will be unimpressive, and not noteworthy in any way. But it will be a dunk, and you will be able to do it whenever you wish.
This choice illustrates one of the differences between Greece and Rome. In their heyday Greece ended up bequeathing more towards the formation of the future than perhaps any other civilization. They practically invented science, literature, drama, democracy, and so on. But their run was relatively brief. They followed Neil Young’s dictum, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” They compressed most of their brilliance into about a 100 year period of practically unmatched excellence, but the intensity of the heat may have led to their fire putting itself by devouring all the oxygen around them.
Rome will have many similarities with Greece, as we might expect from sharing the Mediterranean basin. But I think that one of their differences is that Rome would not have agreed with Neil Young. They were good, sometimes very good, at most things they tried. And they managed consistently to achieve this level of “very good” for much longer than Greece maintained their “excellent” status. But, the Romans never achieved the level of brilliance of Greece.
What kind of dunk the students choose will probably reflect what side they will defend in one of our year’s great debates on whether Greece was superior to Rome, or vice-versa.
Next we will examine Roman civilization. As usual we will begin with geography. If we look at a topographical map of Italy, how might we expect Italian geography to influence Roman civilization? How might this differ from how Greek geography influenced the Greeks?
More on this next week.