THE ANCIENTS, THEN AND NOW
Was David Klinghoffer kidding in his article on the newly restored Greek galleries a the Metropolitan Museum of Art ("greek Tragedy" May 17)? Or did he have a headache? Or something against his classical-civilization professor? Why else would he have said that Greeks today are Turks; that ancient Greek art has no "dark side"; that "the stuff is so muffled in verbiage that a good paragraph-long summary of a play by Aeschylus is often more haunting than the play itself"; that "smugness is the dominant impression left by Greek drama"; that Aristotle was a "fast talker"; that drinking was the Greeks' key to understanding life; that Greek culture was "doomed by hubris"? He's lucky that he didn't write that article for one of my classes. He doesn't seem to have done his homework. C minus.
I was amazed by Klinghoffer's "Greek Tragedy," ridiculing Greece and Greeks, past and present. It is surprising that the culture Klinghoffer dismisses as "a little shallow" has had such a profound influence throughout history. It is equally remarkable that works of the "smug" Socrates, Aeschylus, and Aristotle have so lasted.
But Klinghoffer's most curious line is this: "For all their self-confidence and reasonableness, the ancient Greeks were market for extinction." Unlike the ancient British, Germans, Italians and Jews, the ancient Greeks are no longer alive? Or did he mean that modern Greeks are unique in not being genetically identical to the Greeks of 2,000 years ago?
New York, N.Y.
David Klinghoffer's outrageous remarks about the Greek galleries at the Met remind me of the old joke about Greece's thwarted attempts to recover the Elgin collection of ancient sculpture: " It would appear that the Greeks have permanently lost their marbles."
Conversely in this case, Klinghoffer seems to have lost his. He calls Greek culture shallow, their artists smug, their sculpture cold. he finds the famous symposium "fussy" and even the tragedies dull and verbose. And Aristotle is "a very very fast talker". But most astoundingly, he says, "Today, Greeks are Turks," citing the many invasions and the centuries under Ottoman rule as proof.
To deny the genius of Greek art is a matter of taste, but to call Greeks Turks is just historically and linguistically incorrect. Modern Greeks speaking the demotic tongue and holding to the Orthodox Christian Church are as different from Turks, who are Moslems and speak Turkish, as Jews are from Arabs.
This article brought to my desk innumerable e-mails and phone calls, mainly from Greeks accusing me of everything from "racial discrimination" to being a paid stooge of the Turkish government. "If you are receiving money from the Turks," one fellow warned, "we will find this out." If only! (Just kidding Greeks.) For the benefit of these folks, and of E.E.Mercier, let me clarify: that saying that "Greeks are Turks," I was having a little fun and exaggerating obviously. I apologize to any Greeks whose feelings were hurt.
As for classical Greece, my three years of studying Attic in college hardly qualify me to disagree with Prof. Lefkowitz. But what the heck? I challenge any reader to wade though e.g. the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, a jewel of Greek tragedy. See for yourself.
Mr. Dubnau points out the "profound influence " of the Greek heritage- no news to anybody. I was reminded of that influence recently in hearing a debate between physicists John Polkinghorne and Steven Weinberg. The issue before them: Does physics rule out belief in a Creator? Polkinghome (a Christian) observed that what separates his views from that of Weinberg (a nonbeliever) is a basic question, namely: in explaining the universe, do we take as our starting point the brute fact of physical existence? Or do we start with our intuition of God? The former approach tends to produce a materialistic cosmology. Leo Straus identified these two staring points as respectively the Greek and the Biblical. So at the root of materialism, which plagues us today more that ever, we find the ancient Greeks. At least, our respect for them, I argue, should be tempered by that fact.