Were The Dark Ages Really Dark?

“The Dark Ages still reign over all humanity, and the depth and persistence of this domination are only now becoming clear,” says Richard Buckminster Fuller in Cosmography. “This Dark Ages prison has no steel bars, chains, or locks. Instead, it is locked by misorientation and built of misinformation… We are powerfully imprisoned in these Dark Ages simply by the terms in which we have been conditioned to think.”

Have you ever considered how History’s name-tagging takes effect in perception? It is generally assumed that Modernity was the fruit of the Enlightenment and that, in turn, the Renaissance was a time of unparalleled progress for humanity. Let’s move further back.

The term ‘dark age’ has been attributed to Petrarch (1304-1374) who described his own time as one of ‘darkness’. He was later followed by the Enlightened Voltaire, Rousseau, Gibbon and, more recently, Bertrand Russell.

Is it truly fair to deem the Middle Ages as ‘dark’? The Western Roman Empire had succumbed to Odin’s ravens. The Spanish Inquisition of the Church was clearly evil. But, is that all the Middle Ages were?

Professor Rodney Stark, a non-Catholic sociologist from UC Berkeley, published a seemingly counterculture book called Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History (Templeton Press, 2016), which addresses ten prevalent fallacies about Church history.

“For a long time,” he says, “the dominant opinion has been that, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe went through a long millennium of ignorance that has come to be called The Dark Age. The Renaissance was brought about by a weakening of the Church’s control over the great cities of northern Italy.”

This standard vision of the past world, in Stark’s words, is completely false: there are innumerable modern investigations of technological change that show how the Middle Ages “was one of the ages of humanity that stood out for its strong innovative character, in that technology was developed and put at the service of man in a way that no civilization had known before.” And it was during these dark centuries when Europe took the great technological leap forward that put it at the forefront of the world.

Stark is not alone. French medievalist Jean Gimpel demonstrates in his book The Medieval Machine (1976 and 2003) how “the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century has its roots in the Middle Ages, which had already revolutionized the world of work for the renewal of the sources of energy and technological invention.” The tech progress of the Middle Ages allowed a remarkable growth of productivity – which had remained stagnant in the Roman Empire, due to having enough slaves to get the job done – thanks to innovations such as wind and water mills, the rotation of agricultural crops, the plow, the chimney, glass spectacles, stirrups and saddles, firearms, sailing ships armed with cannons.

In addition to completely ignoring the prolific technological changes operated in the Middle Ages, most of the Enlightenment writers also turned their backs on the progress of that time in higher culture: music, architecture, painting, literature, the university.

The exceptional artistic current initiated in Europe in the 11th century was called ‘Romanesque’ even though the works created at that time were completely different from everything the Romans had done. And the ‘Gothic’ style, born in the 12th century, was criticized by some intellectuals during the Enlightenment.

In literature, the work of Gibbon, Voltaire, Cervantes, Machiavelli, was only possible because their respective languages ​​had acquired literary form thanks to medieval giants such as Dante, Chaucer, the anonymous songs of deeds such as the Visigothic El Cantar de Mio Cid in Spain, and the monks who — from the 10th century — were dedicated to writing about the lives of their saints. In education, the university, an institution dedicated exclusively to higher education, was something new. The Benedictine Order rescued, compiled, and even preserved important and even ‘dangerous’ classical texts.

The first universities were created during the 12fth century, and it was there that science was born. From the eminent medievalist, Warren Hollister (1930-1997): “Anyone who believes that the era that witnessed the construction of Chartres Cathedral and the birth of parliament and the university was a Dark Age must be mentally retarded.”

Banking was started by the Templars, and this skill was later transferred to the Italian city-states, where it was perfected, insurance was introduced, double-entry accounting was created, etc. Such institutions — so essential to the next historical step we have been told to call ‘Renaissance’ — would migrate to Germany centuries later.

According to the prestigious Ludwig von Mises Institute, the University of Salamanca was truly the birthplace of Economic Theory. It was first officially taught by Francisco de Vitoria (1485-1546), more than two hundred years before Adam Smith’s The Wealth of the Nations. There could be no neo-Platonic Academia in Firenze without La Divina Commedia, and no King Arthur or Beowulf without troubadours.

If ‘Dark Ages’ is then a ridiculous fairytale, so is the concept of Renaissance and this same evaluation should be applied to the concept of Enlightenment. This takes us to our ostensibly progressive Modern Age as the pinnacle of human achievement. If what we have been taught is someone else’s interpretation of these epochs of human history, are we now in the post-modern Era? How shall we call our time? Who will set the record straight? Will it be fair or unfair?

Knowledge is acquired information. Wisdom is applied knowledge. Values and attitudes change; but to judge human history through incorrect or biased notions make us ideologize past and, with it, the present and future.

Frank Escandell is a fiction writer, researcher, and high tech blogger. He is also a collaborator with several Spanish radio and television programs on technology, society, and culture and the co-author of I Tego Arcana Dei: El Simbolismo Secreto de Rennes-le-Château, a hard study on the origins of the strange symbolism contained in that French church.

Gymnastics in Platonism

There is a common fallacy to which many of those who come close to the “spiritual” realm, that is, the matters of the soul, as opposed to the matters of the physical body, fall into and use as an excuse for an unattended body shape or health condition. The fallacy goes: if the only part that overcomes death is the soul, which is immortal, why spend time attending the needs of the body, other than covering its basics? Orphic Materialism, an immanent – as opposed to transcendent – system that precedes and constitutes the cradle of the Platonic philosophy, could be of great help in dismantling this fallacy.

Famous for their Olympic Games, ancient Greeks practiced sports on a regular basis, involving exercises on horizontal bars, ladders, poles, ropes, foot races, dumbbells, wrestling, throwing of the javelin and discus. Gymnastics, just like music, was part of the education of any young man who aspired to become a philosopher. In the Book III of the Republic, Plato observes that young people should practice gymnastics regularly as a tool of the soul to improve the body (and not vice versa): “Gymnastic as well as music should begin in early years; the training in it should be careful and should continue through life. Now my belief is, (…) not that the good body by any bodily excellence improves the soul, but, on the contrary, that the good soul, by her own excellence, improves the body as far as this may be possible. What do you say?” Glaucon asked Socrates, who answered: ”Yes, I agree. Then, to the mind when adequately trained, we shall be right in handing over the more particular care of the body“. (1) This is what is called in modern medicine top – down, or mind – body approach.

The tension between the material and spiritual aspects of life is a major theme in the Platonic dialogues, and was unfortunately imported as dichotomy by transcendentalist religions such as the Christianism, contributing to the condemnation of the “flesh” by the Christian church. How did this happen? According to one of the authorities of the Hellenic tradition, “many of the early church fathers were enamoured of the Platonic ideas and incorporated them into their theology. The Christian terminology simply substitutes “spiritual” for Nous or Mind or Ideas, making a separation between the spiritual and the material”. (2)

Within what Plato calls in The Republic “a just soul” (ψυχή – psykhí, psyche) this tension should not lead to dichotomy and conflict, but to an effort towards harmony. In Phaedrus, Plato indicates that the material plane of existence is the source of non-rational passions, desires and appetites, hosted by the appetitive part of the soul (ἐπιθυμητικόν – Epithymetikon, the Appetite), while the spirited part of the soul (θυμοειδές – Thymoeides) makes an individual, or a state, aspire towards goodness. Both aspects must be controlled and harmonized by the Reason (λογιστικός – Logistikon), which seeks the truth. The harmony within the soul depends on the outcome of this continuous dialogue between its three parts – The Reason, the Spirited part and the Appetitive part. If someone allows to be ruled by bodily passions and appetites – which Socrates and Plato regard as sources of sophistry and delusion – then the soul falls prey to vice; but if the appetites are ruled by reason, then the soul is virtuous. Plato does not negate the appetitive part of the soul, with its hedonistic inclinations, but he indicates that a control mechanism should be in place so the individual is not driven by comfort and pleasure seeking. The soul can be declared “just” only if all three parts agree that the Reason (logistikon) should rule.

In the Republic, Plato categorizes values, or goods, in two sets, of human and divine nature. Thus, wealth, health, beauty and strength are of human (more dense, palpable) nature, while wisdom, temperance, courage and justice are of godly (impalpable) nature. Apparently, physical exercise could be most obviously connected to two of human set of goods –  strength and health. However, Socrates advises otherwise:

“Socrates: ‘Have you noticed,’ I asked, ‘how a lifelong devotion to physical exercise, to the exclusion of anything else, produces a certain kind of mind? Just as a neglect of it, produces another type? One type tends to be uncivilised and tough, the other soft and over-sensitive.’

Glaucon: ‘Yes … excessive emphasis on athletics produces an excessively uncivilised type, while a purely literary training leaves men indecently soft.’

Socrates: ‘What I should say therefore is that these two branches of education seem to have been given by some god to men to train these two parts of us – the one to train our philosophic part, the other our energy and initiative. They are not intended the one to train body, the other mind, except incidentally, but to ensure a proper harmony between energy and initiative on the one hand and reason on the other by tuning each to the right pitch”. (3)

Thus, Socrates indicates that gymnastics has a godly origin, is a tool gifted by the Gods to the humanity to be used to harmonize and bind together the three centers of the human being: the mind, which knows, the emotions, which give birth to the wish and the body, who does the work. Know – wish – do: they all coordinate together harmoniously towards a common goal, such as better health or getting in shape. When the will power (βουλή – voulí) and the mind (νους – nous) work in harmony, the soul itself becomes harmonious and makes progress. This is the state of justice and harmony within the complex unit of the rational, spirited, and appetitive elements of the soul described by Plato in The Republic. Gymnastics needed to be balanced by the practice of the right type of music in order to maintain harmony within the soul. To Plato, individuals who practice gymnastics will not become soft and effeminate by neglecting their bodies, nor harsh by neglecting training in beautiful, but simple music. Thus the proper guardian of the soul is a balanced gentleman, a philosopher. Music may soothe the savage beast; but the just soul needs the kind of music that does not undermine valuable qualities of vigour and manliness (andreia) – although Plato did not generally endorse a gendered view of qualities of the soul, which needs to be balanced in all aspects, and is of both feminine and masculine nature, as showed in Symposium.

In orphism, the Ancient Greek religion of Pythagoras and Plato, the human being is a reflection of the entire cosmos. Therefore, the desirable state of harmony within the human being must be a reflection of the cosmic harmony. In fact, human beings are able to tap into that cosmic ability through the aithir (αἰθήρ). Impressions and eternal ideas of beauty, health and wellbeing are first received within a medium which Orpheus calls aithir, and is the medium within which the soul communicates, within itself, as well as with the outer world (4). Images of a perfect prototype of you – your most perfect version of endurance and strength – is “downloaded” in the human nous (mind) from the cosmic nous via the aithir. Greeks decorated their homes and cities with marble statues of toned, strong bodies as symbols of character and discipline, embodying Forms, prototypes of beauty and harmony. Contemplating a perfect toned body had different layers of meaning, alluding to a strong character with perfectly balanced centers, that could as well encapsulate a Delphic maxim** such as: Respect yourself, or Guard what is yours or Be well off as a mortal. In Phaedrus, Socrates describes an otherworldly existence in which souls ride across the top of heaven enjoying direct visions of the Forms. After falling into bodily existence a soul responds to beauty more avidly than it does to any other qualities for which there are Forms.

Modern olympians use visualizing before performance as mental enhancement before competition. (5) The brain has neuroplasticity, and training creates new synapses in the brain. As a consequence the body functions differently after visualization. (6) It is likely that statues representing Forms, prototypes of perfect beauty and character, were used by the Ancient Greeks as capturing devices within the aithir, as visual aids for the souls aspiring to reach beauty and self perfection. Modern scientific studies (7) on the relationship between brain and intense physical exercise show that exercise enhances the communication between the brain cells that regulate physical and emotional health, increasing the levels of two common neurotransmitters – glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA – that are responsible for chemical messaging within the brain. These finding offer new insights into brain metabolism and why exercise could become an important part of treating depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders linked with deficiencies in neurotransmitters. Many levels of connection and connectivity here, that could all be part of the generic aithiric forces identified by the Ancient Greeks. It is clear, for this author, that physical training with the purpose of a good shape and healthy body is an act of the soul (while sitting passively in front of the TV is not!). It is also clear that the soul – as the architect of the body – needs self discipline so it does not tilt the balance towards the hedonistic inclinations of its appetitive parts. The Delphic maxims indicate honoring discipline. Discipline builds character. Character builds virtue, which builds beauty and harmony within the the soul, eventually leading to freedom. This is the journey that the Platonists were on.

* “When the two Kozmogonic substances attain harmony, they merge together: the Aithír enters the Particulate Substance, the Mæristí Substance: Earth. This unification forms the most elemental cell, what Orphéfs calls an Egg, from which the entire Universe emerged, as described in the Orphic Rhapsodies:

“For Ageless (ἀγήραος) Time (Χρόνος) was moved by Necessity (Ἀνάγκη) and gave birth to Aithír (Αἰθήρ) and a limitless chasm (χάσμα) which extended in every direction, and everything was in tumult. In the Aithír, Time formed a silvery egg (ὠεόν or ᾠόν), the offspring of Aithír and Kháos (Χάος). And the egg began to move in an enormous and wondrous circle [71] and from the egg Phánis (Φάνης) emerged, and as he was born, the Aithír and the Chasm were torn apart (ἐρράγη).” [7]

This evolving Egg is called the Soul (Psykhí; Gr. Ψυχή). [8]  The Kózmos itself is a Soul. Likewise, all creatures have souls and are the result of the union of the two Kozmogonic substances.” http://www.hellenicgods.org/mystic-materialism

**The Delphic maxims constitute the ethical and moral code of the Ancient Greece, attaining virtue being the ultimate state of the perfection of the soul for the orphics, including the Platonists.

References:

(1)  Plato. Republic, Harmondsworth: Penguin. trans. Desmond Lee, book 3, 1987.

(2) The Materialism of Orphism. http://www.hellenicgods.org/mystic-materialism

(3) Plato. Republic, Harmondsworth: Penguin. trans. Desmond Lee, book 3, part 2, 410c–412a, 1987

(4) The Materialism of Orphism. http://www.hellenicgods.org/mystic-materialism

(5) Clarey, Christopher. Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training. New York Times, February 22, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/sports/olympics/olympians-use-imagery-as-mental-training.html

(6) Alivisatos, A. Paul et al. The Brain Activity Map Project and the Challenge of Functional Connectomics.  Neuron, Volume 74 Issue 6, 21 June 2012, Pages 970-974.

(7)  R. J. Maddock, G. A. Casazza, D. H. Fernandez, M. I. Maddock. Acute Modulation of Cortical Glutamate and GABA Content by Physical Activity. Journal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (8): 2449 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3455-15.2016

Adina Dabija is a writer, philosopher and western esoteric arts practitioner. Adina currently lives in New York, where she practices Chinese medicine. She published several books of poetry and fiction. She is also a priestess of Dionysus in the ancient Orphic mystery tradition, an initiatic lineage of Hellenic priesthood passed down directly from teacher to student. 

Ogygia or Archeology and Pandora’s “Box”

In 1815, a Greek scholar and author by the name of Athanasios Stagiritis[1] (1780 – 1840) published in Katharevousa (an early form of the modern Greek language) one of the most important texts on the Ancient Greek tradition titled Gr. Ὠγυγία ἤ Ἀρχαιολογία (En. Ogygia or Archeology).  This 5-volume text explores the ancient Greek tradition, its customs and society, including numerous annotations of poets and writers of that time.  The original text is extremely rare to find and was only recently reprinted in Modern Greek after almost 200 years in obscurity.  Moreover, it has never been translated into English.  Even though it is impossible to transfer the totality of its wealth here, it is important to share some of its content in order to inspire interest in the author and in the text, specifically on his transmission of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box – a myth which first appears in written form in Hesiod’s Theogony (800-700 BCE) (lines 560–612)[2], and is later elaborated upon in his Works and Days (700 BCE) (lines 60–105)[3]. The Pandora myth offers a timeless message of hope that is as relevant today as it ever was, while providing a meaningful connection to the divine. The text that follows is an English translation of Pandora’s myth as it appears in Stagiritis’ first volume of Ogygia or Archeology. 

Pandora’s “Box”

(English Translation from the original Katharevousa Greek, by Tony Crisos)

When Prometheus stole fire from Ouranos (sky or the heavens), he provoked the wrath of Zeus who said to Prometheus: “Prometheus you fooled me and stole the fire because you wanted to give fire to Earth.  So, I will give you fire but not the kind of fire that will be beneficial, but destructive to you and all of your descendants.”  Then he asked from Hephaestus to create a beautiful woman from clay, because there were no women yet, and all the Gods gave her valuable gifts.  Aphrodite gave her beauty, Athena gave her women’s duties, the Graces gave her necklaces, the Hours flowers, and Hermes [gave her] words of beauty and talkativeness, but he also gave her the ability to lie and a character inclined to deception and sneakiness.  Then he gathered all these evils, closed them in a box and gave it to her.  After that, he asked Hermes to take her to Epimetheus.  Some say that he (Zeus) sent her first to Prometheus, but realizing the act of sneakiness, he did not accept her, and she was sent to Epimetheus.  Upon seeing her exceptional beauty, Epimetheus forgot all about his brother’s warnings and accepted her.  Seeing her box also made him very curious about what was inside and he urged her to open it.  So in order to please him, she opened the box and all the evils stormed out like a stream.  When Pandora saw this, she immediately closed the box.  Unnecessarily so, since everything managed to get out besides hope, since all the others were light and flexible but she (hope) was heavy, slow moving, negligent, and she fell asleep resulting in her remaining closed in the box.  All the other evils spread everywhere and illnesses and old age and everything else spread out to the whole world, while before that humans lived peacefully and happily, having everything that was good for them.   

Philosophical Analysis of the Myth

(by Tony Crisos and Angelo Nasios)

The name Pandora is understood today as the “giver of all.[4]”  Etymologically speaking, it is also closely related to the frequently used epithet of the Earth, “Pandoros” (Gr. Πάνδωρος), clarifying the true nature of Pandora even further.  In its feminine or female form, the name can also be explained as all-endowed (i.e. by the gods).[5]  In another and more rare variation that can be seen in an Attic white ground kylix[6] dating approximately 470 – 460 BCE, Pandora’s name makes its appearance as Anesidora, which literarily means sending up gifts[7].  Ansesidora also happened to be a known epithet of the Earth[8].  In ancient polytheistic Greece, the people and especially the philosophers and priesthood of the mystery traditions did not view Earth exclusively as one of the natural elements, but also as the entire world of creation and formation at the sensible level of reality.  This sensible level of reality, in essence, comprises all that can be perceived by human senses, as the word sensible denotes, and it is subject to observation and scientific analysis.  So Pandora as an archetype represents the richness of Earth, as explained above, as well the lower part of our humanity, the Chthonic.   Therefore any misconceptions and misogynistic interpretations deriving from the myth need to be put to rest now that we have separated the symbol (Pandora) from what it symbolizes (the richness of the Earth), and not to confuse the two, believing Pandora to be truly sneaky or even evil.

In a similar manner, we can understand Pandora’s “box” using a more appropriate noun: “jar”. The jar is an ancient symbol of the vessel (our mortal bodies) that holds the gifts of the Gods as told in the myth above.  In Hesiod’s Works and Days, the word appears as jar, not box, hence the preference for the more accurate noun.  The Greek word πίθος (En. jar)[9], as it is found in the ancient text, has been wrongly translated as box.  This mistranslation has been perpetuated across generations and up to our times, leading to various misconceptions and misunderstandings of this great symbol.  This final piece of information properly adjusts our understanding of Pandora and her jar with the ancient Greek tradition, making her true nature and purpose clear.

Continuing with the analysis, we see the creator God Zeus, the Divine mind of the Cosmos, creating like a master builder does, and in unison with the lord of forms Hephaestus, he forms Pandora out of clay.  Clay as a symbol here can be understood as the mixture of primordial Earth and Water, the Protomatter, as well as the causality of cosmic life.  However, human life needs a spirit in order to become animated, so a new event takes place.  It is only through the use of Fire/Logos by Hephaestus, the master craftsman of Olympus who acts upon the clay, that Zeus activates life in human form out of clay, bringing Pandora to life.

Up to this point, the mythmaker seeks to reveal – to those worthy of unraveling it – a lesson concerning the nature of human life, mind, and soul as we understand them from our experience here on earth, while pointing directly to their divine origin.  In the myth, Prometheus is the archetypal aspect of the mind that can comprehend consequences and avoid them.  Epimetheus, on the other hand, reflects the part of ourselves that trusts the senses too easily, leading us astray. Eventually, the myth reveals that when the emotive part of the soul obeys the appetitive part, we harm ourselves.

Nevertheless, the soul can be mended and healed in the end. The one thing left in the box is hope.  Hope harmonizes and resolves the tension created by the mythmaker.  While the contents of the jar are labeled evil in this version of the story, we should not conclude that the contents are all evil.  Hope is singled out as the only good that can aid us in living life in a world full of suffering.  Hope is comforting and healing.

In Odysseus’ long journey home to Ithaca, the one thing he had was hope in the Gods.  Hope should not be without effort however, as Hesiod tells us in Works and Days (line 500) that “[a] man who does not work, waiting upon an empty hope, in need of the means of life, says many evil things to his spirit.”[10]  Idle hope does not provide; we must work towards that which we hope for.  Hope without action leads to the sayings of “evil things to the spirit,” resulting in not cultivating the soul to fulfillment, and letting it fall into chaos.  Odysseus hoped and worked his way home.

The myth also teaches that we each have a Pandora’s jar of our own. Symbolizing the richness of the Earth, we are to protect, maintain, and cultivate the gifts given to us by the divine.  Using reason as our guide to prevent us from falling victim to ignorance, we can and must work to avoid releasing evils into the world through our words and actions.

References

“Αθανάσιος Σταγειρίτης.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Jan. 2018, https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Αθανάσιος_Σταγειρίτης

“Πανδώρα.” LSJ: The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=79757&context=lsj&action=from-search.

“cup.” Collection Online, the British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=461511&partId=1&searchText=pandora&page=1

“ἀνησιδώρα.” LSJ: The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=9004&context=lsj&action=from-search

“πίθος.”  LSJ: The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=85635&context=lsj&action=from-search

“Hesiod, Theogony.” Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text.jsp?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0130%3Acard%3D585

“Hesiod, Works and Days.” Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0132:card=59

Hesiod. Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia. Edited & Translated by Glenn W. Most, Harvard Univ Press, 2018.

[1] Αθανάσιος Σταγειρίτης

[2] Hesiod, Theogony

[3] Hesiod, Works and Days

[4] Πανδώρα

[5] Πανδώρα

[6] cup

[7] ἀνησιδώρα

[8] ἀνησιδώρα

[9] πίθος

[10] Hesiod & Most, 2018

Tony Crisos is a guitarist, educator, philosopher, and esoteric arts practitioner, born in Greece and now living in the USA.

Angelo Nasios is an author, blogger, and graduate student in history studying ancient cultures and religions.