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Mushtaq Bhat

Concerning Poetry, Epics and Homer

And the modern Disdain for Idealism

As an afterthought, we think it appropriate to stress the fact, that in our forgoing expositions, we were concerned with the influence that poetry, rhyme and the epic probably had on human awareness and conceptualizations concerning its own existence and the part they may have played in dissemination of language and information concerning cumulative experiences, the knowledge of the world and of the cosmos, amongst and within human populations in pre-literate societies. We are concerned with their, in my view not fully appreciated, impact on civilizations in their formative periods! We are not talking here about the intrinsic or literary values of the some poets of the world, which has always been and we presume will remain, a matter of debate, and that we consider, despite the claims of structuralism and some renowned theories of aesthetics, to be predominantly a matter of taste and subjective susceptibility and subject to revisions and re-appreciations through the centuries and that may moreover not be homogeneously shared amongst the varying social stratifications of any given society at all times. No doubt, many later Greek and Roman poets did not necessarily consider Homer as one of the greatest poets, and in similar vein, Goethe, was probably more impressed from the Eastern Poetry, (Firdowsi, Hafiz and Kalidassa) than from Homer, but our contention is that Goethe is product of a culture, whose basic awareness of the self is rooted in the Homeric universe. If Homer, according our claim is, is one of the greatest factors, that carried the seeds of a revolution, that indirectly catapulted humans from mythical thinking into a Post-Socratic Enlightenment, we may conclude, like Newton, that they have almost all stood on the shoulders of giants. Furthermore such achievements can not be ascribed alone to individuals, the basis of their products is the language, which is of course a product of communication and a community, not monologues from certain individuals, which means a cumulative work of many! If Shakespeare had invented all words, nobody would have understood him!

The Pre-Socratikers had two distinct oral heritages (the Iliad and Odyssey), which more than anything else in the history of mankind, depicted a great social transformation and two separate epochs with two distinct human conceptualizations of the man and cosmos. Moreover they both were at the same time two great oral encyclopedia's of almost everything that a relatively small population could know about especially relevant to our theme, History and Geography, inherited from ages when even the earliest forms of logo-syllabic scripts were probably unknown to the poet (or poets), and that has more than initiated the almost unquenchable systematic search of the European, in matters pertaining to Geography, History and Cosmology of the visible manifest physical world, the Maya of the Hindu! True Indians too had the beginnings of Logos, in grammatical works of Sanskrit and in pioneering works of Mathematics, the Chinese even traces of an empirical deductive and experimental Science and the later the Incas a more precise Calendar than the Europeans, not to talk about Egypt and Babylon and Near East, from whom the Greeks inherited a lot, but they all lacked the systematic methodology that Socrates, more than any one human being consolidated and systematized into one of the most influential legacy of the mankind.

Our first contention is that, it is the peculiar nature of Homer's poems, that have functioned as the fertile relatively homogenous sediment on which the great, and the only historically valid transformation toward the logical concept and reconstruction of Universe took place. And it was in Greece and in Greek, a language that with almost lightening speed for the times, transformed the Cretan-Asian legacy (script) to new heights, with the introduction of vowels! Egyptians and Babylonian, Persian, Arabic, Indian and Chinese and the Incas all had ample time and historical legacy far richer than the Greeks, but such transformation did not take place, at least not for a whole civilization. The Greeks have almost single handily made quantum springs in almost all primary disciplines of knowledge in a more universally relevant systematic manner, that is the basis of European and now global learning. We do not believe that Thales was a product of some genetic mutation, the brain size has hardly changed from the first Homo sapiens till Einstein. The potential was an evolutionary given, but nevertheless liable to develop in more than one direction. On this legacy of Homer, we presume were based the three basic prerequisites for the transformation, literacy, democracy and a social solidarity!

Our second contention, is that it needed an evolutionary convergence toward one human being, to be able to become a valid institution. And that we believe is the main contribution of Plato (whom we accordingly could call as the teacher of mankind). He more than any one person created the Socratic Institution, which would keep the flame that Socrates had kindled alive. Aristotle, his student, took the next inevitable step, in taking the discursive method into the, till then haphazardly existing individual disciplines and consolidated it into a methodology and a solid fundamental frame work for inquiry into Nature and compiled an encyclopedia, in fact a vast systematic, on which the later luminaries of western Civilization could work upon, thereby standing on the shoulders of Giants. The individual specializations, be it in the achievements of Archimedes, Pythagoras or a Euclid or even for that matter the legacy of the Pre-Socratikers would not have alone been enough to revolutionize thinking. As haphazard occurrences they would have probably existed as specialties and perhaps suffered the same fate as similar achievements in Egypt, China, India and Middle East. Without an institutionalized consolidation that occurred in Greece around Socrates, the human evolution may have taken an entirely different turn. We believe that this Greek legacy (Logos as a step forward over mythical thinking) is, for good or bad, something permanent and with us to stay and cultures, that will attempt to ignore it, doomed to extinction!

And our further contention, as we have discussed in the forgoing chapter (Greek and European Civilizations) and more conclusively will be doing in the following article (Darwinism and Christianity) is that Socratic rational thinking is no way, completely incompatible with religion. In fact Socratic attitude is not necessarily materialistic and anti-religious, we consider it as one the most genuine religious sentiment .... the compromise less humbleness before the laws of mother Nature, which we can arrive at only through discarding our own cherished views and religious bigotry! Moreover it will also imply an global outgrowing of human beings from a pubertal phase. And it should be borne, in mind that true Socratic scholar, will be more than willing to discover, the poets empathy for Nature and not discard it as a pre-logical mythical phase of mankind but may even, as Socrates greatest and the most influential student Plato did, consider them as God-Given a priori ideas or universal constants, as real or as imaginary as those in Mathematics.

The particular turn that unfortunately Greek Enlightenment took, especially in North Europe and the particular implicit disdain that idealism has suffered in at the hands of hard core mechanistic materialists of the nineteenth Century may be attributed to a dichotomized views of man, that Saint Augustine and Descartes seem to have voiced for their epochs and solidified for the next generations. In fact we are more than willing to consider here the possibility of a meeting ground, between religion and Science, which almost all western Scientists and Marxist in East almost instinctively brush away or are willing to consider only in the light of reductionistic schools of thought, that sprang up like mushrooms up in West after Newton and Darwin. In our article about religion, we will also touch upon the theme of the prophets and the rather reductionist views concerning them in the prevalent scientific schools and literature. Unlike Freud or Jaynes or Salman Rushdie, and more recently, some contemporary writers, who base their work on insights coming from experiments conducted by Neurophysiologists and psychologists, we do not see religion as a merely psychological or for that matter as Para-psychological phenomenon, nor like Marxist or Durkheim and his followers, as only a sociological phenomenon. We will try to shed more light on the subject, in more than one way, hopefully without constraints in thinking in reductionist categories, which no doubt high light specific aspects of the phenomenon from a specific vantage point, which may even, when perceived in a more global perspective, support our contentions and perhaps do justice to our subject, i.e., to issues concerning Homo sapiens. We believe this issue has been exclusively in the hands of potential reductionist in the last century and has accordingly been taken under a loop and like the frog removed from its ecosphere dissected in the lab, a method which can without doubt reveal to us the a frogs anatomy and physiology, but tell us almost nothing about it's occupation, which may be singing love songs most of the time! It was evident to Weber and Thomas Carlyle, that religion has also to do something with, what we will call public resonance, which unfortunately does make more than half of the endeavors in pure psychology and sociology and brain sciences and quantum physics or for that matter even the pure algebra of the Structuralists, to certain extent irrelevant to understand the religious phenomena in its entirety. Here we are dealing with some a priori Given's, i.e., with concepts like symmetry of the face of an infant, the tone of the voice of the prophet (Weber's concept of Charisma, i.e., we are dealing with Plato's world of ideas!).

And finally we will attempt to show, how Nature has operated amidst humans. We claim, that she has almost consistently reinforced empathy and not egoism or some weird half-aware selfish-gene (and when it does not validate, please use the term gene-pool, when that does not suffice please use the term, race, nation, Primates, Vertebrates, planetary life on Earth, carbon-water based life as against silicon based Intelligence, or whatever!). But do not say, on greater scale for creation, for greater good? That is idealism! Pure and repulsive and full of bigotry! Selfish-gene or greater Good! It is only a question of perspective, what the sages have said through centuries. And the selfish gene probably has a mind and idea of its existence? Did the cell capture a mitochondria or was it an accident of nature?. No probably it too was intentional selfish action of some selfish organization? And benign bacteria in our guts probably think human beings are just a media for their existence and were created to serve them! Like some one once wrote, that to a extraterrestrial intelligence, paying us a visit at the time, as the Homo sapiens had turned into an agriculturist, that is, at the time of the great agricultural revolution that took place in the fertile crescent and seeing him hording grains, and constructing big granaries and buildings all over the fertile crescent, might have appeared to this intelligence, as a bipedal slave of some tall grasses! What is here selfish? Who is selfish? In similar vein, the humans may decimate other mammals and unlucky reptiles and birds and the fish, and in their turn may be decimated by small time bacteria or viruses or even by simple strand of a protein! Or a small piece of a dust particle falling from outer space or few rumblings of Mother Earths intestines or due some hiccups of our atmosphere caused by minor discrepancies in air pressure! Or we may not need Mother Earth for all that, we will do it ourselves, for resources, ideas, convictions, power and prestige! Or worse, because of a widely prevalent malaise, as old as Civilization as new as the landings on Moon: Hate!

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