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Friday, August 28, 2009

Shape of Ancient Thought 3: Dressing Up in Animal Skins and Dancing Around is What Humans Do

NYC - Metropolitan Museum of Art - Youthful Hercules

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Youthful Hercules

  • Thomas McEvilley on 'The Shape of Ancient Thought' (POST)
  • Shape of Ancient Thought 2: Similarities btwn Buddhism/Hinduism to Greek Philosophy (POST)

Let's talk about Hercules for a minute. Facts about Hercules:
  1. Heroic semi-divine figure from Greek myth. In ancient mythology the man Hercules myth was his "12 labors." He was also a favorite subject for both Greek and Roman artists.
  2. Greek Hercules was inspired by the Babylonian/Sumerian hero-figure Gilgamesh.
  3. Hercules is always depicted in possession of a club and an animal skin.

In Shape of Ancient Thought, McEvilley uses "3" to try to link up Hercules w/ late ancient period "tantric" practices, which he postulates were old Dravidian believes that became "sub-strata" (i.e. were brutally opressed) during the Aryan invasion. He points to the fact that tantric/holy-crazy men wanderers dressed in animal skins, acted like animals, and carried a club/staff as their only possession.

I say "wahhhh wahhhhhhhh" to that idea because first of all, dressing up in an animal skin is probably the most common, basic shamanic practice of all cultures. See, for example, A.L Kroeber's hand book of the Native Californians, where almost all of these totally isolated tribes practices some version of the "bear dance." I think the best you can say is that the depiction of Hercules has some antecedent in shamnic practice... but then again: Don't we all?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shape of Ancient Thought 2: Similarities btwn Buddhism/Hinduism to Greek Philosophy

Buddha, Metropolitan Museum, NYBuddha w/ Greek influence

Thomas McEvilley on 'The Shape of Ancient Thought' (POST)
Book/Museum/Movie Review: Rig Veda; Getty Villa Malibu & Year One (POST)
Book Review: Travelling Heroes(in the epic age of Homer) by Robin Lane Fox (POST)
Book Review: "indians" & Mother Right (UPANISHAD BOOK REVIEW)

I was reading the books reviewed above and thinking about the relationship between East & West and I was kind of thinking, "There is no way that Greek philosophy and Upanishads era Hinduism/Buddhism arose independently of one another- they have to be related."

First of all, Sanskrit and Greek come from the same body of languages. Second of all, the Indians and the Greeks were in contact with one another because the Persian empire owned parts of both of em back in the day. Third of all, once you learn that the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers had a similar take on the reincarnation/escaping reincarnation situation to the Upanishads.... well... I know this is an area fraught with cultural baggage, but it just seems hard to ignore.

So I found "The Shape of Ancient Thought" after basically thinking about the ideas in the paragraph written above, which I only put together after reading the basics of Hindu texts. Amazingly, it is a book devoted entirely to explicating the relationship between Greek philosophy and Buddhist/Upanishad era Hinduism. Below is the part where he describes BOTH Greek philosophy and Indian Buddhist/Hindu philosophy in 16 lines. Amazing:

1) The development of abstract rather then mythic conceptualization.
2) Philosophical monism, including the concept of an absolute and formless reality which is somehow "higher" than contingent and formed reality
3) A doctrine that the realm of change and form is an illusion essentially non existent
4) Within this illusion, human life is governed by a burdensome cycle of reincarnations following
5) A law of moral amd cognitive evolution from one incarnation to the next which can be escaped through
6) The practice of non violence, including relgious vegetarianism, which along with other practices, will lead to
7) A kind of absolute knowledge or transcendent state of mind which constitutes
8) Release from the cycle of reincarnations and
9) Merging into the overall oneness which transcends specific form
10) Time is a cyclical process in which the universe flows from unity to multiplicity and back again
11) In the material realm, the four elements - earth air fire water act as mediators between one and many
12) Materialistic atomism arises, as if reflexively, as an alternative to monism, with the intension of redeeming the reality of the many.
13) The process of condensation and rarefaction offers a mechanism of transition between one and many
14) A theory of universal flux leads to a conviction of
15) The impossibility of knowlege and the inadequcy of langauge
16) Reality is defined through a paradoxical discourse for example that it is characterized by both being and non being.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thomas McEvilley on 'The Shape of Ancient Thought' -

I'm reading this book: The Shape of Ancient Thought by Thomas McEvilley. He's kind of a kook but I think he is right... Enjoy! Also: The shape of ancient thought is "a circle." A circle. He took 30 years to write this book. (AMAZON)

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