What troubles me is that when Mr. Holland characterises the Trojan War as the first battle between Europe and Asia or represents ancient Greco-Persian battles as a stand off between all that the Western world purports to stand for today and a despotic and powerful empire of the East- not to or from the East, mind you - he does not simply delve into harmless tribalism to win a readership. He is race-mongering. Sure, the medieval Islamic world, which comprised of large chunks of the erstwhile Achaemenid empire, adopted a Persianate culture and in that place and time Europe's renaissance theme of claiming kinship with ancient Greece made sense. But the reality is that Ancient Greece was culturally and geographically closer to Ancient Persia than to Northern and Western Europe, the bastions of Western civilisation today. What connects Greece to England is not culture or habits but race. By appropriating a freedom loving Athenian democratic model as a western ideal - never mind the monarchies that dotted Greece, the slavery, the socialised subjugation of women - Mr. Holland is in fact indulging in white chest beating. Not cool.
|The eastern border of the Achemenids|
|Persian empire - parts of Greece and nothng beyond the Indus|
|Xerxes in 300 (he is the one on the right!)|
And the book got me thinking
Unification seems to have been a starting point for empire building. However what I found admirable in the Greeks was strangely their ability to collaborate and cooperate. It is amazing that the Spartan King Leonidas made his stand against Xerxes in Thermopylae, miles away from his native lands, while the Athenians led a combined Greek Navy off Artemisia and then Salamis. The Greeks for all their squabbles united in order to preserve their way of life and their sense of being a distinct people. A sense of self was crucial to their ability to withstand predators.
At a practical level, this self identification seems to have bypassed Indians - not once, in the face of wave after wave of marauders from the North West was it thought important to secure the passes that led through the Hindukush into India. Like Hotel California, India has invited the world to check in (and perversely not allowed them to leave). And the few instances of collaborative stands - the Rajput confederacy against Babur led by Sanga, the 1857 first war of independence against the British East India Company - have ended in spectacular failure. Are we too divided to appreciate who is a foreigner and who is not? More troubling still, is this self identification, code for racist ideology? Ancient Indian texts refer to preservation of Dharma ("the" way of life), purity of race (the horror of miscegenation), the idea of the mlechha (barbarian). But as India became a potpourri of nations and races, this sense of self as separate and worth preserving warped into a casteist divisively supremacist and irrelevant ideology that could not recruit the energies of her people into a single unified force.
All food for thought. Glad I read the book even if I did not enjoy reading it. Go for it if you want a handle on Greek history with some accurate information about Ancient Persia.