By William Markiewicz
I was recently in a restaurant ornamented with small replicas of ancient Greek sculptures. What caught my attention were two small heads not far from each other. One represented the Archaic Greek face, the other the Classical Greek face. The Archaic one, bearded, with almond shaped eyes and thin features, expressed enigma, a psyche wrapped in some cloud of a neurotic like inquietude.
The second face had the classical beauty that could belong to a man as well as a woman. There was no particular expression of virility nor of femininity. Still it wasn't a blank face; it expressed youth -- eternal triumphant youth -- transcending everything else. The expression proclaimed pure simple existence, superior to any mystery, torment or nostalgias. It was a plenitude, not self-contained, but expressing limitlessness. In other words, it was a face of a god and very human at the same time. This head proclaimed, "God is human and human is God." If the Old Testament declares that God created man in his image. the Greeks created God in human image and those two apparently contradictory statements somehow blend into one. There is no arrogance in this perfection speaking for itself, just self-acknowledgement. It is also a statement that Paradise is here, that the world is perfect and the human god takes it for granted. This optimism without fanfare is characteristic of the Greeks and nobody equalled them nor expressed it so plainly.
Monotheism was born in the desert filled with invisible God/spirit where there was nothing but sand and infinity around. Human fills up his hungry soul with the god/spirit as an expression of the eternal spiritual quest toward something unattainable while seeking for pasture and water holes from oasis to oasis. Other religions, mythologies -- Hinduism, Buddhism, esoterism -- born and cultivated at the top of Tibetan mountains or in exuberant jungles, were religions of extremes of climate and inquietude, where human and animal forms were melting together to create super powers on a human-animal level. The Greek gods are purely human. Their acts of power were expressed in human-like games and preoccupations. They were not reaching for the metaphysical and/or philosophical scope of other religions. They transcended this.Their very presence proclaimed: "Don't look for mystery, all is resolved. Don't look for perfection. It's here. Enjoy the physical which is divine in itself."
This Greek conception of theology is the most in agreement with our -- genes (!) because a man who escapes the physical world toward spirituality, asceticism, as for instance the Judeo-Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, is like a fish escaping water because it's too wet. Paradise for fish must be water. Plant paradise must be between earth and sun. Paradise must be the harmony of a being and its surroundings. Not seeing a paradise in our surroundings is like being a plant whose roots are too sick to absorb nourishment and moisture. It is not the order of things which should be put in question, but the plant itself. That's the essence of Greek teaching.
It doesn't mean that the Greeks teach us to submit ourselves to our surroundings but rather to see our surroundings as limitless, and it's up to us to expand. The Greeks teach: be like god, live your daily life and see it as godly. Everything around you is godly -- it deserves you and you deserve it.
If we accept this kind of philosophy as a frame for living we can't avoid a question which brings us back toward inquietude and thus distances us from the Greek gods: Is this the truth or just another self-hypnosis? If the highest expression of spiritual fulfilment is contentment with our world, then what is the difference between mediocre contentment and divine contentment? I think personally that the Greek answer without answer is " it's up to you." Picasso said "There are artists who make sun from a yellow spot and there are artists who make a yellow spot from the sun."
Voltaire claimed in Candide: "all's for the best in this best of all possible worlds" and also "let's cultivate our garden." He was sarcastic as Voltaire usually was but maybe his sarcasm expressed only the incapacity to grasp the greatness of "the world" and "the garden."
The Human who doubts, who questions, who hides, who fears, is the Human torn between his animal & human/divine parts. This was the message of the Greek archaic visage.
Photos courtesy of Zeus Restaurant in Toronto