The Greeks and the New


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A weapon of war was turned on innocents at home. That would have shocked the ancient Greeks. The pioneers of citizen armies were also pioneers of withdrawing weapons from the places of civilized life.

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The ancient Greek armies were manned exclusively by citizens who brought their own weapons into battle. It was this vision of citizen militias, further developed by the Romans, that went on to inspire the English revolutionaries of the seventeenth century and the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth—so shaping the values expressed in the Second Amendment.

Nevertheless, when one early-nineteenth-century American reflected on what the new American Republic could learn from the ancient Greeks, he drew attention to another feature that was widespread in their politics: refraining from carrying weapons in public spaces. In some cities, this was a matter of custom, in others it was a matter of law. Citizens carried their weapons abroad when serving in the military for public defense. But, even in these cities, it was believed that carrying weapons at home would be tantamount to letting weapons, not laws, rule.

This point is emphasized in a study of ancient-Greek laws attributed to Benjamin Franklin, though apparently composed by the founding editor of the Western Minerva , who published it in When weapons rule, they kill the law. This is the opposite of the view attributed to the Founding Fathers by the N.

Whereas men in all Greek societies used to carry arms at home, this had been a sign of an uncivilized era of piracy in which the most powerful men could dominate all the rest. Laying aside the everyday wearing of weapons was part of what Thucydides believed had allowed Athens to become fully civilized, developing the commerce and culture that made her the envy of the Greek world.


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The Romans, too, banned the carrying of weapons within the pomerium , the sacred boundary of the city. The banning of carrying weapons in public was based on the idea that civilized coexistence could not tolerate public spaces that were dominated by those wearing weapons, on pain of intimidating those around them.

They developed a movement called Atticism, which treated classical Attic as the only acceptable standard for prose writing.

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This movement would continue to influence Greek writing well into the modern era by constraining the production of literature in the normal idiom of actual daily speech. Atticism dominated the production of literature for the entire Byzantine era from the establishment of Constantinople in until when the city was defeated by the Turks.

The development of actual daily speech during this period is extraordinarily difficult to reconstruct since the vernacular speech was deemed unfit for literary production. As Greece entered a protracted period of bondage to the Turks lasting four hundred years, its literary production had been drastically reduced by the demands of Atticism.

Crete managed to resist Turkish control until The poetry produced there in the local dialect near the end of this period would contribute significantly to the development of modern demotic literature as would the folk songs produced on the mainland.

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When Greece finally won its freedom in a new kingdom was formed with Athens and the Peloponnese at its core. The dialects spoken in these regions became the basis for the standard spoken language of today's Greek society. This standard was not formed directly from the folk songs and poetry of earlier peasant society, however.

Efforts to impose it were heavily influenced by the old Atticism, though, and the attempt to produce a prose medium broad enough to cover both formal and colloquial situations has proved extraordinarily difficult. Even today the language question still presents problems, yet the continuing growth of educational institutions as well as journalism and the broadcast media have begun to affect a solution. The distance between demotic and katharevusa is narrowing as a way of speech arises which combines aspects of both. Three terms are used to designate long periods in the history of the Greek Language: Hellenic, Hellenistic, and Byzantine.

This website, available at both Greek-Language. Wilson Publishers, posted at Ohio State University's web site.

Most SURPRISING Facts About The Ancient Greeks!

For more detail on the earliest form of Greek writing, see our Linear B page.

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