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Touched by Graecophiles

I remember studying ancient Greece, though only vaguely, in several different lessons in school. We learnt about the Greek pantheon, the architecture, the philosophers, the technological innovations and my personal favourite: the warrior state, Sparta. It turns out though that in recent years we have discovered through observation of the evidence that there was so much more to them than that that we should all learn from: they were tolerant, multicultural, pacifist, kind and yes, even sexually promiscuous!

Or were they? And, if so who cares?

I’ll tell you who cares: the left. In recent years, I have noticed an increasing amount of commentary on Hellenic culture coming out of neo-Marxist magazines which has been echoed in conversations I have had with liberals during this time. Ancient Athens has become a liberal shrine, a shining star of sleaziness within the vast sky of chivalry, nobility, piety and valour that is recorded history.

I call this new phenomenon Graecophilia.

It is, prima facie, no surprise to see why a cultural Marxist would become a Graecophile. Athens was indeed the first society to tolerate, encourage and even institutionalize homosexuality in the form of paedophilia, translated as “boy love”. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong and the Guardian have since miraculously discovered bisexual Neanderthals; perhaps it is only a matter of time. The nudity, the aristocratic alcoholism and the hedonistic decadence of the upper classes within ancient Athens contemporary to its brightest intellectual and political achievements (which we will touch on later) have ignited within lefties a feeling of the best of both worlds: seemingly being conservative and liberal at the same time; simultaneously, in their eyes, having permission to admire tradition, as long as the tradition is sufficiently degenerative and continue being perverts with a clear conscience.

Please take a (brief) look at this article, entitled “Classics for the people – why we should all learn from the ancient Greeks” from the Guardian.

The Guardian, amongst others “news outlets” I will refrain from directly scrutinising due to wanting to write an article, not a book, have begun to print these articles lauding the Ancient Greek culture as something we “can all learn from” on a regular basis. Here’s just one more example, entitled “Laid bare: the sex life of the ancient Greeks in all its physical glory” to cringe over before we get stuck in.

Eros, the god of love and the great loosener of limbs, was many things: irresistible, tender, beautiful, excruciating, maddening, merciless and bittersweet. There was no position, no touch, no predilection too outre to pay homage to him. From the affectionate embrace to group sex, love came in many forms.

"The Greeks were anything but prudes," said Nicholaos Stampolidis, director of the Museum of Cycladic Art, "Theirs was a society of great tolerance and lack of guilt."

The above articles from The Guardian point at ancient Greek culture, and state that “classics should be enjoyed by everyone, not just the privileged few.” If you can stomach the above saccharine swill, you’ll gather exactly what I’m talking about when I outline the problem of Graecophilia. According to the genius that wrote the above article, we could learn a lot from ancient Greece, as they

“often freely intermarried with other peoples; they had no sense of ethnic inequality that was biologically determined, since the concepts of distinct world “races” had not been invented.”

I think the term she was looking for was “invaded”, not “intermarried with”, but who am I, a scholar of Greek history, to disagree with Edith Hall and her ability to pervert the evidence to get her liberal readers drooling. Forget that Greece, as every other principality in history has, violently fought off foreigners in defence of their own culture, probably most famously in the Battle of Thermopylae, an effort which was ultimately unsuccessful, as the population of Helots (foreign subjugated peasants) became unsustainable and resulted in an uprising that collapsed Sparta. Here’s another gem from the article:

“They tolerated and even welcomed imported foreign gods.”

Oh yes, of course, the “cultural tolerance” card. Forget that the very reason that the philosopher Socrates was sentenced to death was his “belief in strange Gods” as can be read about in The Trial of Socrates, either by Xenophon or Plato. I thought Edith Hall, the woman who wrote this article, was all for reading the classics? So much for that…
In summary, the above articles, as just a small sample of many, highlight this slippery slope of reverence for a principality that was in actuality drowned eventually by its multiculturalism, gluttony, lust diversity and indiscipline. We risk heading down a route of reverence for a culture which in of itself, whilst responsible for a number of intellectual achievements, is not in any sense a model society or indeed one we can learn very much from unless we, as I will later outline, adopt all of its philosophy as one cohesive entity rather than cherry pick. As a traditionalist, it does pain me to say it, but not all the ways of the past should again be proudly trodden as they once were, and certainly not without careful study and understanding. The issue goes far beyond the microscopic one of “fat shaming” that we will discuss now, but ties into the much broader issue of an emergence of Graecophilic liberals who, with little education in the classics, wish to praise Athens as a kind of ancient liberal microcosm.

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What about physical fitness? Surely if Edith Hall’s studious reporting is anything to go by the Greeks were just as tolerant of the overweight as they were of everything else, and good on them for doing so! Unfortunately for Edith, this is not the case and the Greeks were big into what we know now to be fat shaming.

“Fat shaming”: A brief fatground and preamble

For those who are fortunate enough not to have come across the term before, I’ll provide a brief extract from the Wikipedia page on “Anti-fat bias”:

Anti-fat bias refers to the prejudicial assumption of personality characteristics based on an assessment of a person as being overweight or obese. It is also known as "fat shaming."
Anti-fat bias leads people to associate individuals who are overweight or obese with negative personality traits such as "lazy", "gluttonous", "stupid", "smelly", "slow", or "unmotivated." This bias is not restricted to clinically obese individuals, but also encompasses those whose body shape is in some way found unacceptable according to society's modern standards (although still within the normal or overweight BMI range).

Well, what do you know? A fat person who is lazy? Certainly not. All the fat people I know are high-intensity career people who even fit in time after work to go for a jog, raise a family and cook a healthy, moderately sized evening meal. And I can’t for one moment imagine why people would draw a line between being fat and gluttony. How ridiculous.

Although I knew it existed, I generally laughed off the idea of “fat shaming” as another moronic, hipster idea of such triviality that it would soon fade into the liberal backwater and be forgotten about by the socialist goldfish brains. However, I’ve seen the idea or, if you can call it a movement, gradually start to expand in size like the women that read The Independent. Being exposed to the this video and the support it received for glorifying obesity was the final straw for me to write an article on this issue.

What shocked and angered me even more than a) The idea that this could be considered poetry, and b) Just how little the leviathan on the video realised it was hurting itself and setting a dangerous example for others was the lack of any criticism within the comments section. There seemed to be no one coming to aid of common sense or possessing an iota of independent thought; the comment section was quite simply a chromosomal wasteland. I knew I had to write a rebuttal and the issue of Graecophilia was also playing on my mind, so I thought I would amalgamate the two ideas into an unlikely combined article.

Already fairly well versed in the topics involved, I still knew I had to read hard if I was going to sufficiently rebut the movements: liberal Graecophilia and anti-“fat shaming” that had been imposed upon me. I picked up a copy of The Republic by Plato, some texts referencing Lycurgus, Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle and read some supporting texts I could find on the web, including looking in depth at some important studies on obesity, all of which I hope are sufficiently referenced throughout for further reading.

I’ll first start off my rebuttal by clearly stating my argumentative position which is that firstly, it is intellectually degenerative to in of itself condemn “fat shaming” but doubly that to do so while attesting that ancient Greece is something we should all learn from, and that “all, not just the privileged few” should study the Greek classics is hypocritical and is a cherry picking of the elements within Greek society deemed worthy of learning from; and that of course to simultaneously venerate and criticise a culture is impossible. I will then finally briefly outline why cherry picking cultural elements does not work and inevitably leads to the adopter’s destruction.
In the next passage I’m going to be providing mainly a body of information and evidence in support of the afore-stated logical discourse, in that Greek society was indeed “fat shaming”. Greek culture being anti-“fat shaming”: Fat chance!

Homeric Era and Prehistoric Greece:

Let us begin with the element of a society that one it holds most dear: its religion. Greek religion belonged/belongs to the proto Indo-European family of religious traditions, along with Celtic, Slavic, Iberian and Norse paganism as well as Hinduism.
Gods were, of course, as is the way in more mainstream religions such as Christianity, idealized role models who served as the perfect standard towards which the common folk should strive. We know of the Greek’s religion through many pieces of evidence both archaeological and textual, but probably the best collection of texts in reference to the Gods are Theogeny, Works and Days by Hesiod and The Illiad and the Odyssey by Homer.

Within the Greek mythos was the demi-God Heracles, son of Zeus and Alcmene, a mortal woman. Heracles was venerated in every Greek city state, predominantly Sparta, where he was considered to be the ancestor of all Spartan people and the reason for their exceptional strength. I need not go into detail about the kind of figure that Heracles was, as you the reader will already surely be aware, but what I will state is that Heracles was not only respected for his strength, but worshipped, especially also in Thebes where he was said to have been in born.

Heracles was not the only “ripped” figure in Greek mythology who was a role model for the people. Pretty much all of the Gods and indeed Goddesses possessed awesome physiques. Now think for a moment, if they were tolerant of obesity and slothfulness, wouldn’t there be at least one fat God or a story about the twelve main courses of Hercules rather than a tale of tremendous physical endurance?

Spartan Society and Lycurgus’s Constitution

Particularly in Sparta, men and women alike would engage in intense exercise regardless of their prospective or future occupational pursuit. It was required of all young men to undergo physical training in a school know as the Agoge from age 7, in aid of cultivating physical virtues in connection with their believed sportive ancestry. The Spartans also advocated a eugenics program to weed out the lazy and unfit in honour of their “tolerance” towards the morbidly obese. Still feel like learning from the classics, Edith?

To confirm my point with evidence, in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Greek Plutarch visited Sparta to collect since extinct sources which were significantly older to reconstruct a history of the philosophies of the Spartan people from 900BC to the erosion of Sparta in the 3rd century BC. He was particularly interested in the Spartan legal institution, brought in by the philosopher Lycurgus. In his biographical account Sayings of the Spartans, Plutarch writes:

Lycurgus, the lawgiver, wishing to recall the citizens from the mode of living then existent, and to lead them to a more sober and temperate order of life, and to render them good and honorable men (for they were living a soft life). He reared two puppies of the same litter; and one he accustomed to dainty food, and allowed it to stay in the house; the other he took afield and trained in hunting. Later he brought them into the public assembly and put down some bones and dainty food and let loose a hare. Each of the dogs made for that to which it was accustomed, and, when the one of them had overpowered the hare, he said, "You see, fellow-citizens, that these dogs belong to the same stock, but by virtue of the discipline to which they have been subjected they have turned out utterly different from each other, and you also see that training is more effective than nature for good."

But some say that he did not bring in dogs which were of the same stock, but that one was of the breed of house dogs and the other of hunting dogs; then he trained the one of inferior stock for hunting, and the one of better stock he accustomed to dainty food. And afterwards, as each made for that to which it had become accustomed, he made it clear how much instruction contributes for better or worse, saying, "So also in our case, fellow-citizens, noble birth, so admired of the multitude, and our being descended from Heracles does not bestow any advantage, unless we do the sort of things for which he was manifestly the most glorious and most noble of all mankind, and unless we practice and learn what is good our whole life long."

So, in essence, what it was that Lycurgus was trying to teach was that environmental conditioning was important for developing character, and that it is possible for a person of poor initial potential to perform better than a person with a high potential given the adequate discipline and training. In this example, the unconditioned, IE the fat, are the dogs who were given “dainty food” which turned out poorly for them when they had to catch a hare, i.e., do something useful!

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The Socratic School: Socrates, Xenophon, Aristotle and Plato.

Though of course of great interest to those who love to learn about European history and culture, liberals will likely turn their nose up at the examples I have used so far, so let us turn to something a little more “high brow” and look at the Socratic school of philosophy. I think this was more of what Edith of the Guardian had in mind.

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An interesting fact about Socrates, and one that people often forget to mention, is that Socrates was a military veteran. Not only well versed and trained in matters of the mind, he was a well conditioned soldier in his youth and fought in at least three conflicts during the Peloponnesian War between the state of Athens and its allies and the forces of Sparta. Socrates made several points throughout the Socratic dialogues alluding to the importance of physical fitness not merely to personal excellence but to the flourishing of the state. I think the best one can be found in Plato’s The Republic, a book discussing the ideal state wherein an entire chapter is dedicated to the importance of physical exercise in a citizen’s excellence and in turn a flourishing society. I will leave you the reader to go and enjoy The Republic in your own time and briefly touch upon a passage from Memorabilia by Xenophon, a student of Socrates. In the book, Socrates is having a discussion with another one of his students, Epigenes, and notices that Epigenes is in poor condition for a young man, starting the following dialogue:

Socrates: You look as if you need exercise, Epigenes.
Epigenes: Well, I’m not an athlete, Socrates.
Socrates: …Why, many, thanks to their bad condition, lose their life in the perils of war or save it disgracefully: many, just for this same cause, are taken prisoners, and then either pass the rest of their days, perhaps, in slavery of the hardest kind, or, after meeting with cruel sufferings and paying, sometimes, more than they have, live on, destitute and in misery. Many, again, by their bodily weakness earn infamy, being thought cowards. Or do you despise these, the rewards of bad condition, and think that you can easily endure such things? And yet I suppose that what has to be borne by anyone who takes care to keep his body in good condition is far lighter and far pleasanter than these things. Or is it that you think bad condition healthier and generally more serviceable than good, or do you despise the effects of good condition? And yet the results of physical fitness are the direct opposite of those that follow from unfitness. The fit are healthy and strong; and many, as a consequence, save themselves decorously on the battle-field and escape all the dangers of war; many help friends and do good to their country and for this cause earn gratitude; get great glory and gain very high honors, and for this cause live henceforth a pleasanter and better life, and leave to their children better means of winning a livelihood.

I tell you, because military training is not publicly recognized by the state, you must not make that an excuse for being a whit less careful in attending to it yourself. For you may rest assured that there is no kind of struggle, apart from war, and no undertaking in which you will be worse off by keeping your body in better fettle. For in everything that men do the body is useful; and in all uses of the body it is of great importance to be in as high a state of physical efficiency as possible. Why, even in the process of thinking, in which the use of the body seems to be reduced to a minimum, it is matter of common knowledge that grave mistakes may often be traced to bad health. And because the body is in a bad condition, loss of memory, depression, discontent, insanity often assail the mind so violently as to drive whatever knowledge it contains clean out of it. But a sound and healthy body is a strong protection to a man, and at least there is no danger then of such a calamity happening to him through physical weakness: on the contrary, it is likely that his sound condition will serve to produce effects the opposite of those that arise from bad condition. And surely a man of sense would submit to anything to obtain the effects that are the opposite of those mentioned in my list.

Besides, it is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit. But you cannot see that, if you are careless; for it will not come of its own accord.

As the preceding passage outlines, physical proficiency was, and I believe for good reason, considered to be an essential element of self-mastery irrespective of the occupation, age or intention of the person exercising and it was a disservice to oneself to be in poor physical condition. Those who were in good physical fitness were of more use to their family, friends and the state and Socrates believed (correctly, as I will explain later) that a person with suboptimal physical fitness is also inevitably intellectually suboptimal. If Socrates was truly as intelligent as we can from inference assume, and if we indeed “should all learn the classics” then it would be unwise not to follow the advice of such a decorated thinker and military veteran in ignoring, ipso facto, the leftist objection to fat shaming. Either that, or we ought to disavow the Greek culture altogether.

Heracles--Homeric-era-Gods

Ok, enough with references to these high-brow authors, how do we know that they were representative of the people? The general masses may have thought differently, and been more progressive. I hardly think so. To briefly summarise the form of occupation for 90% of citizens -excluding women, children and the small minority of pensioners- was in manual labour. It can be surmised that the majority of individuals worked in agriculture with others working in mining, sculpture, craftwork and the military and were by extension in good physical condition if not underweight. Only a small minority of jobs, often up at the top of the class ladder, were sedentary enough for it to even be possible for a person to become fat even if they wanted to. It must be then stated that fat statesmen and judges were certainly not a rarity though, but were often the subject of mocking in Greek comedies and also the world’s oldest joke book, Philogelos. I suppose you could call that “institutionalized fat shaming”.

Some basic science behind the benefits of physical fitness and “fat shaming.”

Now we have briefly explored fat shaming in ancient Greece, and we have learnt that the heffalumps over at the Guardian are the ones who think there is so much to learn from ancient Greece, let us examine Socrates’ main argument alongside some contemporary studies and see if they still stand (fat pun not intended):

Socrates: … it is matter of common knowledge that grave mistakes may often be traced to bad health. And because the body is in a bad condition, loss of memory, depression, discontent, insanity often assail the mind so violently as to drive whatever knowledge it contains clean out of it.

Socrates drew a parallel between bad health and a poor intellect, as does this study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden:

The study, which including 1.2 million young adults, noted an increase in cognitive performance amongst the group who regularly exercised. I am not a biologist, but I would hypothesis that this link is likely as a result of a) An increase in the release of stimulating endorphins and b) the ability to supply the brain with adequate oxygen due to better cardiovascular fitness.

This study from Allergan Inc., a gastric band company, also supports Socrates’ argument. According to the study, obesity has a hindering effect on the US economy to the tune of $73.1 billion per year as a result of absenteeism.

Just doing a small amount of cursory research and applying common sense, it is easy to determine that Socrates was right: fat people are a drain on the economy, they have lower IQs than people who exercise, have a higher rate of unemployment in the West (likely as a result of the only obese people in the third world being drug barons) and are five times more likely to be diagnosed with depression. No doubt though that as usual the left will make up unscientific excuses for all of these phenomena.

They can come up with all the excuses they want, but this article by Milo Yiannopolous, entitled “Science proves it: Fat-shaming works” has elegantly checkmated them all:

"[I]f people feel shit about themselves, they’re more likely to change. A landmark study by obesity experts in 2014 found that a “desire to improve self-worth” was one of the most important motivating factors encouraging people to lose weight. What does this tell us? That encouraging fatties to “love themselves,” as the fat acceptance movement does, is the worst possible message you could send people if you want them to lose weight."

We would all, of course, wish for a society that is as intelligent as possible, so why, then, as the Socrates noticed, should we advocated a society in which the body is malnourished (or “overnourished”) and in turn so is the brain? If we conservatives choose to be derogatory to the very cause of that which left and right alike consider to be negative, IE suboptimal intelligence, then where is the issue? Where is the logic in sparing an individual’s feelings in exchange for a long term illness? Not telling an overweight person they are doing themselves harm is akin to encouraging someone not telling a to go and get their cough checked out. Though at least for most smokers this will only be precaution, whilst a fat person risks death at every moment.

I hope you can take away a number of facts, both historical and scientific, with you to wage war against cellulite and liberal Graecohiles. As we have determined, the Greeks did not think very highly of obesity at all, and were not as tolerant as Edith Hall from The Guardian would like to deceive you into believing.

We’ve also taught another valuable lesson: you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either “the classics are for all to learn from” or they’re not. Edith may as well write an article now entitled “Greeks were bigots; shove your classics up your arse”.

It is, of course, intellectually bankrupt to unquestionably revere, accept or even revile aspects of a culture without an understanding of the cultural and political diaspora that surrounds them and ergo the reasons why such a custom was an aspect of the culture in the first place. This is the dangerous route down which students of Greek history are beginning to descend down as fragments of culture ought not to be analysed without a perception of the whole. The irony is that it is more often than not conservatives who are accused of employing a “pick and choose” mentality on issues such as immigration or Islam, in which we are “picking on specific cases”. Well, perhaps it is time that the left pick and choose. Pick and choose what your stance is on Hellenic culture!
As conservatives, we would do will to carefully study and value the wisdom bestowed upon us by those who came before, as long as we are firstly always aware of the context within which behaviours existed and hence gain a full understanding of a philosophy within is context, and even more importantly remain vigilant in adopting elements of culture independently of the context within which they originated as this inevitably results in incompatibility and cultural dissonance, like trying to run a new piece of software on a computer that’s hardware was never built to run it in the first place.

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We need to dispel the idea that we can cherry pick different aspects of different cultures and ideas and blend them together to create an amazing modern concoction of philosophy. Well, by that logic, the city of London should be a paradise by now, should it not? Oh dear.

This issue goes far deeper than the regressive left’s new-found and hypocritical reverence of Hellenic culture, despite their rejection of aspects of this culture such as fat shaming where it feels convenient, this issue permeates all current affairs -and in actuality perennial thought- as the concept of cherry picking aspects of a culture is dangerously wide-spread.

A subject for another day, I will briefly touch upon the example of democracy in order to prove my point: there are very few people in the modern West that would disagree with the idea of democracy, but in actuality it is plain to see that democracy often does not adequately function as an electoral system because it was taken out of its original context: ancient Athenian morality and theology. Within this context, democracy functioned more efficiently due to the moral education of Athenian citizens and the theological values imbued within the system that made it possible for the masses to make objectively “correct” electoral decisions. Democracy has been taken out of this context and implemented into an intellectually and morally bankrupt society and hence cannot function efficiently.

If you can’t accept Greek philosophy on fat shaming, you quite simply can’t praise Athens for its tolerance of homosexuality, its politics or its theology, because they belong within the same self-contained cultural Jenga tower. You take one piece out, the entire thing falls apart into nonsense. It is nigh on impossible to symbiose ideas and mannerisms from different geopolitical, religious and cultural contexts without producing psychological dissonance, as globalisation has taught us and in turn informed us of the pattern generally. Ergo, to take, for example, some Athenian ideas irrespective of their context would be doomed to failure; in many ways, ironically, this was one of the things which caused Athens’ eventual downfall!

I will leave with this final remark, I believed fittingly, from the Greek poet Hesiod’s Works and Days:

“I mean you well, Perses, you great idiot, and I will tell you. Look, badness is easy to have; you can take it by handfuls without effort. The road that way is smooth and starts here beside you. But between us and virtue the immortals have put what will make us sweat. The road to virtue is long and goes steep up hill, hard climbing at first, but the last of it, when you get to the summit (if you get there) is easy going after the hard part.”

Do not ever be afraid of causing offense, ,making jokes or living your life on the side of truth. Tell a person that they are doing harm to themselves with a clear conscience as long as you do it for the right reason: the encouragement of health and wellbeing.

by John Richards

John Richards, Author of the blog Europa Unite, a blog in support of European tradition and culture.

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