Why is Stephen Fry so passionate about the ancient Greeks?

Why is Stephen Fry so passionate about the ancient Greeks?


Why am I so passionate about the Greeks?
I don’t think, I don’t believe in what you might call Greek exceptionalism,
you know what I mean, that I don’t believe the Greeks were uniquely
genetically somehow greater than any other species, any more than the British
were in the 19th century when we had an empire, it’s just for some reason there
was a period in history and I say for some reason you can actually try and
think clearly and logically about what those reasons might be, when the
spotlight as it were was just on this area of mainland Greece and the
Peloponnese and the islands around it and Ione, what we now call Asia
Minor – Turkey – you know and bits of North Africa, these people they were trading
together. The Phoenicians who came from really Tyre and the Holy Land as we would now call it, Palestine area, they were the
great traders and they brought the alphabet. And the Greeks were the
first people, as far as I can tell, who thought let’s try and be better than our
parents. I know it sounds like a silly thing to say but
what I mean is they actually believed in progress. And there’s no
real evidence that anyone before them ever had. Indeed they had evidence across
the Mediterranean at the great Egyptian civilisation, which for 3,000 years basically
didn’t change. You or I could go into a temple and look round it, an
Egyptian temple and then go to another one and say well those two temples
are more or less the same and they would be 2,000 years apart. Now that to us is
insane, I mean you can’t go to a house that’s a hundred years apart in
Britain without being able to tell the difference. The difference between
twentieth century house and a Victorian house, or a Victorian house and a Georgian
house, it’s obvious. But they had a thousand years, ‘This is the way we live,
no reason to change.’ But the Greeks did feel a reason to change. And at the same
time their trade and things were settling down, the coast lines had
settled. And that’s a very important thing to remember – for a long time
the sea levels weren’t stable so you couldn’t have a port. How can you
have a port if if you don’t know that the sea
level is going to rise up and flood it in six months? But once you suddenly
notice the sea levels were the same you could have a port, you could suddenly start
trading, talking with other people, communicating using this new gift of the
Phoenicians – the alphabet – and all of these sort of things happened at round about
the same time. And there was enough peace and stability and ideas of thought and
telling stories. I mean all myths say why we here? Why do mountains
rumble?Why does lightning flash in the sky sometimes? And, you know, we were
young as a species, we attributed such things to agencies. You know there must
be a figure who throws the lightning down, lightning bolt, it’s a god, a
god of lightning. And there’s a god of sky and of rain and one of earthquakes,
volcanoes, all the things that we couldn’t control, why food burst
out of the ground, had a god behind it. All the things that as I say
we couldn’t say ‘I did’ were done by gods. And so we invented them and then slowly
the Greeks began to understand more and more about how they could shape
their own destinies. And how they didn’t need to bow and sacrifice and
apologise. And that the gods, if they did exist, must be like us: capricious, mean, unjust, jealous, wrathful, lustful. All the
faults that we have, as well as the great qualities we have of courage, fortitude,
pity and so on. And so with the Greeks because they were written about
so quickly, the poetry was created out of their myths, you have these stories that
emerge that are like public dreams. That have this fantastic resonance. They
tell us about ourselves in ways that are not preaching, it’s not religious, it’s
not like religious parables. They don’t say this means you must behave like that.
Some of them of course are like warnings, you know, Icarus flying too close to the
Sun and the wax of his wings melting and plummeting to his death. You can see that as a classic warning of hot-headed youth not listening to the
sound advice from their elders. But they’re not like that, the Greeks,
you also admire Icarus. You know that the Greeks did. There’s something glorious
about trying to fly to the Sun even if it is doomed, it’s wonderful. And the
Greeks are full of that. I could go on forever as you can probably tell so I
won’t bore you too much but I just say I think it was really important for me to
tell the stories but not try and explain them. I have my theories and you as
readers will have your theories about what that story means or what it is, if
you like, if you think of myth as being the stories of a kind of collective
unconscious, of a society and the culture sort of trying out, rehearsing,
playing with ideas, deep thoughts about themselves; we can all say they’re doing
this with this story and that with that story, all this speaks to something. You
know Freud did it after all famously with the story of Oedipus. He saw it
as a Greek expression of something very profound that we feel about our parents
and so on. And you can agree with that or disagree with it but it’s not
for me in telling the stories to guide you to a particular interpretation. I
think part of the pleasure of them is like going around an art gallery. You
don’t want someone telling you what a painting means, it means what it is. And
you look at it and yes you can see in that painting gosh that, to me, that painting is all about how pitiful we are compared to nature.
Or it tells us about how death is in the midst of even the youngest
life. Or whatever the painting seems to suggest to you but the painting isn’t
limited to that. That’s just what you’re seeing in it at that time and I think in
these stories you can either treat them as a like a
comic book, superhero stories that are just adventures, because they
work as that like none other. Or you can say gosh I’ve been thinking about that
story about Bellerophon flying up on his winged horse and the more I think about
it the more it just says something to me. And I hope that’s what people will feel
because that’s what I feel while writing them.

32 thoughts on “Why is Stephen Fry so passionate about the ancient Greeks?”

  1. I wasn't aware of the point about the sea levels, that's really interesting if it's true. Ironically Egypt is famous for it's incredibly predictable Nile seasonal flooding.

  2. The claim that Greeks invented the alphabet is true.

    Please let me explain:

    It is true that the Phoenician 'alphabet' pre-existed the Greek alphabet, but the Phoenician was an abjad. Abjad is is a type of writing system where each symbol or glyph stands for a consonant, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel. On the other hand, an alphabet is defined as a set of graphemes that represent both vowels and consonants.

    So, the Greek alphabet was developed on the basis of the earlier Phoenician alphabet, but the concept of alphabet and the first 'true' alphabet, in its narrow sense of word, was Greek.

  3. Passionate 'cos the Greeks had a homosexual thing that turns him on.
    Damned traitor telling us mass immigration into Europe is all fine and dandy.

  4. Pretentiousness. Megalomania. He likes John Keats and the great in scope. I don't mean it negatively. I love Yes, the pretentious progressive rock band, and.. John Keats. I'm less interested in ancient Greeks. I can't imagine Stephen Fry enjoying short poems by Bill Knott. I certainly can, both John Keats and Bill Knott. It makes me THE KING, in my big tiny littleness.

  5. I adore the ancient Greeks, you can clearly see for the first time in history a culture of thinking and progress emerge. For the fact our language, thinking, and many ways of life are directly inspired by them show how they laid so many foundations for us.

  6. Aas a Greek Australian , im always thrilled to see intellectuals like Mr Fry support The Greek Culture and way of thinking. We need more people like him. Love his books .. interesting way to try to explain some Greek concepts in the English language. 😊 looking forward to hearing and reading more of his lovely books.

  7. The Greeks deserve a lot of credit. But more particularly, the Athenians deserve it. Athens liked new ideas; it even said so in Acts 17. In the context of the Pelopponesian War, the Spartans, for all their virtues, were much more conservative and disliked innovation. This is quite natural, as they were enslaving a much larger population of helots; innovation might lead to a change that could overthrow their system.

  8. There are no real Greeks anymore. The Greeks of today are the descendants of rape Greek women by the Turks. Christian Turks they are !! I say this as a blonde-haired blue-eyed Greek.
    στ' αρχίδια μου

  9. Yet they were incelish pseudointellectual emotional jawless ready-to-die womanly soyboys sterilized of real intelligence that's why they lost to Romans. Julius Caesar had bit of a jaw. Greeks had none, jawless subhumans. They only reason Greeks psychoneurotics with infinite psychological problems prospered was because they were surrounded by three major greatest civilizations that's Egyptian civilization, Akkadian civilization and Phoenician civilization which they stole the idea of city-states, and lived in prosperous good lands for cultivation and agriculture AS WELL AS interconnected sea trade, not in marsh swamps and thick forests of Germania. They were Babylonian civilization, Urartian civilization, Hurrian civilization, Hittite civilization before them so they weren't actually three, and let's not forget the primordial father of them all, Sumer.

    Greeks cod-philosophized a bunch of bullshit a lot and they pseudointellectualized as well saying the dumbest bullshit psychotic ramblings that characterized their nonsense and certified incoherencies you will read. They happened to got FEW things right out of all their bullshit diarrhea that's why they are still grossly overrated that much. Ancient Egyptians are still severly underrated. We don't have most things Egyptian because of Arabs and the Burning of Alexandria but their ingenuity reflects on the Three Great Pyramids.

  10. After some considerations and exploring the history of our planetary civilization, I've learned that an experience system, the collection of sensory perceptions gathered over an array of intentional and occasionally unintentional events, develops through feeling things out. Perhaps the Greeks were the first to honor these internal feelings and question them. Everything is vibration, right? That includes everything in nature, which means it is, by default, a part of consciousness. It's not separate.

    So we feel first, obviously, our bodies are the receptors of the signals (actually transceivers) and illustrate that nature, according to the indigenous ways, the gut feeling is our first connection with our environment or outer reality. We send from there, too. It's downright reciprocal, but we usually aren't conscious enough to realize it, let alone observe and learn.

    I agree also with our innate ability, often unrecognized, of naturally reaching out to perceive 'what is.' Structurally I think it is a synergy of chakras, meridians and 'clair-alls' (clairsentience, et al – send/receive circuits) that is at work always. Again, we aren't aware enough to deepen and/or expand our moments of coherence it seems. Sometimes we are.

    It has occurred to me, and I wonder if, the way in which we create reality is the interaction between the positive thought, neutral object and the electromagnetism attracting loose and/or shared electrons of people, places and things that resonate. It's the spook and spooky action at a distance thing applied locally. I love how Stephen illustrates the 'tell you where to look, but not what to see' adage.

  11. I would hazard a guess that he would not be interested in the slightest, but just imagine if dear, fluffy Stephen could be a tenured advisor of conscience to Parliament. Then we may once again have a Government of which to be proud.

  12. Tell that to Angela Merkel …And them dirty sauerkraut germans..😎😎😎😎…We want more cash TAX FREE…

  13. As a Greek i think is a great privilege for the Greek history , a person like Stephen Fry with so much education and so big platform to be philhellene. Thank you phile mou ( my friend).

  14. Never better said, the Greeks wanted to be better! But in the first place most everything of value come from Anatolia and Mesopotamia, even the ancient Greeks.

  15. Stephen Fry should interview Graham Hancock about the ancient Egyptians it would be an entertaining and interesting interview!

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