Monday, May 31, 2010

The Italian Niche: Rome, Italy and the Provinces, First Century B.C. (6)

(Continue from Page: 5)

In the East the situation was far different. The war with Mithradates, the requisitions levied by Sulla and the democrats, the supremacy at sea of the Cilician and Cretan pirates, the domineering of the great tax-farming companies, the shameless finance of the Roman bankers, the presence in Greece of Pommpey's and Caesar's armies, the unconcealed pillage carried on b y Brutus and Cassius and then by Antony__all these causes had finally destroyed the prosperity of the richest districts in the East. The cities groaned under the burden of debt, and the debt rose steadily. The only country not utterly ruined was Egypt; and even Egypt had suffered severely from the continuous dynastic disputes of the first century, from the greed of her Roman patrons, who willingly advanced loans to the contending parties at exhoritant interest, and from the arbitrary rule of Antony and Cleopatra. It is no wonder that the East was enfeebled not only financially but morally as well. The best men had emigrated to Italy or to othe west. The temper of those who remained became more and more depressed; and men who despaired of the present and of any future on earth sought consolation in religion and in doctrines partly religious and partly philosophic, which hel out the possibility of a better life_beyond the grave.

This explains why interest in knowledge and scientific investigation, together with belief in the creative power of human reason, disappears almost entirely at this period. Men withdraw into themselves; they ponder over moral perfection and union with God; they try to lead a more intense inner life. Heading this movement with its motto of "Detachment from Life", the philosophic schools__Epicurean, Stoic, and Cynic__became more influential. They all taught the necessity of Self-concentration, of seeking satisfaction in oneself, of looking at the life of the world as something 'indifferent.' Their methods, indeed, were unlike. Epicureanism lays down a purely materialistic view of things; Stoicism connects the search for an inner life with religion: Cynicism devotes itself mainly to an unsparing criticism of mankind and society. The last great creative genius in science and literature whom the Greek world produced was Posidonius, a Syrian Greek from Apamea, who spent his whole life at Rhodes. A man of vast acquirements and keen intelligence, he was proficient in almost every department of knowledge. He was an excellent teacher of rhetoric; he was one of the best historians of his time and wrote on tides and volcanoes. As an ethnographer he was the first to study northern Europe, and our first scientific knowledge of the region is due to him. He was famous for his skill in mathematics and astronomy. With all this knowledge he combined a profound religious felling, and believed in spiritualism and astrology and the possibility of mystical apprehension. When one compares him with such a thoroughgoing rationalist as Polybius, one realizes the vast change that had passed over the East in the interval between them.

To be continued: Page: 7

Source of Information: A History of the Ancient World by M. Rostovtzeff; Volume II Rome (Translated from the Russian by J.D. Duff. Oxford at the Clarendon Press Published: 1927 Great Britain.
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