II. Culture of the Mind, the Body, and the Liminal
a. Academia: Origins of an institution
The development of the academy in Ancient Greece as well as academic disciplines can be regarded as a tandem development to the use of reason in public life. If the Greeks sought to avoid the pitfalls that other nations with which they were familiar had suffered, then the discourse of history would be useful in providing a body of knowledge that illustrated such perils, or alternatively, examples of successful collective endeavors for the purpose of educating succeeding generations. Herodotus is widely acknowledged as producing the first historical accounts in the West.
The discipline of history is based on several discreet factors. The first is the recognition of distinct groups of people who share the basic attributes of culture and continuity through time. A second and perhaps more important factor is the recognition of the role of human agency and effort in influencing the course of development in groups of people. History does not assign causality to events on the basis of some supernatural force beyond the ken of human reason.
On the other hand, reason and religion were not necessarily mutually exclusive, as one often finds mention of the gods or reference to the Delphic oracle in Plato’s dialogs. It may be that they were useful in maintaining the distinction between the two. The Delphic oracles, in fact, are generally cryptic messages that require use of the mind to analyze and apply in one’s life. And perhaps the most widely cited teaching associated with the oracle is the saying that implores, “Know thy self”, which is a fairly straightforward call for self reflection.
The Greeks did not subject themselves to religious dogma or superstition in public life, as is typical in theocratic societies. To the contrary, the Greeks gave free range to their capacity of reason, and established institutions that expanded the scope for open exchange and communication in relation to manifold issues confronting society.
The fact that a form of the Ancient Greek language later became the lingua franca spoken from Egypt to Babylon after time of Alexander the Great bears witness to the transformative influence that the culture cultivated by the Ancient Greeks had on the Ancient World in Asia Minor and beyond. At the Tower of Babel they didn’t need to speak in tongues, they could speak in Koine Greek.