A Mediterranean Synthesis: Generative Interaction of Cultures in the Ancient East Mediterranean
Professor Cyrus Herzl Gordon (1908-2001) established a paradigm for the study of the ancient Humanities, with long and deep resonances for the modern world. For him diverse ancient cultures could interact with each other more extensively and profoundly than moderns suppose. He perceived patterns and paradigms within the welter of linguistic and cultural artefacts that he had mastered. He envisioned not merely parallels but significant interconnections among diverse cultures, each of which he knew intimately. His perception of patterns and paradigms, his establishment of significant interconnections among diverse cultures, viz., his notion of a reasoned ‘multiculturalism’: the demonstration that ancient cultures matured and attained their distinctive character, in relation to, and not in romantic isolation from, each other: these fundamental ideas form his most characteristic and enduring intellectual legacy.
The major vision of cultural synthesis that animated Gordon’s scholarship was the notion of the ‘Mediterranean as a Human Unit’, in the formulation of Fernand Braudel: the East Mediterranean axis of Palestine-Syria, the Delta of Egypt, and Minoan Crete, which in the Late Bronze Age became the multiplex foundation of Greek and Hebrew civilizations. The world of diplomatic, political, military, and cultural exchanges revealed by the archives of El Amarna, Egypt, written mainly in Babylonian cuneiform, in the 15th and 14th centuries BCE served as one basic model for this phenomenon. This model of understanding the East Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age prefigured the Hellenistic world in its ‘fusion and diffusion’ (the term of Moses Hadas); the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II of Spain in the late sixteenth century, and even the modern ‘global village’ of complex interactions of cultures effected by electronic communication.
For Gordon, ‘Greek and Hebrew civilizations are parallel structures built upon the same East Mediterranean foundation.’ The early Greeks and Hebrews were not preternaturally gifted, each with their own fundamental impulses, but attained them from complex interaction in the welter of East Mediterranean cultures.
Howard Marblestone (United States)
Professor of Classics
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
Ph. D in Mediterranean Studies, Brandeis University. Have taught a wide array of undergraduate courses in Classical languages, literature and history. Research interests in late Greek literature, Semitic Philology, and Hebrew Literature.
Person as Subject
(60 min. Workshop, English)