As they say about humanity, the concept lies on the basis that this is precisely what separates and distinguishes a person from nature. But such a separation does not really exist: the “natural” qualities and the so-called “human” qualities have grown together inseparably. Man, in his highest and noblest abilities, is completely natural and carries within it its eerie, dual character. Its terrible qualities, which are considered inhuman, maybe precisely that noble soil on which all humanity of impulses, actions, and creations can only grow.
So, the Greeks – the most humane people of ancient times – bear a trait of cruelty worthy of the thirst for destruction: this trait is most striking in the reflection of Hellenism, in which it is enlarged to the monstrous in Alexander the Great, but it scares us throughout Hellenic history, as well as in mythology, to which we approach with pampered concepts of modern humanity. When Alexander orders to pierce the feet of the glorious defender of Gaza, Batid and binds him alive to his chariot to drag him to harass his soldiers, then this is a disgusting caricature of Achilles, who mocked Hector’s corpse about the same night; but even this last trait offends us and inspires us with horror. Here we look into the abyss of hatred, with the same feeling we are facing a bloody, the insatiable introversion of the two Greek parties, as, for example, in the Korkir revolution. When the winner, in the struggle of cities, according to the “law” of war, executes the entire male population and sells all women and children into slavery, then in the sanction of this right we see that the Greek considered it a serious necessity to completely pour out his hatred; in such actions a concentrated, tense feeling finds permission: the tiger rushes forward, voluptuous cruelty glistens in his terrible eyes. Why does the Greek sculptor in countless repetitions consistently depict war and struggle, tense with passion of hatred or excessive intoxication of triumph, human bodies, writhing wounded, dying? Why did the whole Greek world revel in images of the Iliad war? I am afraid that we do not understand this “Greek” enough; Yes, I think,
But what then lies, as the maternal bosom of all Greek, behind Homer’s world? What will we see if, not guided and not protected by the hand of Homer, we enter the world preceding Homer? Sheer darkness and horror – products prone to disgusting fantasies. What earthly existence is reflected in these disgustingly scary theogonic legends, in which the children of the Night, Discord, love Lust, Deception, Old Age, and Death reign. Imagine the challenging atmosphere of Hesiod, but only more condensed and gloomy, without all the softenings and purifications that descended on Hellas from Delphi and the numerous abodes of the gods; season this condensed Boeotian air with the gloomy voluptuousness of the Etruscans; such a reality would make us create a world of myths in which Uranus, Kronos and Zeus with his titanomania would seem to us a relief; in this stuffy atmosphere, the struggle is happiness, salvation, and the cruelty of victory is the peak of the jubilation of life. And since the rejoicing of Greek law actually developed from murder and its atonement, a more noble culture takes the first victorious wreath from the altar of atonement. Following this bloody century, a wavy furrow stretches into Hellenic history. The names of Orpheus, Musei, and their cults show what consequences the constant sight of this world of struggle and cruelty sought – namely, a feeling of disgust for life – to understand this being as an expiatory punishment, and also to believe in the identity of being and guilt. But just these consequences are not exclusively Hellenic: in them, Greece is in contact with India and, in general, with the East. To the question: “Why is this life of struggle and victory?” – the Hellenic genius was ready yet another answer,
To understand it, we must proceed from the fact that the Greek genius recognized this terrible desire and justified it, while the Orphic trend was based on the idea that life, having its root in such an aspiration, is not worth living. The struggle and the thirst for victory were recognized, and nothing so sharply separates our world from the Greek, as the coloring of some ethical concepts derived from here, such as hostility (Eris) and envy. When the traveler Pausanias visited Helikon during his wanderings in Greece, he was shown a very ancient copy of the first Greek didactic poem – “The Works and Days” of Hesiod, written on lead sheets and very spoiled by time and weather. Nevertheless, he could make out that in contrast to ordinary copies, in his beginning, there was not that little hymn in honor of Zeus, and it began like this: “On the earth, there are two goddesses Eris.” This is one of the most remarkable Hellenic thoughts worthy of the neophyte capturing it in his mind at the very gates of Hellenic ethics.
“One Eris, if you have a mind, can be praised insofar as you rebuke another; because both goddesses are completely different. One requires evil war and enmity – cruel. None of the mortals can bear it, but, by the definition of the immortals, people should honor this gloomy Eris. She, like the eldest, gave birth to a black night; and the other, as much better, Zeus sovereign put on the roots of the earth, among people. It encourages an unfit person to work, and if one who is deprived of property looks at another rich person, then he, like him, is in a hurry to sow, plant and organize his affairs; a neighbor competes with a neighbor seeking wealth. This eris is good for people. The potter is at odds with the potter, the carpenter, and the carpenter, the beggar envies the beggar, the singer is the singer.” Both last verses, which are about odium figulinum, in this place, incomprehensible to our scientists. In their opinion, the words “enmity” and “envy” refer to the properties of only the evil Eris, which is why they do not hesitate to declare these verses false or entered here by accident. But in this judgment, they are inspired by a different ethic, and not Hellenic: since Aristotle without any difficulty relates these verses to the good Eris. And not only Aristotle, but all Greek antiquity thinks of anger and envy differently than we do, and argues as Geosides, who designates one Eris as evil, the one that leads a person to hostile mutual destruction, and at the same time glorifies the other Eris as good – one that, with the help of jealousy, enmity, envy, induces a person to action, but not to the action of a war of extermination, but to competition. The Greek is envious, but he considers this trait not a vice, but by the action of a beneficent deity: what a gap between their ethical judgment and ours! This idea does not alienate him from his gods: on the contrary, their significance is reflected in the fact that man should never dare to compete with them; he, whose soul is burning with envy for every other living being.
The higher and larger the Greek, the brighter the fire of ambition burns in him, destroying everyone who follows the same path with him. Aristotle once made a list of such hostile competitions in high style: among them is a fantastic example that even a dead man can excite a living person to terrible hatred. So it is Aristotle that denotes the relationship of Xenophanes of Kolophon to Homer. We will not understand this attack on the national hero of poetry in all its strength, if we do not imagine, as the basis of this attack, a vast, passionate desire to take the place of the overthrown poet and inherit his glory – as was later with Plato. Each great Hellene passes on the torch of competition; for every great virtue of virtue, a new quantity is lit. Young Themistocles could not sleep at the thought of the laurels of Miltiad. Still, his early awakened desire, only in a long contest with Aristide, was completely freed from the shackles and gave that exceptional, purely instinctive genius of his political actions, which Thucydides describes. How characteristic is the question and answer, when the famous opponent of Pericles was asked, he or Pericles is the best fighter in the city and answered: “Even when I defeat him, he denies that he has fallen, he reaches the goal and convinces those who saw how he fell. ”
Each ability must develop in the struggle, as Hellenic folk pedagogy teaches: while modern educators are not so afraid of anything as the development of so-called ambition. They fear pride as “evil in themselves” – except for the Jesuits, who think like the ancients and therefore are the most real educators of our time. For the ancients, the goal of agonal (adversarial) education would be the benefit of the totality, the benefit of the state society. Each Athenian, for example, had to develop his “I” so much as a competition that he could bring Athens the greatest benefit and the least harm. That was not ambition to infinity and immeasurability: the young man thought about the good of his hometown when he competed in running, throwing, or singing; he dedicated wreaths to the gods of his city, which the judge respectfully placed on his head. Since childhood, every Greek man has a passionate desire to participate in the competition of cities, to be an instrument for the good of his city: his pride was ignited by this, and this was restrained and limited. Individuals in antiquity were, therefore, free because their goals were closer and more understandable. And modern man is continuously tormented by infinity, like the swift-footed Achilles in the parable of the Elliat Zeno: infinity slows him down, he cannot even catch up with turtles.
If we eliminate competition from Greek life, we will immediately see a pre-Homeric abyss with terrible, wild hatred and a thirst for destruction. This phenomenon, unfortunately, affects when a large person, thanks to a tremendous brilliant business, suddenly withdraws from the competition and becomes liors de concours, according to his own judgment and the judgment of his fellow citizens. The result of this, almost without exception, is always the most terrible; usually, from this result, they conclude that the Greek was not able to transfer fame and happiness; but, rather, he could not bear fame without further competition and happiness as the conclusion of this competition. A vivid example is the last fate of Miltiada. The incomparable success during the Marathon put him to an exceptional height, above all his associates: and now he feels how a low vindictive passion awakens in him, aimed at a Parian resident with whom he was at enmity from a young age. To satisfy this passion, he abuses his fame, his state power, his honor as a citizen, and dishonors himself. Aware of failure, he commits unworthy acts. He enters into a secret, unholy deal with the priestess of Demeter Timo, and wants to enter the sacred temple at night, where no man is allowed. But when, having jumped over the wall, he began to approach the sanctuary of the goddess, he suddenly felt a sense of panic fear: mowed, distraught, he feels that he is being driven away, and jumping over the wall, falls broken and seriously wounded. We have to lift the siege, the people’s court is waiting for him, and the shameful death puts its stamp on a brilliant, heroic activity, to overshadow her in front of all offspring. The envy of the celestials wounded him after the Battle of Marathon. And the envy of the gods flares up more at the sight of a man without an opponent, at an exceptional height of glory. Along with him, only the gods – that is why he has them against himself. But they incline him to the act of Eris, and he perishes under his weight.
We also note that, as Miltiad dies, the noblest Greek states die when, on the lists, due to merit and happiness, they reached the Temple of Victory. Athens, having destroyed the independence of their allies and severely punishing the rebellion of the conquered, Sparta, after the Battle of Egospotamos, even more cruelly and inexorably proved her superiority over Hellas, – also following the example of Maltiad, they brought themselves to death through the actions of Eris; all this is proof that without envy, jealousy and ambition, the Hellenic state, like the Hellenic man, degenerates. It becomes evil and cruel. It becomes vengeful and wicked, in short, “pre-Homeric,” and then panic fear is enough to cause it to fall and perish. Sparta and Athens surrender to Persia, as Themistocles and Alcibiades did; they betrayed Hellenism, rejecting the noblest Hellenic thought of competition; and Alexander, a crude copy and a parody of Greek history creates a universal Hellenic and the so-called “Hellenism”.
Friedrich Nietzsche: Homer’s Wettkampf (1871/1872)

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