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Review of The Rape of Troy: an evo-psych piece on Homeric Greece

May 21st, 2010 · No Comments

The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer [Paperback]
Gottschall Jonathan

Review: Archaic Greece, the Axial Age, and Darwinian confusions about history, May 21, 2010
By John C. Landon

I review this piece of evolutionary psychology dealing with Homeric Greece. It looks plausible on one level, but the question of the Greeks, thence the Aryan Indo-Europeans isn’t so simple, and the soon to arrive Axial Age shows us what real ‘evolution’ is about.

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This review is from: The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer (Paperback)
Applying evolutionary psychology to the world of the Greeks (evidently the Greeks of the Mycenaean or earlier ages) has a superficial plausibility in one direction, but the facts of history show us something extraordinary about the transition from Archaic Greece to its brief flowering in the Classical period: its correlation with the phenomenon of the Acial Age, which gives us a glimpse of ‘evolution in action’ on a stupendous scale, showing us a face of ‘evolution’ that is operative on the highest level of culture, including that of art and literature. What is the meaning of evolution in this context?
The problem here in this regard is that the ‘world of Homer’ is ambiguous: the actual world of Homer is precisely that of the Axial Age Greece with its spectacular creation of literatures, beginning with the redaction of the Homeric corpus, and climaxing in Greek tragedy. The creations of Homer are a part of this Axial Age phenomenon. This is not the world of ‘evolutionary psychology’ along Darwinian lines. Another problem with speaking of ‘evolution’ with the early Greeks is that the periods of time are compressed and the relation to the world of primordial Indo-Europeans is unclear. Could the culture of the early Greeks warriors be a late development after their separation from the Indo-European mainline, and how does any of this fit into the more general portrait of Aryan migrations?

In general it does not make sense to apply Darwinian explanations to world history, because we can see two levels at work, as in the perception of the Axial Age, and its more general pattern of dynamic macro-evolution behind the stream of ordinary history. In general Darwinism fails given the counterevidence of evolutionary dynamics behind history. The world of the violent Indo-Aryan Greeks was not ‘evolving’ in any real sense. Its contribution to world evolution occurs later, in the mainline of the Axial Age, when its fertile latencies flower into an remarkable set of cultural innovations.
The example of the spectacular rapid emergence of Classical Greece, in parallel with the other sectors of the Axial Age should induce caution with respect to reductionist explanations.

For more on Axial Age Greece, and theories of historical evolution cf. World History and the Eonic Effect: Civilization, Darwinism and Theories of Evolution, 3rd Edition

Tags: The Axial Age

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