5. Symphony of Emergence 


A Flowering of Greek Tragedy and The Birth 
Of Democracy


Section 5.2.5

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon




  5. Symphony of Emergence  
     5.1 Cycle, System Return: The Axial Age  
        5.1.1 Non-genetic Evolution
        5.1.2 Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation
        5.1.3 Art, Evolution and The Tragic Genre  
     5.2 Stream and Sequence: The Axial Transitions   
        5.2.1 Archaic Greece: The Clue 
        5.2.2 The Old Testament as Eonic Data 
        5.2.3 Aryans, Hinduism, and a Buddhist Revolution
        5.2.4 Axial China: Continuity and Discontinuity
        5.2.5 A Flowering of Greek Tragedy and The Birth Of    Democracy  
     5.3 A Rebirth of Freedom...Cycle, System Return       
     5.4 On The Threshold of World Civilization  
        5.4.1 Slavery, Abolition, and Eonic Sequence
        5.4.2 Religion and Empire   

 6. Transition and Modernity


    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     5.2.5 A Flowering of Greek Tragedy and The Birth Of Democracy


Before passing on, let us consider once again the Greek transition, in its fullness, and note also the correlation of Greek Tragedy and Greek democracy, an apt association. The Greek period suddenly stands out as the clearest instance of eonic transition in the Axial Age.

Let us indulge one speculative extension of our basic outline, by wondering why the Greek transition is so spectacular after its divide, while the Israelite is largely before it, i.e. up to -600. This puzzle suddenly suggests our distinction of System Action and Free Action, and that the induction of freedom, and its realization must have an in between period where the two are in a hybrid state, exactly what we see!

The Chronicle of Freedom One phenomenon of note is the way in which the Greek transition lags slightly behind the Judaic. That is, we see the onset of the great Classical flowering in the wake of the Greek Archaic in the period, roughly, from the generation of Solon, just after the divide. The Israelite transition gets its main work done before the divide, yet, in a real sense, crystallizes afterwards. Our model gives us a strange insight into this with our distinction of eonic determination and free action, macro-action and micro-action. The emergence of freedom ought to show eonic determination, yet must also be self-created. It is thus almost eerie to see the exact take-off the Athenian experiment just at -600. Indeed, much of the Greek achievement shows just this timing. The great run of the Pre-Socratics appears with Thales just after the putative divide, the Judaic instance having already completed the forms of its later codifications.[i]

Presocratics and Sophists, BCE

Thales                                 580

Anaximander                     570

Anaximenes                       550

Xenophanes, Pythagoras   530

Heraclitus                          500

Parmenides                        490

Anaxagoras                       470

Zeno                                  460

Empedocles                       450

Protagoras                         440  

 This might not be clear, and is a bit speculative on our part, but the point is that after the transition and the divide, there is no more ‘revelation’, only ‘free action’! Sink or swim. But this is a hybrid situation where the system action is the real impetus, but it must be the result of human free action. Consider a different example, and analogy: you can create a theatre, system action, but the composition of plays must be free action.

Our model is of course approximate, and there are other good reasons why Greece might be slightly delayed, but there is a clue here to something our model is perfectly designed to explain: the transition to micro-action from macro-action. True freedom must be self-constructed. There is an immense mystery here, yet the logic is obvious. Create the foundation, and then leave the actual construction to men themselves. Note the contradiction that must be resolved: “freedom will not evolve and requires system determination. But system determination will produce only a causal sequence, and therefore for freedom to self-evolve there must be no system determination”. Our data, in light of our model, beautifully expresses the solution to this contradiction. And we can see why the experiment in democracy might be so brief.

Democracy’s Eerie Timing: By our rough measure the ‘eonic determination of democracy’ (System Action) would be invisibly inside the transition, but democracy as ‘free action’ should be directly emergent after a divide. Mirabile dictu, that’s what the evidence shows, twice in a row, the modern democratic revolutions occurring once again with this timing. It is remarkable, though still speculative, to see how well the puzzle fits. It defies chance, and we see the halting ‘democracy as free action’ emerge in the generations after Solon and nose-dive within two centuries.

Two Divides Although our model is crude it seems often exacter than we could have expected and the double emergentism of democracy in world history, twice in a row, just as a divide occurs, is almost eerie in its precision, twenty-four hundred years apart.

Two Enlightenments Peter Gay in The Enlightenment: An Interpretation explicitly notes and portrays the double succession of ‘enlightenments’, Greek and modern, and their exact correlation with our eonic sequence.[ii]

Let us note one of its most remarkable incidents: the emergentism of democracy and the tragic genre in concert. We see that the Greek transition was the era of the birth (relative transforms again) of the idea of Freedom  (no doubt not its absolute birth), the Greek ‘eleutheria’, in clear correlation with the second of our turning points. We have already connected this to the recursion seen in the last transition. The great clue to the rise of the modern lies not in the economic statistics of medieval towns, or the chase for the essence of the Renaissance, but here in antiquity. Armed with a discrete-continuous model the point becomes clear (none of which denies the importance of the great Medieval gestation period). One way to see it is by tracing the idea of ‘freedom’ as it submerges in the era after the Greeks, to resurface in the modern world. The emergence of democracy in the city-state of Athens is one of the great moments of this period, in the first incarnation of ‘proto-liberalism’, against a backdrop of many republican experiments from Rome to China .

Eleutheria/Isonomia This period is that of the birth of so many of our current cultural preoccupations. “It was not in the streets of Paris that the spirit of man was first stirred by the cry ‘liberty and equality’, but in Athens of Pericles long before. The idea that freedom is man’s birthright was first proclaimed on Greek soil.” [iii]

Greek Tragedy The emergence of democracy has become our signature example of an eonic double emergent. The eonic effect is beautifully reflected in the parallel, simultaneous, Greek Tragedy . There is a deep enigma here in the paradox spawned by our terminology, the ‘eonic determination of Freedom’. A variant of this is to look at Greek tragedy with a similar question about the ‘eonic determination of Greek Tragedy’ (i.e. the riddle of its periodization). Why does this mysterious genre arise like an island in an ocean in concert with the Axial period, and in parallel with the generation of the emergence of democracy, and then disappear within a few generations? [iv]

Note the timing of the philosophy of history and idea of freedom, in our discrete freedom sequence, and the echoes our method uncovers between two divides. The philosophy of history, since Kant, has produced a vast literature on the subject of freedom in history. The eonic model is crude but effective in showing the direct relevance of the one to the other using periodization, and to the arising, in the earlier period, of the characteristic themes of the ‘redemption of the will’ in later religions like Christianity. Historical evolutionary man is a kind of ‘tragical Frankenstein’ and his jerky ‘ethical changes of direction’ echo the Third Antinomy with its arcane yet significant distinctions of phenomenal and ‘transcendental freedom’. We see a sudden concordance of themes, and are ready to study this literature where by a curious non-coincidence we see the issue of the esthetic state arise near the modern divide. We also see that Kant discovers the connection between causal, ethical, and esthetic subjects, and what is more the deep relation of esthetic to teleological judgments. Does the irony suddenly stand out? Can we sense the deep unconscious gestation at work in the Greek transition and in its great tragedians?

Perhaps too much mystification is made of the riddle of tragedy. Nietzsche’s analysis contains one insight that is expanded into something misleading and extravagant. It is also, whatever its mysteries, a simple issue of action and failure, and a descant on the redemptive themes arising in other transitions. There could be an intimation of the ‘tragic’ in our ‘freedom’ question, in the consideration of what Kant calls ‘radical evil’. The issue is that simple, in crude terms. A ‘tragedy’ is an ‘action script’ left unrealized as a virtual exploration of ‘history and the elusive factor of will, in the dilemma of phenomenal and transcendental freedom. What is the ‘fate’ of the individual (pun intended with that overused cliché of discourse on tragedy), i.e. the future of his ‘free action’ inside and outside the eonic effect. The genre of tragedy was unable to continue past the great transition here. In any case, we need not presume to understand or define such a complex as the history of the tragic genre to see that it has an eonic history, most strangely.

We should be wary of trying to define what a tragedy is, and this has a classic literature, e.g. the views of Hegel. But at a higher level of abstraction, Greek Tragedy is interesting in relation to our history because it shows creative action in the eonic mainline in a form that sequential eras cannot duplicate, and therefore can be taken as showing eonic determination . This unique instance is thus a prime candidate for the ‘evolution of art’ in our sense, or any other sense.

We must be wary of including the modern examples in such a statement, for they show a different character. But the modern recurrence, even it we accept unique instances as evidence of historical dynamism, must constitute a still further compounding of the mystery. The genre attempts to make a comeback just at the high-octane surge of the rise of the modern, and cannot survive longer than a generation. Why Shakespeare and Racine were the only two men since Euripides able to excel in the genre is difficult to grasp. It is surely no accident the discrete freedom sequence is resurgent in the generation after Shakespeare.

We began with a challenge from the biologist to find an example in history at at close range of the evolution of art. We have a spectacular example in the ‘eonic determination’ of the tragic genre in the Greek transition.



  Web:  chap5_2_5.htm


[i] Robin Waterfield, The First Philosophers ( New York : Oxford University Press, 2000), p. xliii).

[ii] Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York: Norton, 1977), Chapter 2, “The First Enlightenment”.

[iii] Eric Robinson (ed.), Ancient Greek Democracy, New York : Blackwell, 2004). Max Pohlenz, Freedom in Greek Life and Thought (New York: Humanities Press, 1966).

[iv] Josef Chytry, The Aesthetic State (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. xi.





Last modified: 09/27/2010