Power Reading: Second Chapter Example

Power Reading:  Second Chapter Example

(I have numbered each paragraph at the end.)

The Greeks

1. The Background

The ancient Greeks developed the first government that might be
called democratic and the first great civilization to take permanent root on
the mainland of Europe. Yet the Greek civilization that matured almost
twenty-five hundred years ago was by no means purely European in

The Greeks inhabited the western coast of Asia Minor and the islands
dotting the Aegean Sea as well as the European peninsula we call Greece.
They also inherited some of the legacy of the older Near Eastern
Civilizations, probably passed on to them through the Aegean
civilization. (1)

Aegean Civilization

Aegean Civilization, which lasted for some two thousand years
down to about 1100 B.C, apparently centred on the island of Crete at the
southern entrance to the Aegean Sea. Crete had many natural advantages.
Its mild climate favoured agriculture; the sea give it some protection
against invasion and conquest and at the same time promoted seafaring.
Located at the cross-roads of the Eastern Mediterranean, Crete was close
enough to Asia, Africa and Europe for daring seaman to sail their
primitive vessels to Egypt and Greece. Its geographical position doubtless
made trade and piracy the natural occupations of the islanders. (2)

When copper and the manufacture of bronze were introduced, probably
from Phoenicia or elsewhere in Asia Minor at some time before 3000
B.C, civilization began on Crete. The civilization is termed Minoan, from
Minos, a legendary king, and archaeologists have divided it into three
main chronological (3) :

Early Minoan – down to 2300 B.C
Middle Minoan – 2300 to 1600 B.C
Late Minoan – 1600 to 100 B.C (4)

Each of these main periods is subdivided into three segments, from
I to III. The greatest flowering of culture on Crete seems to have occurred
during the Middle Minoan III and the late Minoan I and II, between 1700
and 1400 B.C (5)

We must say “seems to have occurred,” for our knowledge of ancient
Crete is still incomplete. Up to the beginning of the twentieth century it
was so sketchy that no methodical approach to its civilization was

Then, in 1900, the British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, acting on the
well-founded hunch, began excavations at Cnossus in central Crete, a few
miles inland from north shore of the island. He struck “pay-dirt” almost at
once and started to uncover what was evidently a very large and very
ancient palace, which he termed the “palace of Minos.” Subsequent
diggings by Evans and others disclosed the sites of more than hundred
towns that had existed before 1500 B.C, a good amount of pottery, and
stretches of paved road. (6)

More recently, hundreds of tablets with Aegean writing have also
come to light, both in Crete itself and on the Greek mainland. Although
no Minoan equivalent of the Rosetta stone has been found, one scholar
announced in 1953 that by using the techniques of cryptography, he had
begun the work of deciphering the tablets.

This discovery may eventually revolutionize our knowledge of Crete.
Meanwhile, we have very little sure information on Minoan politics,
though it is conjectured that Crete, like Egypt, had despotic priest-kings
who ruled with the aid of a central bureaucracy. (7)

The archaeological remains, however, provide convincing evidence
that the Minoans were great builders, engineers and artists. The Palace at
Cnossus was at least two stories high and filled an area equivalent to a
city block. A city in miniature, it had running water, a sewage system,
and a kind of playground used for dancing, wrestling and other sports.
The palace was begun in the Middle Minoan I period and was often
repaired and altered, particularly after Middle Minoan II after a
destructive earthquake. As a result, the excavated palace is a maze of
storerooms, courtyards, corridors, workshops, living quarters and
government offices. Sir Arthur Evans realized that he had very likely
discovered the actual building that had inspired the Greek legend of the
labyrinth to which the early Greeks were forced to send sacrificial
victims. (8)

The skilled craftsmen of Crete apparently copied Egyptian
techniques. They did marvellous work, from huge jars, as high as a man, to
delicate little cups, no thicker than a eggshell, decorated with birds, flowers
fishes and other natural designs. Painters executed large frescos of kings
and warriors on the palace walls. Ivory, gold and jewels were used for the
inlaid gaming boards of the kings and for exquisite statuettes, less than a
foot high, of the bare-breasted snake-goddess, who was apparently one of
the chief objects of worship. (9)

Crete at the height of its power may have controlled an empire
including the other Aegean islands and, perhaps, the Aegean shores of Asia
minor and Greece. The recent work on Aegean tablets, of however,
suggests that Crete itself may have become an outpost of the Greek
mainland rather early. The extent of Minoan political influence, which very
likely reached to other parts of the Aegean world. (10)

A nineteenth-century German, Heinrich Schliemann, undertook
excavations at Troy, in northwest Asia Minor, the scene of homer’s Iliad,
and at Mycenae on the Greek mainland, the home of Agamemnon, the
leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War of Homer’s epic.

Schliemann’s determination resulted in a great archaeological romance –
early poverty, business success in America, mastery of the Greek language,
marriage to a Greek lady (she could recite Homer from memory!), and
finally, later in life, discovery of the site of troy, though it turned that what
he uncovered was a later city built on the ruins of Homeric Troy. (11)

Thanks to Schliemann and later experts, we now know that by
1400 B.C Troy and a group of cities centred a Mycenae in Greece had
attained a degree of civilization strikingly similar to what had apparently
been reached in Crete centuries earlier. Mycenaean pottery, though made
of different materials, is similar to Minoan in design and ornamentation. At
Mycenae, the kings were buried in large underground tombs, shaped like
beehives, which resembled tombs built earlier in Crete. The cities on the
mainland, however, built much more elaborate fortifications than did those
of Crete. (12)

By about 1600 B.C, sporadic groups of invaders were filtering
down from the north. They appear to have been Greeks, a people who
spoke a language probably much like the classic Greek. The first Greeks
seemed to have mixed rather peaceably with the existing populations of
Greece, the Aegean islands, and Asia Minor, and to have acquired the
Aegean culture that flourished at Mycenae and elsewhere. Later Greek
invaders were more warlike and destructive. As tribe after tribe pushed
south, the old Aegean civilization grew steadily weaker until it finally
perished about 1100 B.C. By that time, the Greeks controlled the entire
Aegean area, including Crete itself. (13)

The Setting of Greek Civilization

The forces of nature played a large part in shaping Greek
civilization. The climate and geography of the Greek homeland have
changed little since ancient times. As in the Mediterranean area as a whole,
the rains come mainly between September and May. The summers are
long, sunny and dry, but because of the sea breezes they are not intolerably

People can live outdoors during the greater part of the year, and they can
grow olives and other semi-tropical fruit. The sharply indented coastline
and the profusion of mountains make a magnificent natural setting Nature
combines such lavish amounts of sunshine and scenery only in California
and a few other parts of the world. (14)

Greece, however has never had the immense fertile acres typical of
California. The quality of the soil is poor, and the valleys and plains,
squeezed by mountains are on a miniature scale. The rivers and streams are
too swift and shallow for navigation; they flood in the rainy season, then
dwindle to a trickle or dry up altogether. Local springs can supply the
minimum needs of the population during the dry season, but they are not
adequate for extensive irrigation. (15)

Greece, in short, has never afforded men an easy living, though it
has often provided a reasonably pleasant one. The farms and orchards of
ancient Greece produced barley and other grains, fruit, wine, honey and
little else. Meat was a rarity. (16)

The Greek homeland, however, had one great geographical
advantage: its situation encouraged navigation, even by the rather timid.
The irregular coasts of the mainland and the islands provided sheltered
anchorages; destructive storms seldom occurred during the long summer,
the great season of navigation; and the vessels could go for hundreds of
miles without ever losing sight of land.

Travel in ships propelled by sails or oars or a combination of the two was
cheaper, swifter and more comfortable than an up-hill and down-dale
journey over land. The Greeks, consequently, built up an active maritime
trade. (17)

The geography of Greece favoured political decentralization. In the
valleys of the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Nile, the absence of natural
barriers to travel had helped the building of large empires. In Greece, on
the other hand, the frequent mountains and countless bays and gulfs
impeded land communication. The individual valleys and plains, both on
the mainland and on the islands, were natural geographic and economic
units; they served as separate political units, too. (18)

The political unit was the polis or city-state, which included a city
and the surrounding countryside. Most of the city-states were exceedingly
limited in area; Greece, although a small country, contained many dozens
of them. By modern standards, the average Greek city was at best a mere
town, and many of its inhabitants were primarily farmers. A strong point,
which could be readily defended against attack, was the nucleus of the city.
A familiar example is the Acropolis at Athens, with its commanding height
its steep and difficult approaches. (19)

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