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Revisiting The Myth of Western Civilization's Origins

2023

In the quest to understand the origins of Western Civilization, Professor Naoíse Sweeney challenges the conventional narrative that has woven itself into our cultural consciousness. In a candid exploration, Sweeney unveils the fallacy surrounding the idea that a continuous golden thread links the ancient Greeks to the modern West.

The prevailing notion of Western Civilization, passed down through generations, is depicted as a linear inheritance from classical antiquity to the present day. Sweeney, a Professor of Classical Archaeology, dismantles this myth, emphasizing the diversity of ancient Greeks and Romans and debunking the idea of a uniquely European cultural genealogy.

The article sheds light on the rich tapestry of Western history, where diverse peoples, cultures, and ideas have interwoven over centuries. Sweeney's research, spanning two decades, reveals that the monks of medieval Europe were not the sole heirs of classical antiquity; merchants in Sudan and Buddhist sculptors in northern India also played crucial roles.

Historical evidence points to Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, as a major center of medieval classical learning, where scholarship transcended geographical and cultural boundaries. The article contends that the traditional narrative of Western Civilization is factually incorrect and limited in its understanding of the complex historical realities.

The roots of the grand narrative, according to Sweeney, trace back to the Renaissance but solidified in the seventeenth century with European imperialism. The concept of the West emerged as a tool to justify colonization, drawing a distinction between those who could be colonized and those who could be colonizers.

The idea of Western Civilization, as it stands today, finds its origins in the eighteenth-century revolutionary North America. The founding fathers, inspired by the classical world, used this concept to reconcile the contradictions inherent in their revolutionary movement, providing a historical justification for practices like Black slavery.

Sweeney argues that Western Civilization is not just a fictional tale but a myth created to legitimize slavery, imperialism, and oppression. The myth served the ideological needs of its time, reflecting the values of the society that invented it.

In the modern West, where values have evolved, Sweeney advocates dismantling the myth of Western Civilization. Instead, she proposes embracing a more inclusive and factually supported narrative rooted in intercultural exchange, aligning with contemporary Western values such as liberal democracy, the rule of law, and equality of human rights.

As Sweeney reflects on her son's innocent belief in the traditional narrative, she contemplates the prospect of turning her insights into a book—an opportunity to challenge and reshape the way we perceive Western history.Source

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