ONCE UPON A TIME THE GREEKS DISCOVERED AMERICA
di GINO GULLACE*
Once upon a time the Greeks discovered America
The coast line from Reggio to Taranto is one of most beautiful parts of the Italian peninsula. Forming gulfs and promontories, it has wide beaches by the clearest of seas, while its inland mountains have strange and bizarre shapes resembling hawks cupolas and pyramids. Wide streams rush from the mountains to the sea; during winter their waters are violent and turbid, then, during summertime they become puny brooks flowing among white heaps of stones where majestic trees and oleanders grow. Many inland towns are ghost towns. After the second world war, their inhabitants abandoned them to emigrate to the North or to other countries. Today their homes still stand, untouched, empty and as silent as tombs. Along the coast of the deep South we find the poorest and most economically depressed area of Italy. And yet, 25 centuries ago this area was the America of the Greeks: there was an economic and cultural boom which will never again repeat itself. This America was named Magna Grecia(xx) to distinguish it from the other Greece which in comparison seemed small; its civilization and culture are the foundation for the civilization and culture of the entire Western world. Today coastal towns such as Locri, Caulonia, Crown, Sybaris, Metapontum hold the names of ancient cities of Magna Grecia - but the cities themselves - their buildings, works of art, and temples have disappeared underground or beneath the sea. In over a century, archaeological excavations have uncovered wells, temple remains, coins, statues; occasionally a new treasure is discovered by a farmer plowing or riding a tractor or by deep-sea fishermen, as the Riace(xx) bronzes were discovered.
These discoveries, which only whet our appetites, suffice to give us an idea of the grandeur and magnificence of the world from which our cultural roots spring. Searching for and learning about this culture is like searching for and learning about ourselves in the initial phases of our spiritual development: a very exciting adventure.
Before the arrival of Greek colonists on the Southern Italian shores, the territory was inhabited by tribes of different origin - Ausonians, Oenotrians, Siculi, Coi, Messapians and Lapygians whose lives centered around shepherding and agriculture. Greek merchants and adventurers began to land in the region as far back as 1.000 B.C. They told of the places they had seen and described the new world when they returned to Greece; Homer probably drew from these descriptions when writing the Odyssey. Large scale immigration into the territory began around the eighth century B.C., when Greeks who had already founded many colonies turned towards the West; certainly, the Homeric tales and the spirit of adventure had a great deal to do with the new trend, along with demographic and political pressure in the overpopulated Greek cities. But the fundamental reason for their emigration was the desire for fame and fortune.
Southern Italy appeared to the Greek emigrants just as America would appear to their descendants twenty-five centuries later: a land of great opporutnity, fertile, (in Sybaris one measure of grain yielded one hundred fold), with navigable rivers, bronze and silver mines, great forests and abundant wild game. (A group of Achaeans, landing on the beach of Croton, was terrorized by an obscure rumble in the clouds; surprisingly they realized later that the rumble was produced by the flight of a flock of partridges!). The Greeks deemed the voyage to Italy to found colonies well worth it, no matter how difficult. The monsters and sirens, the sea storms and human trickery described by Homer could not prevent the Greeks from undertaking the voyage; each expedition was organized by a particular city which would appoint a leader who had to visit Delphos before his departure and receive instructions from the oracle as to where he was to land.
The triremes would take about seven days to reach Italy hugging the coast whenever possible in order to be close to shelter should any danger arise. The chronological order of Greek arrivals and of the foundation of the cities is somewhat uncertain. This has been complicated by the fact that the developing cities began to invent illustrious ancestries chosen preferably from among the heroes who had fought in the Trojan War to bolster their ego. The history of how heroes rounded their cities almost invariably follows the same pattern; on returning from Troy the hero was thrown by violent storms on to the Italian coast where he then founded a city.
The mythological tradition thus brings to Italy Ulysses, Ajax, Philoctetes, Meneleos, Epeius (the builder of the Trojan horse) and many others. Heracles should be added to this list. Heracles had taken a herd of bulls of Gerione which he led throughout the entire country leaving traces of his presence wherever he stopped. In Capo Lacinio, where the king had attempted to steal Herades' bulls, he evidently hit the king with a stick, but, in his fitry he struck Crown, the king's son-in-law, who had nothing at all to do with the entire matter. In order to expiate his fault, Heracles bestowed solemn funeral rites on him and predicted that one day on his tomb the city of Croton would be built. Apart from mythology, according to generally accepted chronology, the first Greek colony in Italy was Cumae, founded by a handful of adventurers from Chalcis in 750 B. C. The same Chalcisian group, then, moving southward, founded Nassus, Syracuse, Messine and Rhegium. Other Greeks landed some years later on the southernmost part of the peninsula and founded Sybaris, Croton and Tarantum and, during the first half of the seventh century B. C., Locri, Caulonia, Siris and Metapontum.
The Greek occupations continued for .lore than a century and a half from the second half of the VIII th century to the beginning of the VI th century,' the Greeks never encountered much resistance from native tribes. During this' period great cities flourished, such as Tarantum, Sybaris, Croton, Locri and Rhegium and a myriad of small towns of which no trace remains. Wherever a promontory existed, a temple was erected to a divinity, such as the Hera Lacinia temple in Crown, which also functioned as a light tower providing direction for those travelling from Greece to Italy. The cities on the hmian coast preferred overland trade routes to trade with the Etruscans, Campani and other indigenous populations. The sea routes were too long and dangerous because of the pirates and the risks involved in crossing the Strait of Messine, which was subject to the moods of the Chalcidians who controlled it.
Communication by land through Sile and across isthmuses (where the distance between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas was shortest) allowed them to transport their merchandise more safely by caravan. Commercial emporia were created on the Tyrrhenian shores where the Italians and the Greeks exchanged their goods.
Some eighty ancient authors have written about Sybaris but, until about thirty years ago, its precise location was a matter conjecture. Everyone knew that it had existed but no one knew exactly where. In 1879 research was begun by the engineer Saverio Cavallari and later continued by Professor Viola and Eduardo Galli. But only in 1932 was the site of the ancient city discovered by Count Umberto Zanotti Bianco, who had started excavations in the Parco del Cavallo. In 1969, under Professor Giuseppe Foti's direction together with the participation of the University of Pennsylvania and the Lerici Foundation, we could finally outline the perimeter of the city under the Crati plain, a kilometer and a half from the sea. Thanks also to the use of impressive equipment some of which was created for artificial satellites, the excavations unearthed walls of homes and temples, remains of columns, Chiglia vases, amphoras and coins. Who knows what treasures still lie embedded at the bottom of the Crati river which the Crotonites redirected to submerge and wipe their rival city of the face of the earth!
"Dolce vita" in Sybaris
Sybaris was founded around 720 B.C. by Achaean settlers led by a man called Is. Is named the city after a fountain in his homeland. I The Achaean colonists soon granted Sybarite citizenship to all other Greeks and natives who requested it, thereby creating a great metropolis of their city which soon reached 300,000 inhabitants, the largest metropolis in the ancient world. It imposed its hegemony upon twenty-five other cities and its walls were nine kilometers in length - longer than those of Athens itself at the time of Pericles.
"La dolce vita"
Serving as the focal point for goods going to and coming from Greece, the Sybarites were able to accumulate wealth rapidly without working excessively. And this wealth accompanied a long period of "dolce vita" which ended suddenly with a great disaster. And just what was the Sybarite "dolce vita" like? Sybaris had an exclusive district for the rich called Megara outside the city. It was a sort of Beverly Hills equivalent with large isolated villas. Sybaris was the first city to forbid roosters and artisan's shops within the city walls so their noise would not disturb the sleep of the rich citizens who liked to stay in bed until late in the morning.
Women wore brightly colored dresses adorned with small imported pearls and they were already familiar with cork-soled high-heeled shoes. They changed their earrings and bracelets according to the occasion. They used a lot of cosmetics, eyebrow dyes and tooth white, all things which in Syracuse, a city of Spartan origin, a woman could do only if she earned her living through prostitution. Sybarite women were sexually very to the point that the richest women would pay experts to teach them the art of love- making. A talkative ancient Athenian writer, collected quite a lot of gossip about Sybaris very indicative of the mores of the city. He states that women without husbands were allowed to take a lover and that, for example, girls' were taught that the most effective way to entice the other sex was to reveal part of their breasts.
Saunas and Parties
The Sybarites were very fond of baths and were credited with the invention of the sauna. Diodoruss Siculus narrates, that the greatest pleasure of the Sybarites was eating and he defines them as "slaves to their own stomach ". They were the first to invite women to their banquets, an unusual innovation which the other Greeks found shocking and indecent.
(This training was to prove fatal to the city). Banquets always began after sunset and ended just before dawn. The importance of a man was measured by the times he did not see the setting and rising of the sun - that is by the number of the banquets he attended.
The Onassis' and Getty's of Sybaris
The Sybarite was never in a hurry: he would always take four days for a trip he could have made in two. And to protect himself from the burning rays of the hot southern sun, he planted trees along the roadways and extented the roofs of the houses so they would shade the city streets. Not unlike the Texan millionaire of today, the Sybarite became a "character" about whom anecdotes and jokes of all kinds were told. At the time of Aristophanes, the Athenians enjoyed immensely the funny stories they heard in which the protagonist was a Sybarite; Seneca, for instance, reports the anecdote about a very rich man who is unable to sleep because the servants, in making his bed of roses, left one wrinkled petal on his mattress which bothered his shoulders. Timeus mentions another Sybarite who went to Sparta and, after having eaten a Spartan meal, says: "Now I understand why you Spartans are so willing to die for your country. The most cowardly of men would prefer death to living on Spartan soup!" Sybaris had its Getty's, its Onassis, and its equivalent to bizarre and extravagant American millionaires. Smindyrides, for example, went to the tyrant Phocion to ask for his daughter's hand accompanied by a thousand servants, an army of cooks, jesters, bird fatterers and, with all the awkwardness of a "nouveau riche", performed dances so obscene that the tyrant Phocion scornfully refused his request. Another extravagant millionaire was Alcisthenes. He had a tunic made so rich in design, embroidery and gold that two centuries later, when it fell into the hands of Dionysius of Syracuse, it was , sold to the Carthaginians for 120 talents, the equivalent of several million dollars.
In Sybaris wealth was the only thing that counted; the Sybarites were convinced they could buy everything: as a result it produced neither thinkers, philosophers, generals, artists or athletes. Moreover, the richness of the city, made its citizens arrogant not only towards other Greeks but even towards the gods. According to ancient writers, it was precisely due to their arrogance that their city fell to ruin in its battle against Croton.
Of the Greek Croton the only thing which remains is a Doric column (xx) of the 5th century, the last of 48 columns supporting the temple of Hera Lacinia, famous in antiquity for its sacredness and opulence. The others were destroyed by a bishop called Lucifer, who used them to build the bishop's palace and the harbor of Croton. Today the remaining column resembles a bone chip the paleontologist uses to reconstruct a wonderful, extinct form of life. The walls sorrounding the temple were discovered in 1911 by Paolo Orsi's excavation, where today flowers and bushes grow wild. There is no other sign of life anywhere except some butterfly fluttering from one flower to another or some lizard crawling on the cohtmn in search of sunshine.
The Ogigie islands which lay near Croton were swallowed by the sea.
Where the Acropolis once stood there is an ancient castle, built in 1541 by Don Pedro of Toledo. The Museum holds coins, votive ceramics, and terra-cotta vases, italic bronze miniatures and other archaeological remains. This is what is left of Croton - on whose streets strolled Hannibal and Pythagoras, who has been defined by the famous scientific historian Gompers, as "the founder of western Mediterranean culture".
Atlethes, scientists, beautiful women
Croton, like Sybaris, was founded by Achaean colonists from Ripe whose leader, Myscelis, was considered degenerate descendant of Heracles because he was a hunchback.
Cape Lacinius, formed a double port which was the major landing site between Rhegium and Tarantum. The inland was a fertile area where wheat, grapes, olive trees and fruit trees grew abundantly. It was also ideal for rearing sheep whose vast numbers provided a plentiful supply of milk and cheese. Not far from the city were rich silver mines.
Caulonia and the towns along the coast
Before long, dozens of agricultural villages flourished in the plain along the coast and bore names like Laura, Lampride, Platea and Zacinto, (Zacinto is mentioned in an idyll by Theocritus). Between Croton and Sybaris there were three important cities.' Crimisa (today Cirb), Peteleia (Strongoli) and Macalla. They all claimed to have been founded by Philoctetes, leader of the Thessalians in the war of Troy. As Croton took these cities under its' control, it prompted other Achaeans to found Caulonia.
On the Tyrrhenian coast, the Crotonites founded Terine attd took over Temese, a city belonging to the Ausonians and whose foundation was attribated to Ulysses: it was famous for the manufacture of arms whose craftsmanship was praised even by Homer. More austere, serious arm hardworking than Sybaris, Croton achieved great renown for its athletes, the beauty of its women, its medical tradition and its Pythagorean school. Although it was subordinate to Sybaris, the two cities coexisted peacefully for they both shared the same goal: the Hellenization of all Southern Italy through the subjection and assimilation of native tribes and of other Greeks in Italy.
Locrian pacts: fraudulent pacts
The people of Locri were of different Greek descent. This city was excavated first by the Duke of Lytmes (1830), then by Peterson (1889), Orsi (1908) and Zanotti Bianco (1920), founder of the Magna Grecia Association. A popular quarter called Centocamere, a grand theater, the temple of Zeus the Sanctuary of Persephone, and the temple of Athens have been unearthed. Some of the important discoveries are the pinakes: ceramic tablets with elegant reliefs, pieces of terra-cotta representing the Rape of Persephone, ttades attd Persephone enthroned and other scenes of life, after death as conceived by the Locri peoples whose city was the center of Orphic religion in the "Meridione".
The ancient city of Locri occupied 230 hectares extending from the seaside to the hills and was situated only a few kilometers' south of modern Locri. It was surrounded by a 7 kilometer wall and its Acropolis was situated upon 3 hills' linked to each other by bridges crossing ravines. The founders of Locri came from Greece and arrived in Italy around 670 B.C. landing near what today is Capo Bruzzano - then named Epizefirio because it protected them from the strong westerly winds.
The agreement stated that there would be fraternal friendship between the Greeks and the Siculi "as long as we walk on the same sand and we carry our heads on our shoulders ".
Thucydides tells' us that, before making this oath, the Greeks filled their socks with sand and hid garlic heads on their shoulders. As soon as they had sworn, they threw away the sand and the garlic and feeling they had justified themselves before the gods, forced the Siculi to retreat into the mountains. From this event in history comes the expression "A Locresian pact is equivalent to a fraudulent pact".
Matriarchy and sacred prostitution
Locri had a matriarchal government for some time and sacred prostitution was one of its rites; whoever physically united with the priestess of the goddess was believed to become one with her. The explanation of the origins of Locri's matriarchy gave rise to a violent quarrel in which three people in profound disaccord participated: the historian Timeus, Aristotle and Polibio. Aristotle spread the word that at the time of the second Messenic war, which lasted 17 years (685-688), the most noble women of Locri, tired of waiting for their husbands, agreed to receive slaves in their nuptial beds. Afterwards, when the war was over, fearing their husbands' vendetta for having been unfaithful, they escaped taking the slaves with them and founded Locri. Once established in Locri, they held sway over the slaves and formed a matriarchy.
Aristotle based his argument on the knowledge that the nobility of Locri descended from the women of these families. Timeus accused Aristotle of servilism towards the powerful and of gluttony, he never missed one opportunity to embarrass him. He tried to defend the honor of the Locrian great grandmothers by saying he had documents (which he never showed) which proved that the ancestors of the inhabitants of Locri were not thieves, slaves or whores, but free men and well-to-do women.
Perhaps he expected eternal gratitude from the Locrians. But Polibio discovered that the people of Locri defended Aristotle's viewpoint and said Timeus was wrong. Polibio profoundly disliked Timeus just as Timeus deeply disliked Aristotle. There have also been different interpretations of the origins of sacred prostitution: some authors said prostitution was imposed by the tribes as a condition for friendship and peace; others said that it originated in Greek Locris. The fact is that this ritual practice was abolished together with matriarchy, and only once in the second half of the 5th century - did the risk that it be reintroduced exist. When Leofronte of Rhegium marched towards Locri to conquer the city, the Locrians made a vow to Venus that they would conducte their virgins to the temple and performe an orgy in her honor if they were able to defeat Leofronte. However there was no need to do this because Leofronte, threatened by Syracuse, returned home, giving up his conquest of Locri.
Zaleuce, the first legislator to establish written laws, abolished both matriarchy and sacred prostitution. He also established very puritanical rules on sex, inflicting extremely severe punishments (even blindness) on those who committed violation against these rules.
At the time of its greatest splendor, Locri had 50,000 inhabitants; agriculture and horse-breeding were its main occupations in Medma (today Rosarno) and its dominion extended to as far as Metaurus (Gioia Tauro) and to Ipponio (Vibo Valentia). Its boundary on the South with Rhegium was marked by the Alece river, today the Melito stream, and in the North by the Sagra river which is the Torbido torrent or Allaro stream. One of the most memorable battles of the ancient times was fought on the Sagra between Locrians and Crotoniates.
The distruction of Sybaris
The historian Justinus wrote: "One day the Sybarites, the Metapontans and the Crotonites, all of them of Achaean of origin, concerted together to drive all the other Greeks out of Italy; first they attacked the city of Syris, a Phocian colony; they razed it to the ground and divided its land among themselves. Then the Crotonites, under the pretext that the Locrians had helped Syris materially and morally, declared war on Locri. The Locrians, helped by the Rhegians, readied an army of only 15,000 men. But while awaiting the enemy on the Sagra river, a very difficult area to maneuver such great masses of men, and after a whole day of ferocious fighting, they won the battle". The news travelled quickly throughout Greece and it seemed especially strange because the Crotonites were famous for their physical strength and combative capabilities. Their victory cannot be explained without supernatural intervention: and the Locrians said that they had invoked the help of the Dioscuri who fought by their side.
Pythagoras and his charisma
Pythagoras thus enters the history of Croton in around 550 B. C at the time of the Sagra event. He is forty years old and convinced that he has been assigned a special mission. Perhaps his own parents had impressed upon him that he was chosen, a man above other mortals. His father, Mnesarchos, just before getting married had consulted the oracle and learned that his wife would give birth to a child who would be useful to the whole world; in order for her to conceive this child, he was told, they must go to Sidon where the Zodiac signs were in a favorable position. Pythagoras had Pherecydes as his master but he also travelled to Persia, Egypt, Phoenicia, Babylonia and perhaps even India in order to learn the secrets of science and religion of other peoples.
Porphyry, one of his biographers, wrote that Pythagoras had sucked the honey of all flowers. Froth the Egyptians he had learned geometry, from the Phoenicians arithmetic, from the Caldaeans astronomy and, from the Persian magicians, the religious rites and maxims on human behavior. At Samos, however, under the tyrant Polycrates, Pythagoras realized it would be dangerous to preach or practice his doctrines and decided to emigrate to the colonies, just as the European utopians who came to America to build a new society did.
In order to be admitted into the society one had to pass a difficult examination. Women were also admitted and one of his pupils, Theano, became his wife. His students learned geometry, arithmetic, music and philosophy and four years had to go by before they could be admitted to his presence and listen to him speak. In the Pythagorean school, the teaching of virtue occupied a prominent place: chastity, love of the family, courage and patriotism were taught. He defined heroism "fighting with courage but without fury," and Theano, echoing her husband and teacher's words, defined purity thus: "A woman who sleeps only with her husband is always pure. If she sleeps with another man she will never be pure . The Pythagoreans of Croton were about 2,000 in number and even if they were not represented officially in politics, they exercised their influence through the *Council of Three Hundred, a kind of private group which exercised power from behind the scenes. And since most of these men believed Pythagoras was always right and strongly respected his personality, Pythagoras was in reality the boss of Croton.
For the Greeks, the killing of ambassadors was a sacrilege and the rumor spread that, during the massacre, the statue of Hera in Sybaris began to vomit black bile. But the true bile was being thrown up by the Pythagoreans of Croton who doubled their efforts in inciting the city to war. There were, however, deeper reasons for making the clash inevitable. One of them was that Croton, defeated by Locri in the south, had no other possibility of expansion except towards the north. Moreover, the presence of Pythagoras had conferred upon Croton a sort of moral leadership over all the Greeks of southern Italy and consequently the city was no longer content to be subordinate to Sybaris. The two cities were in eternal conflict: Sybaris represented materialism and Croton idealism. The Pythagoreans were puritans and hated the city of orgies and banquets; they considered it a symbol of evil, to be destroyed.
Thus the war finally broke out and it was fought with theological fervor. On a spring day of the year 510 B.C., the Sybarite army, 300,000 strong men under the command of Hieron, a mercenary, stood waiting by the river Trionto. On the opposite side of the river there were 100,000 Crotonites under the command of the famous Olympic hero, Milo, who carried a powerful mace and, a lion hide around his neck, like Heracles.
The Crotonian army, taking advantage of the confusion and disorientation of the Sybarites, advance rapidly and decisively, upset and disband the enemy, routing and slaughtering them. The Sybarites retreat into the city which is besieged for seventy days during which its citizens, indignant towards Telys who has provoked the war, kill him and his family. But the death of Telys did not placate the Crotonites, who entered the city, looted it, set it afire and, finally, to complete the destruction, diverted the waters of the river Crati and submerged the entire city of Sybaris under water and mud.
The death of Sybaris
The destruction of Sybaris, executed by the Pythagoreans with fervor, broke the profound solidarity among the Achaeans of Magna Grecia, thus opening a breach through which the outside enemies later rushed to strike at the very heart of Hellenism. The Pythagoreans, to justify their despicable behavior to the Greek world and to free themselves of their guilt, put into circulation all sorts of anecdotes and jokes denigrating Sybaris and the Sybarites, to demonstrate that the city, being a source of vice and corruption, deserved its fate. Only the inhabitants of Miletus, who prospered through their commerce with Sybaris, understood just how serious the tragedy was and, when they learned of the city's demise, dressed in mourning clothes... The surviving Sybarites took refuge in their colonies of Scidros and Laus and tried several times to rebuild their metropolis but they were always prevented from doing so by the implacable Crotonites. Finally, in 446 B.C., Pericles, wishing to establish a foothold in Italy, sent ten ships carrying colonists for the foundation of a pan- Hellenic colony where Sybaris once stood. Among the colonists there were several illustrious figures such as Herodotus (who died in Italy), the Sophist Protagoras and the architect Hippodamus who had drawn the urban plan of Piraeus. The new Sybaris, founded on the right bank of the river Crati, was called Thurii, from a spring on the spot which was known as Fonte Turia.
The city grew rapidly but carried within itself the seeds of discord. The surviving inhabitants of the old Sybaris were, of course, very old. But both they and their descendants felt privileged, much like present day Americans who descend from the immigrants who arrived on the Mayflower. In the new city they claimed the best places, the best land, the right of precedence for their women in religious ceremonies and they snobbed the newcomers. Between the Sybarites and the new colonists the tension increased to tile point where the latter organized themselves and slaughtered the Sybarites in the streets. Those who survived ran away from Thurii and founded a brand new Sybaris on the Trionto. Thurii meanwhile soon became a Prosperous city and survived for many centuries, unlike the original Sybaris, which was born, lived and died within a mere two hundred years. Metagenes, in his comedy, "The Thuriopersans ", a title derived from the fact that the Thurians copied the Persian, in a humoristic way, describes the wealth of the Thurians by alledging that the Crati and the Sybaris rivers carried cakes, roasted grails, pies and all sorts of other goodies in their waters.
Two hundred years after the arrival of the Greeks, philosophy, medicine, poetry, scolpture and painting flourished in southern Italy. Freed from the fetters of tradition and of the obstacles presented by a preestablished order which regarded novelty with an aura of suspicion, the colonists could express their creativity with more freedom and carried out higher achievements than those achieved in their homeland.
The Orphic rites
Historians such as Herodotus and Thurydides ignored this and behaved like some English writers who found that American cultural manifestations were not worthy of attention and who felt that American civilization was a sub-product of European civilization. But the denomination Magna Grecia, used for the first time by the historian Timaeus, indicated not only its material prosperity but also the intellectual greatness of the Greeks of Italy, especially after the arrival of Pythagoras. Magna Grecia referred to the region between Locri and Sybaris and then to the whole "Meridione".
The moderate southern climate and plentiful rivers ensured rich farming and the natives considered the waterways sacred and divinized them. The Greek colonists incorporated them into their religious patrimony as can be seen by observing their coins.
Orphism, which flourished in Calabria, spread the belief that the soul lives in the body as in a prison from which it tries to free itself in order to move on to a better form of existence; after death, good will be rewarded and evil punished - a concept that later passed into Christianity. But even Orphism assumed a local color. On the terracotta tablets found in Locri, for instance, the after-life is represented as a continuation of terrestrial life; women make-up, embroider, pick flowers and fruit from trees which, even in Hades, remarkably resemble those of the Locrian countryside.
The Eleatic school
At Ascea Marina, on the Tyrrhennian coast, the Magna Grecia city of Elea, founded by the Rochaeans and renowned for its philosophical school, is gradually being dug out. The road leading to the hill where the Acropolis stood is the very same road on which Xenophanes, Parmenides and Zeno used to walk.
Xenophanes, who arrived at Elea at the age of twenty-five, used to sing songs about the city's origins at banquets and wrote poems on the natural beauty of the region. In the name of reason and logic he attacked every form of superstition, including that which held that the gods had human form. He levelled harsh criticism at Pythagoras, at those who rendered exaggerated homage to the athletes, the muscle heroes as he called them, and ignored the thinkers, the heroes of intelligence. He affirmed that all knowledge was only personal opinion and never the absolute truth and that God is One Being, without beginning or end. Parmenides and Zeno, who were inspired by him, were born in Elea. Both were the forerunners of absolute idealism which they opposed to Pythagorean dualism. They held a monistic vision of reality and believed that all reality is thought ....
The Pythagorean school flourished on the Ionian coast, at Croton.
Pythagoras find the essence of all things in numbers'. He conceives of God as the cause and principle of the universe; he is the first to mention the dualism between body and soul and to give the soul supremacy over the body. He invented the "Pythagorean Table" which was the computer of his own times. His doctrine was influenced by Orphism and he elaborated a conception of the soul which he had brought from the Far East (the doctrine of metempsychosis). According to this doctrine, when the body dies the soul, if it is not pure, is embodied in a plant or animal or another human being as many times as it takes to purify its'elf and thus become divine and immortal. He himself claimed that in an earlier life he had been Euphorbos, a warrior who had died at Troy.
Pythagoras entertained many superstitions and was very fastidious. He requested his' disciples to enter the temple from the right side and to put the shoe on the right foot first and then the left. He forbade them to poke the fire with an iron rod or to touch a white cock and to eat the genital organs of sacrificial animals. He knew various ways of curing the sick through bewitchment and maintained that he was able to predict the future from dreams, the flight of birds and the direction of the incense smoke at sacrificial ceremonies. His prohibition to eat fava beans can be explained today either by the fact that the sickness called "favism" was well known then or by their association with reincarnation. A Pythagorean poet told Plutarch, for instance, that , for him, eating fava beans was tantamount to eating the head of a relative reincarnated in the vegetable. Plato, on the other hand, explained that Pythagoras advised against eating lava beans "because they produced flatulence and prevented restful sleep".
Pythagoras' fame spread everywhere, so that Croton became a sort of government school for all of Magna Grecia. It suffices to think that Plato travelled to Italy to learn the doctrine of the Master from his disciples and bought two books on Pythagoreanism for which he paid ten thousand sesterces, when a book at that ttme cost no more than twenty.
The Physicians of Croton
Croton had a famous school of medicine, founded by Alcmaeon. Herodotus says that the doctors of Croton were the best of his' age, followed by those of Cyrene and Cnidus far behind. Alcmaeon founded the study of human anatomy and discovered blood circulation. From physiology he moved into psychology and became famous as a philosopher. He located the seat of human thought together with all sensorial and intellectual activities in the brain rather than in the heart and he advanced theories on the human fetus, sperm, sleep and finally faced the problem of immortality of the soul.
Since the cures of the Egyptian doctors were of no avail, he decided to call Democedes. The Crotonian surgeon immediately took care of the king who was so overjoyed that he freed him from slavery and overwhelmed him with gifts. Later, he succeeded in curing Queen Atossa of breast cancer and thus became one of the court's favorites. Democedes wanted to return to Croton but the King, who was preparing to enter battle with the Scythians, did not allow him to do so.
This episode shows that Magna Grecia had become indifferent to the fate of its' mother country. When Darius invaded Greece, Democedes was tortured by feeling of guilt and pursuaded the athlete Phalus to go with a trireme to fight against the Persians. This was tile only trireme from Magna Grecia at the battle of Salamis. Many years later, in remembrance of this episode, Alexander tile Great sent Croton part of the booty taken al the battle of Gaugamela.
Watergate at Croton
The dietetic precepts of Pythagoras and his school of medicine contributed to a healthy diet that gave Croton a multitude of winners in the Olympic Games. In just one Olympiad, seven of its athletes were first in all categories. It was said that the worst Crotonian athlete was superior to the best of all Greek athletes.
It is not known to what extent the mixing of Greek and native blood contributed to the creation of genetically superior beings which consistently become champions.
The people of this period believe that the Gods gave Croton a multitude of athletes to keep their promise to Milo that the city founded by him would be famous for health.
Milo was the Mark Spitz of his time. Winner of six Olympic Boxing Games, there remained no-one who would challenge him. The tourist guides of Olympia would point to Milo's statue and soast that Milo himself had carried it on his shoulders to where it stands.
It was also said that he once killed a bull with his fist and ate it all in one day; and that he could stand on a oiled disc on only one foot and no-one could move him. Pausanias narrates the story of Milo's death: "One day wandering through the Sila woods, Milo noticed some wedges left in an oak tree by the woodcutters. Trusting in his strengh, he tried to feel the three with his hands, but the wedges fell out and his hands were caught. Unable to free them, he was devoured by wolves". This seems to confirm Xenophanes poor opinion of athletes intelligence. Other Olympic champions came from Thurii, Locri, Tarentum and Rhegium. The boxer Iccus of Tarentum built the first gymnasium. During training, the athletes who went to it were strictly forbidden to have sexual relations with young men or women. The amount of food they were allowed to eat was based upon the amount of work their body was subjected to. We are therefore at the beginning of a scientifically based nutritional diet.
The laws of Zaleucus
The first written code of laws in the western world comes from Locri and was established by Zaleucus in the year 670 B.C., before the legislations of Dracon in 624 B.C. and those written by Solon in 594 B.C.
The legend says that Zaleucus received the laws directly from Minerva, as did Moses from God. For this reason it took centuries before they could be changed. One of these laws was called "the noose" held that whoever wanted to propose the abrogation or change a law was entitled to do so: however, he had to present himself before the people's assembly with a slip- knot around his neck. If the proposed abrogation or legal change was approved, the noose would be removed from around his neck; if, instead, it was rejected, he would have to hang himself before the assembly. Of course, this deterred anyone from introducing new laws or proposing changes in the existing ones.
Like the festival of Sanremo.
Ibycus was a friend of Anacreontes, and lived at the gay court of Polycrates in Samos. In his seven volume works he sang his "lovefolly ", more for men than for women, a normal occurrence in the court of Polycrates where hetaeras and pederasts, homosexuals and bysexuals convened. Dionysius of Syracuse, who protected Pindar and Simonides of Ceos, like Lorenzo de Medici, many centuries later, composed poems and a tragedy entitled "The rescue of Hector" which received a prize in a competition held in Athens.
In Tarentum the poet Leonidas, composed dirges whose images and movements are still reflected today in the lamentations for the dead, by the women of the South. In Metaurus (today Gioia Tauro), was born and lived Stesichorus. He was a poet second only to Homer, who lost his sight due to a libelous poem on Helen of Sparta and regained his sight when he composed a hymn in her praise.
Noxydes, also from Locri, was a lyric-erotic poetess, considered "equal to Sappho".
Aristoxenus of Tarentum (in the 4th century B.C. wrote "Elements of Rhythm" and "Elements of Harmony"). He viewed music as science and art. Glaucus of Rhegium, (4th century B.C.) compiled a volume entitled "Ancient Poets and Musicians". With Cleomenes of Rhegium and Carilaus of Locri the dithyramb a caricatural parody of great literary works of the time also flourished.
Rhinton ridiculed the character of the great Greek tragedies in his scurrilous farces. Another dramatic author, Alexis of Thurii, who lived to be 106, delighted the Athenian public with no fewer than 245 comedies. The scientists of the day were Alcmaeon, Aristoxenus, Empedocles, and above all Archytas of Tarentum, who was the first to perceive the distinction between arithmetical progression and geometrical progression. He also conducted studies in the field of acoustics and was a philosopher, scientist and strategist. Rhegium produced two historians, Lycus and Hippus, who wrote the first history of the colonies of Magna Grecia (at the time of the Persian wars).
Zeuxis was the Raphael of ancient times. A native of Heraclea, a city founded on the ruins of Siris, Zeuxis lived in the fourth century B.C. and brought painting to heights unknown in those times. His most famous painting was of Helen of Sparta painted at the request of the Crotonites and for which he demanded that five of the most beautiful Crotonian women pose naked. When the work was finished he wrote under it. "We cannot blame the Greeks and the Trojans for fighting a ten year war for a woman like this." All his works were destroyed when the cities of Magna Grecia fell into the hands, of the Bruttians, Lucanians and Samnites.
Certainly, in painting and sculpture, Magna Grecia did not reach the aesthetic perfection of Phidias or Praxiteles nor did produce dramatic works comparable to those of Aeschylus or Sophocles. But the people of Magna Grecia could very well compare the temples of Posidonia and Agrigentum to the Greek temples, the poets, Ibycus and Stesichorus, to Alchaeus and Sappho, Pythagoras, Parmenides and Zeno to the Greek Philosophers, historians like Timaeus, Philistus, Hippus and Lycus to Herodotus and Thucydides, the legislators Zaleucus and Charondas to Dracon and Solon.
The Italiot League
Cultural exchanges between Greece and Magna Grecia were as frequent, as they are between America and Europe today. Plato, Protagoras, Herodotus and many others travelled to Italy. Gorgias, Timaeus, Ibycus, Parmenides and Zeno visited Greece.
But if their creative impulses were Greek, it was in their country of adoption that they were able to develop in freedom, without fear of being forced to drink hemlock like Socrates.
The cities of Magna Grecia declined and perished because of the devisiveness which had always torn their motherland apart, the selfish particularism that did not allow them to see beyond the interest of their own city.
Dionysius landed and defeated the League's army at the river Elleporo (today Stilaro) in 388 B.C. razing Caulonia to the ground and taking its inhabitants to Syracuse to increase the population of its' city. The chief beneficiary of the war was Locri because, as Dionysius ally, it gained all of Caulonia's territory and other lands belonging to Croton.
Crushed militarily, demolished, Croton yielded the leadership of the League to Tarentum, Heraclea was chosen as the new seat of the League. At that time Tarentum had a large army: it could put thirty thousand soldiers and three thousand cavalry into the field. Being of Spartan origin, its military reputation was impeccable. Their coins bore the image of a horseman armed with lance and javelin. These horsemen would ride side by side and jump from one horse to the other as they rode. But with its' military might, Tarentum realized that it would be very difficult to hold the Lucanians, Campanians and Bruttians at bay. The Bruttians were warriors of Sabellic stock and were the vanguard of the Lucanians. However, they later broke away from the Lucanians and formed an independent federation with Pandosia (Cosenza) as its capital. From this town they attacked and became the rulers of many Greek cities.
The roman conquest
Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, came to the help of Tarentum: 14 years of war. In 353 B.C. the Lucanians, Campanians and Bruttians moved from the Tyrrenian sea towards, the Ionian, conquering as they went, approaching Locri and threatening Croton. Their brigand raids became more like organased military campaigns. In order to defend the cities of Magna Grecia, Tarentum sought the help of Sparta, and many Spartan commanders answered the call. Archidamus, son of Agesilaus, the king Sparta, was killed by the Lucanians at Manduria and Alexander Molossus, the uncle of Alexander the Great defeated the Lucanians in 322 B.C. on the Sele river, but he was later killed and his body cut to pieces. One of these pieces was brought back to Cosenza in triumph and the others were put up to everyone's scorn and insult.
Hannibal sailed from Crown and returned to Africa. But before his departure he had thousands of Italics slaughtered in the temple of Hera Lacinia. These were the very people that had supported him, but who would not follow him to Africa. He had a stele placed in the temple on which were engraved the names of the places where he had been victorious over the Romans.
Livy wrote: "When the ships set sail, Hannibal looked at the city and at the temple and cursed men and Gods" (the Roman ones, obviously!).
Today a column still stands' on the shore. He probably leaned on it, before leaving defeated and mortified. With his departure all the cities of Magna Grecia fell into Roman hands and were transformed into colonies. That marked the end of Magna Grecia, but its civilisation and culture were absorbed by the Roman soul, and became two of the most important components of Roman society.
The Romans adopted the names of many Gods from the Greeks: Apollo, Vesta, Castor and Pollux. They also adopted the alphabet, and thus became literate. Their laws, constitutions and military regulations were all influenced to various degrees by the Greeks of Italy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote that three hundred years after its foundation, Rome sent three citizens to Magna Grecia to study its laws and eventually incorporated them into Roman law. Some of Zaleucus' norms were included in the Twelve Tables while, from the constitutions of the Italian cities, the Romans derived the concept of a mixed government as the best form of government. The first literary and poetic impulses in Rome were elicited by the Greeks who were taken to the city as slaves: for example, Pacuvius, Ennius and Naevius, and Livius Andronicus, who translated "The Odyssey" into Latin. Orphism, so dominant in the South, penetrated Etruria, as can be seen in representations of death in the Etruscan tombs of the fourth century B.C.
Pythagoras' doctrine spread all over the country and was fundmental to the diffusion of the civilization of Magna Grecia. In Naples the name of Pythagoras was well known as was that of Archytas and of Croton's medical school. Iamblichus wrote that there were many Pythagorean groups in the Italian cities and that among the followers of the Master from Croton, there were Pauzecians, Messapians, Lucanians, Romans and Gauls. These latter, having learned from Pythagoras that the soul reincarnates, began to lend money on the condition that it would be payed back in another life, therefore defending themselves from future poverty.
The Romans learned from Tarentum's cavalry how to organize their own and also from Tarentum and other cities of Magna Grecia they learned the art of naval combat.
The Greeks that immigrated to Italy quickly learned to appreciate the gifts that made them superior to the natives: love of freedom, self-reliance and a sense of moderation. They cultivated the idea that one must succeed in life through one's own capability and strenght. This concept was a reaction against aristocrats who could climb undeservedly to places of importance. Unlike the aristocrats, Greek colonists could gain success through will- power and wits. The entry of the concept of 'making it on one's own' into Greek ways of thinking, upset the aristocratic regimes and brought new oligarchies into power. This was a phenomenon like that which occurred between the United States and Europe: it brings home the idea that history repeats itself.
Culture and civilization developed in the south and moved northward leaving the shores of the Ionian Sea and spreading throughout the peninsula. Few ruins remain of these civilizations and cultures: many of the columns from the ancient temples are now incorporated in the christian churches. For example the columns of the Locrian Greek temple are in one of the cathedral of Gerace Superiore, where they were taken during the Saracen invasions.
The messages of a submerged world
All traces of many villages, such as Yporon, Delia, Iton, Malea, Livadia have disappeared due to earthquakes, landslides, and other human and natural disasters, Saracen invasions erazed them from the face of the earth forever. The physical traits of the South have also completely changed.
Destroyed by invasions and natural disaster's, modern cities have been built above the ancient ruins. The fallen and demolished temples have been utilized by the poorer agricultural populations as stone quarries or as lime kilns. Harbours, such as those of Caulonia, Riace, Locri and Roccella have totally disappeared. Promontories which once extented well into the sea, such as Punta Stilo, the longest in Italy, have now become miserable caudal appendices of the peninsula.
From "Magna Grecia - An
overview" by the International Association Magna Grecia, Inc. (I.A.M.G.) -1988 -