Empire and Communications - Chapter 4. Greece and The Oral Tradition

Chapter 4. Greece and The Oral Tradition

"Greek civilization," Innis writes, "was a reflection of the power of the spoken word." In this chapter, he explores how the vitality of the spoken word helped the ancient Greeks create a civilization that profoundly influenced all of Europe. Greek civilization differed in significant ways from the empires of Egypt and Babylonia. Innis biographer John Watson notes that those preceding empires "had revolved around an uneasy alliance of absolute monarchs and scholarly theocrats." The monarchs ruled by force while an elite priestly class controlled religious dogma through their monopolies of knowledge over complex writing systems. "The monarch was typically a war leader whose grasp of the concept of space allowed him to expand his territory," Watson writes, "incorporating even the most highly articulated theocracies. The priests specialized in elaborating conceptions of time and continuity." Innis argues that the Greeks struck a different balance, one based on "the freshness and elasticity of an oral tradition" that left its stamp on Western poetry, drama, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science and mathematics.

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