Pindar and The End of History
I have been reading (and re-reading) a very important and brilliant book by Bruno Snell entitled The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (1953). But unless you are familiar already with Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin — or equally Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Origin of Speech — the real value and importance of Snell’s book might not appear as self-evident as it does to me.
There’s a real kicker in Chapter 4, “Pindar’s Hymn to Zeus”. Here, Snell describes how the Greek lyrical poet Pindar (522-443 B.C.) composed a hymn praising “the final state of beauty and order” of the world brought about by Zeus and the Olympian gods after generations of struggle. As Snell puts it, “Zeus asks: Is anything still missing in this beautiful world? And the gods reply: Divine creatures who will praise its beauty”.
Those who are familiar with the former neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama’s 1990 screed The End of History and the Last Man might recognise the same sentimentality. We are at the end of history after generations of struggle. The dialectic of reason and history is now suspended. There is nothing more to be accomplished in perfecting the existing socio-political order. Thus, Mr. Fukuyama fulfills and finalises the conservative goal as expressed by William F. Buckley Jr. — to stand athwart the railroad tracks of history yelling “Stop!”
The proud, triumphalist moment after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was already similarly expressed by the Greek lyrical poet Pindar some 2,500 years ago — the perfection and fulfillment of history thanks to the gods. And yet, this proud Greek civilisation was gone within a century of Pindar’s triumphalist boast in his own time about the end of history. It seems to be the rule that men mistake their own times for what they are not; for after the maturity of the fruit begins the rot.
The irony is, I hope, clear. Francis Fukuyama claimed to be writing “history” based on reason (or ideology), and not mythology. Yet 2,500 years before him Pindar, writing mythology, claimed that in his own time the final perfection of the world had been achieved by the grace of the gods.
Such is the present state of consciousness that “reason” and scholarship, in its current decayed state at our own ‘end of history’, has far more in common with Pindar’s mythology than it does with a truth-seeking “science” or a “fact-respecting” scholarship. And that is a worrisome state of affairs. In the post-modern condition, philosophy has decayed and ossified into ideology, while reason has decayed into mere rationalisation.
And the deluded Late Modern mind considers this a “triumph” over history, as Pindar did in his own time as well, when the the grand mythological themes of Homeric epic had decayed into mere tropes and props for the lyrical poets. Yet, within three or four generations came the twilight of the gods, and the “Golden Age” of Greece was no more than a ruin.
(For a timeline for the rise and fall of Greek civilisation and Pindar’s place in the historical context, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_ancient_Greece )