HIS 104 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3.7: Ancient Egyptian Deities, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Macedonian Dynasty
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~ Chapter Three: From Classical Greece to the Hellenistic
Part 7: Conversions Across Cultures
o For centuries, Greeks had traveled around the Mediterranean world and the Near East, marveling at
the age of Egyptian and Babylonian tradition.
o As knowledge of the Greek language spread, it now became possible for scholars and scientists to
draw ideas and information from the vast area that the Greeks ruled.
o These learned men began to engage in substantive conversations across cultures.
Cultural Fusion: Astronomy
o On a day that we cannot precisely specify, a momentous conversation must have taken place.
o This exchange was between a Greek who could use geometry to explain why the planets
move as they do and a Mesopotamian diviner who could work out their future motion from
▪ They realized that the tables drawn up in Mesopotamia could map onto the
geometrical models of the Greek tradition.
o For the first time in history, precise statements about how the natural world works were cast in the
language of mathematics and tested and refined against the results of observation.
o Alexandria became the central place for the application of the new quantitative skills to astronomy,
cartography, musical harmony, and many other fields.
o The fusion of Western with non-Western skills, methods, and beliefs created what came to be seen, in
retrospect, as the core achievements of the Western tradition.
o Interpreters, many of them Egyptians and Mesopotamians who had learned Greek, explained the
histories of their peoples and traditions to the literate, Greek-educated elites who ruled their
o These non-Greeks keenly felt the loss of political independence, even if their rulers adopted
local customs and rituals.
o Many came to understand themselves as newcomers to ancient lands, which they ruled but whose
mysterious religions and traditions they might not be able to understand.
The Ptolemies: Managing Religious Diversity
o When the Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemies took charge of Egypt, they introduced the Greek
language and Greek cults.
o But they made no effort to abolish the existing public religion.
▪ On the contrary, they accepted responsibility for it, made massive contributions to
the priests and temples of the ancient Egyptian gods, and even created new temples.
o In the course of the 3rd century BCE, the Ptolemies began to transform the religious and cultural
systems that they began with, one Greek and one Egyptian, into something more coherent.
o Lords of a double society and culture, the Ptolemies made a pint of issuing their decrees in Greek as
well as in Egyptian.
o This tradition gave rise to the Rosetta Stone, an Egyptian record inscribed in 196 BCE on a
massive piece of black stone in Egyptian hieroglyphs and demotic script as well as ancient
Cultural Tensions and New Beliefs
o Despite the Ptolemies’ tolerance of diversity in Egypt, the Hellenistic world was hardly peaceful.
o The Seleucids warred with the Ptolemies over and over again.
o The Greeks had always been curious about the peoples they encountered.
o During the Hellenistic period, some Greeks began to believe as fervently as the Persians and
Egyptians that non-Greek traditions might harbor vital teachings unknown to Greek thought.
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