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Chapter 3.7

HIS 104 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3.7: Ancient Egyptian Deities, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Macedonian Dynasty

Course Code
HIS 104
Daniel J. Gargola

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~ Chapter Three: From Classical Greece to the Hellenistic
World ~
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.
Non-Greek Perspectives
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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