“The purpose of archeology is to learn what the Past has to teach us, not to impose our own conceptions on the Ancients.” – Schwaller de Lubicz
There’s a solitary marble gate on the island of Naxos in Greece (featured above), that is all that remains of a once magnificent ancient temple to Apollo. Two thousand five hundred years ago, this temple would have been brand new, bustling with sailors, merchants, vendors, pilgrims and what not. Now, it calls – at the most – for a brief excursion by lovers of the nostalgic past.
If you’d have visited here a hundred years ago, you wouldn’t have even seen a gate. You’d have found marble slabs and columns covered by Mediterranean dust. The gate was relatively recently reconstructed by an archeological team who found the temple in such disarray, that it chose only to revive one gate and thereby hint to its ancient glory.
Nevertheless, archeologists are able to reconstruct ancient monuments to a fairly precise degree. They do this by surveying their grounds, studying their remnants and comparing them with other better preserved temples of their kind. The reason temples such as the Apollo in Naxos aren’t fully reconstructed is usually, financial. Would you fund a team of ten archeologists and a hundred workers throughout a decade?
The Challenge of Ancient Wisdom
But the real challenge is reconstructing ancient wisdom. Who was Apollo? Why did the Greeks build him a temple in Naxos? What did they use it for? And most importantly – borrowing from Schwaller de Lubicz – what can their past practices teach us in the present age?
In hinting to an ancient temple, the Naxos gate also whispers an ancient message. We can’t fully make out what it says, but we know it’s telling us something. It is a message that has traveled far – across many centuries – and was uttered by someone like us. We suspect that our ancient ancestor might have known more than we do, might have possessed some wisdom that was erased by the floods of time.
If we linger around the Naxos gate, we begin perceiving the spirit of his message. The massive marble slabs and the magnitude of the temple grounds tell of a society that spared neither effort nor expense to give outward expression to what they inwardly felt. Although our age is unique in its technological advancements, we don’t create wonders of the world such as they. We have better means, but they had better inspiration.
The Spirit of Ancient Wisdom
I have likened ancient wisdom to an Ark in Time. The Ark is made of man’s artistic expressions, such as the Naxos temple. The ocean is time, that wears down man’s creations, just as two thousand five hundred years of rains and winds and earthquakes have reduced the Naxos temple to rubble.
The contents of the Ark are the spirit of ancient wisdom, that spirit we faintly discern from the Naxos gate. It tells of the inspiringly epic scale on which the Greeks thought and lived and built. And it is no coincidence that, in the Ark Myth, the dove (the spirit) is the first to leave Noah’s Ark. It flies away before everyone else.
The spirit of ancient wisdom is subtle. Now it is present, then it is gone. Even during the Naxos temple’s heyday, the vital spirit of its earlier founders might have already flown elsewhere. The sailors, merchants, vendors and pilgrims might have already been witnessing a degenerated form of the monument’s original glory. The spirit lingers awhile, then moves on to new expressions.
There is one advantage in the extreme fragility of ancient wisdom: since its spirit may quickly disappear, it is also the quickest to retrieve.