Patrice Brun

The Invention of Greece Publication date : June 9, 2021

Patrice Brun, honorary professor of ancient history at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne, where he was president, is an expert in ancient Greece and epigraphy.

There is a Greece of our dreams. The calm beauty of the Mediterranean and the marble of the temples, the sublime bodies of the statues, Pericles and Plato, and Homer – Olympus at your fingertips. In a setting that has been stamped with the seal of magnificence for at least two centuries by a West seeking its roots, ancient Greece, with its history, its arts, and its culture, has often been considered the home of Beauty and the Ideal. But Greece has often been (re)invented, used and abused through a fantasized Antiquity, one that has been simplified, embellished, to better serve the motives – political, intellectual, or social -- of the present.

A great lover of Greece, Patrice Brun aims to right these wrongs by removing the trappings of ideology and myth that cover it. By revealing, beneath the dreamed-of Greece, antiquity as it truly was. Parliamentary democracies have wanted to see in Athens the original and already perfect model of western democratic practices, ostensibly forgetting that the Athenian system only existed through the domination of the powerful over the weak, of men over women, citizens over slaves. In Antiquity, an ideal Sparta was invented: through which winding paths were some French Revolutionaries, Prussian nationalists, and finally Nazis inspired to see that city as the absolute paradigm of magnificence?

And yet, it is indeed the works of the Greeks and their writings, it is indeed their own reflections on political organization that explain our interest in that civilization. We must carry out a completely honest inventory of that past, without giving in to myths, and without condemning the past in the name of values that belong to the present. This is the gist of this remarkable book, one that replaces a Greece of museums embalmed in praise with a Greece that is intensely alive.

Replacing a marmoreal monument sanctified by an erroneously reverential tradition which has made it a classic, mythical, and fantasized pillar of the West – as false as it is ancient? – Patrice Brun offers a real Greece, one of history and not of glorification.

The author presents the reader with a dusted-off image of Greece that makes it more real, more colorful, more human – much more interesting. A fascinating book on the use and misuse of ancient Greece, on what that land truly was, and deep down, a reflection on the way in which the West perceives itself through the glorified past whose heritage it claims.