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Seminar with Oliver Rackham, Reflection by Fu Yaqi
In the seminar, Oliver Rackham presented to us what his idea about the situation of ecology in ancient and nowadays Greece. He firstly introduced the climatic and geographical characters of Greece and associated these with real ecological conditions Greece could have. Places which he mentioned especially are Crete and Cyprus. He also provided us three theories in explaining Greek ecology and by showing pictures gave us what the image of Greece in the eyes of Nicolas Poussin in 1648 and the Lost Eden authors.
What’s the real ecology in Greece? In discuss about ecology in modern Greece, it’s not hard to find traditional explanations are easily to fall into the degradation theory: that in brief, vegetation is suffering degradation now, and usually yesterday is better than today in ecology. However, the fact is not that simple and pessimistic, these degradation scholars may make pseudo-ecology unconsciously. Rackham’s finding is inspiring, he found “a consistent change from Greece Yesterday to Greece today is the increase in wild vegetation, especially trees” (Oliver Rackham, Ecology and pseudo-ecology, 20). In order to proof this finding, he selected photographs and pictures between different ages and compared them. And from his comparison, he surely noticed the fact that trees were not in decline, but in the opposite increasing by time, especially pines. Simultaneously fires caused by vegetation were in an increase, which may well be another proof of the inadequacy of deforestation.
In ecology, ancient Greece was not less complicated than modern time. The difficulties partly lay in the insufficiency of primary sources, and exaggeration by explanation. Some methods like pollen, if used in ancient ecology research, would be difficult in application as well. Different connotations of words between languages and ages, however, made misunderstanding thus causing wrong estimate, for example, the words wood and timber were not separated by Greek but the differences exist in English. Rackham’s essay corrected some stereotypes which we believed so deeply as to taking them as common sense. For example, trees protect soils from erosion is commonly believed by us but not true in Greece, for erosion is a catastrophic process there according to his finding.
It should be cautious when we want to use modern theories, ideas and frameworks trying to understand the ancient time in ecology. As to the question “did the ancient Creeks have an attitude to ecology”, unlike some other scholars, Rackham chose to answer it humbly: I do not know (Oliver Rackham, Ecology and pseudo-ecology, 33). His attitude is what I appreciated. We can not assume ancient people have the same “ecological awareness” as us, while their cosmology, methodology and epistemology, if not distinctively separated, at least in some parts are different from nowadays us. Keeping eyes on their peculiarities is far more important and appropriate than trying to “assimilate” them into our theories.
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