One of the theories that has cropped up in my grad school classes is the theory that the pre-Christian world (i.e. pagan Europe and the Ancient Mediterranean civilizations) was populated by nature-friendly people. The image that emerges is a more sophisticated version of Walt Disney's Pocahontas: tree huggers with pro-nature beliefs flitting happily through the dank forests of Europe.
This is such a very stupid idea that I have decided to address it separately here.
The image of a pure/good past is part and parcel of the whole noble savage doctrine promoted by people like Rousseau. It got quite a grip on Western Civilization and is still bandied about today. In the 1970s, alongside the feminist and environmentalist movements, a group of anthropologists/archaeologists promoted the idea of a pre-Christian, pro-woman, pro-nature idyllic society. Their idea was based principally on the discovery of goddess worship in the ancient world. How one leaps from goddess worship to all the rest escapes me; nevertheless, it was a big deal.
That is, until more archaeologists (and sometimes even the same archaeologists) went back and dug up more stuff and discovered, what do you know, that every time you find goddess worship, you find a big, thundering obnoxious patriarchal god right next door and he is, inevitably, calling the shots. You find temple prostitution to boot. So much for the non-exploitation of women.
What about the ancients' attitude towards nature?
The following list is a description of non-nature-friendly aspects of the ancient world, starting on the south side of the Mediterranean, progressing around to the east, back to the west and then north.
- The salting of Carthage
- The pyramids (see Stonehenge)
- The lighthouse at Pharos (which would have burnt a tremendous amount of wood on a daily basis)
- The mummifying of kittens for sale (commodification!)
- Jericho: the oldest city possibly in the world was a fortress! (Tells you something about human nature)
- The Old Testament
- Babylon: The Tale of Gilgamesh which, taken together with the story of Noah, is about how much is stinks to be flooded
- The Hanging Gardens of Babylon: the ultimate cultivation of nature
- The Greek concept of civilization (basically: cities)
- The Roman concept of civilization (basically: really big cities)
- The Roman Games which killed thousands and thousands of animals from Europe
- The Celts: agriculturists, traders and miners
- Moving North: Stonehenge. Stonehenge, along with the pyramids, is a wonderful example of ancient people quarrying huge amounts of rock (for fun!), hauling those rocks hundreds of miles to a completely different location and constructing a monument that does not blend into the landscape, even remotely.
- Beowulf: an ancient tale that was brought into Britain by Anglo-Saxons and later Christianized. The non-Christian parts of the tale are even less friendly about nature than the Christian parts. Nature is the enemy in the shape of big, angry monsters that eat you. You survive by having a good leader, good warriors and strong defenses.
- And then there's the Vikings . . .