|Drachmon from Kyrene c. 550 BCE Zeus Ammon and Silphium|
(About the size of US 5-cent nickel)
and more fully here:
The Hellenistic world was very much like our own time: held in tension by science and superstition, commerce and war, ecumenism and parochialism.Kyrene was founded by Dorians from the island of Thera in 631 BCE. Its primary claim to fame was the presence of silphium. Silphium was discovered to prevent pregnancy. It was highly valued and eventually harvested to extinction, despite valiant attempts to cultivate it there and elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the history of Kyrene reflected many of the cultural trends of the times. Twice, it suffered from constitutional crises as factions in the assembly became gangs in the streets. Both times, the solution was to send to Athens for philosophers skilled at politics who created compromises.
|Obol or hemi-drachm. Demeter with Eagle killing snake.|
(About half the size of a US dime.)
Among the ancient philosophers, the Cyrenaics followed the teachings of Aristippos. The school was maintained and extended by his daughter, Arete, and her son, Aristippos. Though originally a student of Socrates, Aristippos asserted his own line of thought. He advocated seeking pleasure by adapting to circumstances. He gave up the safety of a city and traveled widely. To understand the consequences of that, remember that Diogenes the Cynic was captured by pirates and sold as a slave. It was not unusual for the times. There was no safety outside the city walls. Yet, the Alexandrians coined the word "cosmopolitan" for the universal citizen or citizen of the world, not tied to any one city, but comfortable anywhere.
|Ptolemy II and Berenike I. Alexandria Mint.|
(Bronze coin about the size of a US quarter)
We quip and quote about the long run of history, which may or may not repeat itself to our doom. The fact is that the Library of Alexandria attracted savants from all across the Greek koinon ("union"). They developed their own distinct and universal dialect, in which, ultimately, the New Testament was written. When the house of Ptolemy fell on hard times, the library released many of its scholars to find their own ways. Rather than marking a nadir, it caused a secondary flourishing in the Hellenistic world as accumulated learning was cast to the winds to flourish wherever open minds were found.
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