The European conflict between North and South did not arise out of nothing. Our civilization developed on a foundation of three cultures: first Cretan, then Athenian, then Christian. Rather than eclipsing each other in succession, these identities intermingle, continuing to battle it out today.
Europe draws upon three cultural origins: Cretan, Athenian, and Christian. Cretan culture derives from Minoan civilization, pre-Roman Athenian culture to Greek civilization, and Christian culture spread through Roman civilization after it officially converted to Christianity. These three cultures and their offshoots are the substratum of our European identity. The current crisis in Europe goes back to a clash between the continent’s different cultural origins that can only be solved through mediation.
Europe was a Cretan mythological queen that gave the name to our continent; in another tradition, Europe was a Phoenician princess who united with the god Zeus in Crete and gave birth to the legendary king Minos, the origin of the name for Minoan or Cretan civilization. In both cases, mythology places the origin of Europe in the Mediterranean island of Crete, as a queen or a princess.
Europe has, thus, a matriarchal-feminine origin, not only due to the figure of a queen or princess, but also because of the presence of the old Mediterranean mother-goddess at the head of the Cretan pantheon. Crete itself used to be called a motherland, not a fatherland. Its cultural symbol was the Labyrinth, as a feminine cave inhabited by the Minotaur, a Cretan bull-man and an archetype representing the obscure forces of nature. The Minotaur was then incarnated in Dionysus, who stood for vital and deadly force.
Crete is the heart of Europe, its origins and its past in the south of the Mediterranean. It is the motherland in a mythical, pre-rational sense, in the same way that Athens becomes the fatherland and the reason of state.
Athens takes its name from the goddess Athena, who is no longer the matriarchal (Mediterranean) goddess but the patriarchal (Indo-European) one. This is the reason Athena is born out of the head of Zeus, the father-god of the northern Indo-European civilization. The Indo-Europeans invaded the South of Europe from the year 2000BC onwards, and superimposed a new patriarchal worldview upon the old matriarchal Cretan culture.
If Crete is the tribal basis of Europe, Athens is the continent’s national archetype, since it is the city-state par excellence, a model for the abstraction of the tribal and for the rationalization of the mythical and the pre-rational. Athens is a state based upon reason, a patriarchal reason that stands against the mythical background of Crete. The legend of Theseus, the king of Athens who destroyed the Labyrinth and the Minotaur is not just a myth, but a symbolic expression of reality. In this way, Apollonian reason displaces Dionysian pre-reason, as Nietzsche showed following his master Bachofen, while God-the-father takes the place of the mother-goddess.
In Athens, we witness the transition from an old natural worldview, dominated by the goddess, to an Olympian worldview dominated by Zeus and Jupiter. The proud Greek Logos is thus based upon the repression/oppression of symbolic myth, i.e. of passion (pathos). Still, a mediation between passion and reason, pathos and logos, motherland and fatherland, is necessary. This mediation takes place thanks to Christianity, the foundational European religion, with its dark shadows and bright lights.
Crete is the birth of Europe and of its Mediterranean heart; Athens is the re-birth of Europe, its reason of state and the beginning of liberal democracy. Christianity is Europe as a fraternal community that brings together equality and freedom, the matriarchal, communitarian element and the patriarchal, individualistic one. The biggest contribution of Christianity is the notion of “person,” which can be defined as the communitarian individual, a human being open to others: a human or humanized inter-man, different from the animalized, sub-human infra-man and from the inhuman or divine super-man.
Christianity emerges from Judaism, synthesizing the Mediterranean matriarchal and the Hebraic patriarchal cultural strands. But the originality of Jesus from Nazareth’s Christianity consists in surpassing and co-implicating the maternal and the paternal in the brotherhood of a common or communitarian sense, that is to say, in the Church as universal fraternity. The Christian God is neither the Mediterranean goddess-mother nor God-the-father of the Old Testament but a brother-god: a divine incarnation in the open humanity of Christ.
Although Christianity is a religion that is born in the Near East, it is reborn in Rome and propagated throughout the Roman Empire. As a result, Christianity is a faith with a complicated imperial heritage; it converted a temporal empire into a spiritual one. Such imperialism appears in Constantine, the Crusades, and the Inquisition, at the same time as it is interrupted by St. Francis of Assisi, Juan de la Cruz, Teresa de Ávila and, more recently, by Mother Teresa or Pope Francis.
Christianity is the Ecumene of Europe, if by that we mean a Europe based on the Christian idea of fraternity and understood as a brotherhood of opposites, or even of enemies. It is a mediation among opposites in a democratic and social dialogue initiated, for better or for worse, in modern democracy by its Christian (Protestant) founders in New England (North America).
The Three Cultures
The origin of Europe is, fundamentally, a combination of the Mediterranean eros and Indo-European reason, of the Orthodoxy and Catholicism of the Southeast and the Protestantism of the Center-North. As such, it must forge a fraternity of the matriarchal and the patriarchal, the Dionysian and the Apollonian, of the heart and of reason. At the center of virtue is the mediation of polar contrasts: North and South, cold and warmth, abstraction and passion.
A true European democracy would have to remediate the disjunction between the liberal Northwest and the communitarian Southeast. However, for the time being, the pax europea has only managed to achieve the peace of the euro as the common currency, and at a high cost. This approach focuses on the mercantile aspect of abstract reason, which is typically capitalist and is accurately represented by Indo-European reason, necessary yet insufficient. With this reason, we are again witnessing the triumph of Athens at the expense of Crete and Rome, as the German thinker Ulrich Beck has noted.
Crete is the birth and nationalism; Athens is reason and internationalism; Rome is Christianity and an open universalism, which is projected as the spiritual Ecumene and as moral ecumenism.
At present, the European conflict between North and South is reproducing an old struggle between liberal Athens and Mediterranean Crete—a struggle that, today, would be paralleled on higher altitudes between the Germanic Berlin and the Latin Paris. The only resolution for this conflict lies in the mediation between the extremes, which proceeds at once dialectically and democratically. In a word, co-implicatively.