This is the second part in a series on repetition of history. The first part compared Europe and Ancient Greece.
When we think of Classical Greece, we usually think of Athens, the most enduring
city-state of the time. Athens--the
cradle of Western Civilization, the birthplace of democracy, and the mother of
philosophy. This is where Durant's comparison of Ancient Greece to modern France begins--it was the French that laid the
framework for Europe and gave birth to the
Enlightenment, paving the way for another overseas republic to save its
Just as we think of France
as the epitome of culture and sophistication, the ancient world regarded Athens--home of Socrates,
Plato, and Aristotle--as the center of the Western culture. Athens
gave the ancient world democracy, and France--through Voltaire, Rousseau,
and Montesquieu--revived it in the present. Interestingly, both French and
Athenian democracy descended into despotism at the hands of twice-exiled
dictators--Peisistratos and Napoleon.
The French defined Europe.
The basis for the modern borders of Europe was created by Charlemagne, the king
of the Franks (from which we derive "France"). He reformed Europe from the ashes of Roman civilization into its own
empire in 800 AD. It was divided upon his death, forming the foundation of
modern France and Germany.
Up to the present time, the French and Germans, along with the English,
Italians, Dutch, Spanish, Flemish, Scandinavians, and every other polity on the
continent engaged in recurring alliances and wars.
Athens also vacillated
between warring and allying with its many neighbors that occupied the Attic
promontory that juts into the Mediterranean,
many centuries before the French William the Conqueror fought the English King
Harold, Philip II fought John, Philip VI fought Edward III, Charles d'Albret
fought Henry V, Louis XII fought Henry VIII, and Napoleon fought the Duke of
Wellington. France warred
with Flanders, the Holy Roman Empire, Austria,
Russia, and Sweden,
and just about every other European nation. Both Athens
allied with neighbors to fight other neighbors in a game of constantly shifting
alliances. The Delian League, the Aetolian League, and the Peloponnesian League
gave way to the League of Nations, the United
Nations, and the European Union. As Sparta and Athens interrupted their wars with a joint defense against
Persia, France fought England for a Hundred Years, then
united with it twice to repel an existential threat from a fellow nation on the
In the next part in this series, we'll see how the Macedonians posed the same threat to Greece as Germany did to Europe in the 20th century--with the same results.