In A Humanitarian Past: Antiquity’s Impact on Present Social Conditions Adele Änggård uncovers the idealization of our cultural origin in an androcentric Antiquity. She postulates that this false view on our cultural origin obscures our egalitarian past. In presenting the book Nauð Vanarot hopes that it will challenge mainstream perceptions on history and feministic discussion.
A Humanitarian Past describes the movement from our gynocentric prehistory to today’s androcentric, hierarchical society and its impact on an individual level but also how it shapes our social interaction. As a stage and costume designer Adele Änggård builds her introduction on how the Greek dramas deliberately and systematically distorted the earlier egalitarian cultures’ world view and lifestyle in order to be able to idealize a hierarchical, war prone slave-culture.
The Ancient Greeks
At first glance, what happened 3000 years ago can seem irrelevant. That could well be the case if it wasn’t for the fact that we have idealized Antiquity. Part of today’s paradigm is the belief that it was the ancient Greeks who lifted us out of barbarism and created our present cultivated civilization. Adele Änggård clearly shows, both in image and text, that reality is the opposite - Ancient Greece created an ideal where the rich men had power over all, where the free men had power over women and slaves, where it is considered masculine and admired to exercise systematic violence/war. When we consider these ideals to be the cradle of our culture it’s logical that the world looks as it does.
Even if the author’s point of departure are ancient Greek dramas and their distortion of earlier cultures, a major part of the book is devoted to describing our prehistory, explaining why we can assume that the societies of Old Europe were egalitarian both from economic and gender perspective. The author builds on theories from a number of researchers, but primarily on thousands of artifacts and cave paintings that has been preserved.
A recurring theme is how the movement from a gynocentric to an androcentric culture has dehumanized us and that we, as a result have lost our connection to the earth, the water, the air and trees - which is the reason for our indifference in dislodging natures natural balance.
Supported by a well grounded system of reference A Humanitarian Past gives the reader a base from which to make their own inquires. In spite of this the text is not ‘dry’ as the language is well nuanced and Änggård writes with a subtle sense of humor. I guess that is why what could have been a doomsday call instead gives hope and a wish to create new possibilities. The book is strengthened by some hundred carefully chosen illustrations that enriches the reader’s interpretation and understanding of the text.
Another Understanding of Prehistory
Our view of prehistoric people who fought to survive, the caveman dragging ‘his’ woman by the hair began to fall apart in the 1980’s. Those of us who were interested could read research that showed that the people of the Paleolithic period had a rich cultural life, were artistically talented and that human survival depended on our ability to cooperate. Prominent figures in that work are professor Gimbutas, Monica Sjöö together with the author Barbra Mor, and futurologist Riane Eisler (who has written the foreword to A Humanitarian Past). Their work was groundbreaking. The change of outlook they presented took hold within certain feminist groups but then it became relatively quiet. A Humantarian Past lifts out additional aspects linking these works together to create a graspable whole.
I nourish a sincere hope that it will be widely read, discussed and debated, becoming a part of a well needed process of change. I share this hope with Riane Eisler who, in the foreword, writes: “In short, as the title indicates, in A Humantarian Past, Adele Änggård brings to life a more humanitarian past. Not a perfect past, not a utopia, but a past that is much less violent, a time when women and men were partners, and when warfare had not yet become the norm. We need this knowledge. Indeed, we owe it to our younger generations, who recognise the urgency of new ways of seeing our world and living in it to spread it far and wide.”.
Gynocentric: Focus on women.
Contemporary scholars of gynocentric cultures have found that such societies “are not just a reversal of patriarchy, with women somehow ruling over men—as the usual misinterpretations would have it—rather they are, without exception gender-egalitarian societies.”Goettner-Abendroth, Heide ed. (2009). Societies of Peace. Toronto: Inanna Publications and Education
Androcentric: Focus on men.