Half-finished, half-destroyed, hybrid? Syncretic culture

During the first week of May my family and I had a chance to explore ancient Greece.

Well, OK, modern Greece. With some ruins thrown in.

In addition to the museums of Byzantine culture, early Christian churches, old Turkish baths, reconstructed tombs of Phillip II of Macedon and all that, we also wandered around downtown Thessaloniki (Thessalonika) quite a bit. I was struck by the prevalence of half-destroyed, half-rebuilt buildings in various states of disrepair/renewal/disusage/usage.

I’ve been obsessed with Alexander the Great (Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, Alexandros ho Megas) since childhood. At the time, I had been introduced to Greek myths (and later, Norse, Germanic, and Celtic myths) by my father, and I eagerly devoured every book I could find. The books I read as a child presented the gods, goddesses, satyrs and nymphs, demigods and heroes as individual people/images that had remained the same since the world first began.

Now I know that they were mostly hybrids, syncretic images created from the merging, borrowing, conquering, combining of cultures, beliefs, and ancient peoples.  Some of this syncretism surely came about by design; politically, it would have been easier to accommodate conquered peoples by deliberately blurring beliefs, presenting them as differing aspects of the same concepts.

But how much of this hybridization and change happened over time, by accident, naturally, as people themselves mixed, intermarried, learned to live together, and formed a new culture (or cultures)?

As a teacher of intercultural communication, I’m interested in helping my students understand this process, but as a writer, I’m also interested in portraying how this might happen, both in the past and in the future.

What would happen if people originally from different cultures found themselves isolated on a new world, millions of miles away from their homes, and came to start a new culture?

Religion and religious beliefs often make SF writers nervous. SF movies and TV shows typically avoid the topic, for fear of offending religious viewers. But if SF intends to portray the “what if” of actual human history, religious beliefs and origin myths cannot be ignored. Beliefs drive culture. Cultural accommodation, assimilation, or syncretism should be a part of any good SF.

Figuring out how to write it – that’s another issue…

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