The Minoan culture with its capital on the island of Crete is, as far as we know, the ancestor of European civilization in the eastern Mediterranean. It lasted about a thousand years (2500 - 1450) and flourished during the so-called Bronze Age when the instruments of daily life were made from a copper and tin alloy.
The decline of the Minoans probably coincides with the lack of trees on the island and the consequent impossibility of producing bronze.
It is also possible that the Minoan civilization was undermined by a series of natural catastrophes, especially a huge tsunami caused by the eruption of the Thera volcano (today Santorini), dated around 1630 B.C. by carbon tests.
The next group of people that dominated this part of the Mediterranean was the Mycenaean culture, inhabitants of Mycenae in the Peloponnese (1450 - 1100). They came into conflict with the Anatolian Hittites who forged their instruments of war in iron. It was the Iron Age that gradually expanded from East to West.
Coinciding with this period the city of Troy was booming. The war was declared between Mycenae and Trojans by the abduction of the princess of the first, according to Homer in the century 8 B.C. based on oral traditions that probably date from the previous 12th century. It was the first story of a European civilization.
When the Mycenaean era came to an end, between 1200 and 1150 B.C., due to lack of livelihood, natural disaster, or plague, the Dark Age of Greece began, lasting from 1100 to 900 B.C. He saw the Dorian invasion in the Peloponnese and the Ionic invasion off the coast of Asia Minor. The population was dispersed, fleeing from its palatial civilization to colonize small coastal towns.
The growth of these micro-states eventually laid the foundation for rivalry, individualism, and the sense of independence that distinguished the Greek view compared to its neighbours in Asia.
The two literary works of the time tell us about two different aspects of this culture: Homer's horizontal, self-made man epics and Hesiod's transcendental view of humanity as dependent on the gods.
In the The Odyssey, Homer narrates Ulysses' journey home from Troy, avoiding all obstacles along the way by his own wits. He is the self-made man, not mentored by the gods, the paradigmatic hero as an example to follow.
Nuerous scholars have pointed to various themes, episodes and verses indicating that The Epic of Gilgamesh, written 1500 years before Homer, had a substatial influence on The Iliad and The Odyssey. Gilgamesh has two versions, one from Sumeria in shorter lines with two beats to a line and the standard Akkadian version, four beats to a line and loose rhythmic verse. Both Homer's and the Gilgamesh texts use repeated descriptive words for their heroes, long elaborate greeting formulae, and repetitions of narrative and conversational sections typical of oral poetic traditions. Similies, irony, puns and ambiguities are also formally relate these texts.
As regards the overall messages in these poems Tzvi Abusch of Brandeis University affirms that The Gilgamesh epic combines the tragedy of The Iliad with the wanderings and marvels of The Odyssey. It is a work of adventure, but is no less a meditation on some fundamental issues of human existence. Gerald K. Gresseth states that there is a traceable line from the Sumerian version from which the Akkadian was formed to the world of Homer. The creation of heroic epic in the true sense--was not a fortuitous artistic discovery but the result of a new idea, that of the human hero as contrasted with an older, more divine or ‘shamanistic’ type of hero.” Kirk goes further and describes the influence of the Epic of Gilgamesh on the Greek myths.
Hesiod left us his Theogony a narration on the evolution of the Greek gods. It tells, (like the cosmologies of the neighbouring Middle East) that in the beginning there was only Chaos, a big hole. The first gods were powers more than anthropomorphic beings, but the genealogy links the generations to explain the entire panoply of the Greek sky.
The cosmogonic structure of Hesiod’s Theogony is also similar to NearEastern counterparts such as the Babylonian Enuma elis and the poems of the Hurro-Hittite Kumarbi Cycle. The year 1966 saw the publication of two classics in the field: Martin West’s Commentary on the Theogony and Peter Walcot’s Hesiod and the Near East.
Western philosophy tends to start with the ancient Greeks yet there is a growing body of scholarship revealing that the Greeks themselves owed many of their ideas to contemporary or previous Middle Eastern cultures, particularly Babylonia and Persia.
Later philosophers in the Greek city states of the eastern Mediterranean who followed in the double tradition of Homer's or Hesiod's vision will have to make the choice between pursuing a horizontal future, like Ulysses, or a vertical one looking at the gods.
One Greek site which integrated both the divine and the human was Delphi/Delphos. According to French excavations the area was inhabited in the late Mycenean times (15 cent BC). After the Greek Dark Ages during the cultural revival (8th. cent. BC), priests from Knossos brought the cult of Apollo to the site.
The ancient Greeks believed that Delphos was the centre of the world. The myth recounts that Zeus released two eagles, one from the East and the other from the West and they met there. The spot is marked by the omphalos(navel) stone. The Temple of Apollo was built there.
Legend says that the oracle at a Delphos originally belonged to Gaia, goddess of the earth but that Apollo slayed its guardian, Python, and founded his own oracle.
In classical greek times a thriving business evolved in Delphos where peoples came from all around to consult the future. A priestess would sit at a spot in the Temple and in a trance-like state speak certain phrases, whose meaning was not immediately comprehensible. A group of temple priests later arranged the sayings into ambiguous statements to be given to the paying pilgrims. Interpretation was now in their hands.
In 2002 a paper was published by scientists searching for a positivist explanation for the predictive oracles. The Delphos site lies on the flanks of Mount Parnassus which sits on active faultlines. The rocks are ground together by the constant movements and produce detectable methane and ethane and ethylene(anesthetic) vapours. This is proposed as the reason for the trances of the priestesses. Some have criticised the science behind this idea since the concentrations of vapours would not have been sufficient to cause a state of trance.