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Sri Aurobindo and Greece

— Amal Kiran (K. D. Sethna)

Price: Rs 80

Soft Cover
Pages: 98
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
Publisher: The Integral Life Foundation, U.S.A.

About Sri Aurobindo and Greece

During his Cambridge days Sri Aurobindo was considered to be a brilliant scholar in Greek. His interest in this classical language was not merely academic, his relationship with Greek literature and culture was very intimate. In this book K.D. Sethna, true to his inquisitive spirit, gives an account of how "Greece lived with a power not only intimate but also creative" in Sri Aurobindo. With his customary penetrating observation and analysis, the author shows this relationship between Sri Aurobindo and Greece, as it manifested in many forms in Sri Aurobindo's varied creative fields all of which makes a very interesting study.


Mega biblion, mega kakon (A big book is a great evil), runs a Greek adage. But to do full justice to Amal Kiran's little book of ninety eight pages on Sri Aurobindo and Greece one needs the great evil of very big book! What can we say about it in a brief review? Noting every reference to Greece, Greek life, Greek literature and poetry, art and culture, philosphy and politics not to speak of persons and personalities however distantly related to the subject on hand in Sri Aurobindo's voluminous work, the author has packed worlds of fact and idea, experience and vision into the few pages. The marvel with Amal Kiran is that each of the forty odd books he has written none is like the other and this little book is unique in its own way bringing out the full mastery of what he writes, his penetrating intellect, his fine taste and incisive judgement.

The author, besides illustrating to us the truth of Sri Aurobindo's statement that he had steeped himself in the Hellenic spirit, brings before us the multifoliated Rose that the Master is. We get a full picture of Sri Aurobindo's educational career in England where he distinguished himself in examination and poetry competition in the Greek language. His earliest verse breathes with Greek spirit and eight lines of his could be mistaken easily for a snatch from Greek Anthology. His play written in the Baroda days, Perseus, the Deliverer is often Aescylean in tone and there are passages in which we have Classical Greece hit off to a nicety.

One of Sri Aurobindo's greatest contributions to the Hellenic studies is his discovery of the secret of the Greek hexameter and his own sequel to Homer's Odyssey in the same metre. Amal Kiran not only expounds all the technicalities of the metre but show how Ilion even more than a modern sequel to Odyssey by a well-known Greek poet, Nikos Kazant-Zakis, reveals the Greek soul.

We are shown Sri Aurobindo's mastery in Greek grammar when contradicting a Greek and Sanskrit scholar Ranade points out the power of the language in making compounds.

Sri Aurobindo always thought France nearer Greek spirit than England. But he reveals his mastery of the spirit of both the cultures when he shows the limitation of France by saying that France deals with life not from the standpoint of inspired reason (as Greece does) but thinking intellect, not the enlightened aesthetic sense but of emotional sentiment.

We may now make a brief reference to Sri Aurobindo's understanding of Greek sculpture, philosophy, religion and politics.

A normal Indian would think that a Greek sculptured figure would provide only sensuous delight but Sri Aurobindo points out that though the stress in Greek Sculpture is on the body it expresses a certain divine power of beauty beyond sensuous aesthtic power. Yet the Greek gods are more magnified and uplifted human beings with a certain divine calm and impersonality than the cosmic figures we see in Indian sculpture. Sri Aurobindo never agrees that the Greek art influenced the great Indian art. He condemns the Gandharan figures as bastard hybrids.

In the matter of religion and philosphy the mistake the Greeks did was to travel away from the early Mystics. That led to the destruction of the Greek religion. "The sunny terrestrial (Greek) mind commonly met the idea of the beyond, the limitless, the unknown" with fear, gloom and aversion. Amal Kiran underlines the words, commonly met. The elite were themselves the seekers of aperion, the infinite. The ideas of the Upanishads can be rediscovered in philosophers like Pythogoras, Plato and others. Plato could intuit into much of the higher truth. To Heracletes, whom Plato followed, Logos was not inconscient reason in things but Fire which was Zeus and eternity.

Politically Greece was home of all forms of government known to us. A word about the Greek idea of democracy may be relevant to us. They had two main ideas about it: first, an effective and personal share by each citizen in the actual government, legislation and administration of the community; secondly a great freedom of individual temperament and action.

Amal Kiran sums up Sri Aurobindo's greatest work in the context of his interchange with Greece at the end of the penultimate section of his book. From a literary point of view the resurrection of the Homeric hexameter with its Olympian pace naturalised in a new language is the highest accomplishment. From the point of view of his life's mission the fullest building up of the Supermind from the Yogic idea found in Plato, apart from the pointers in the Indian Scriptures is his greatest work.

— Prof. (retd.) K. B. Sitaramayya

August 2000