Are we ancient or medieval?

A while ago, I wrote about the Persian Wars, where Greece kept itself independent of Persia.  We tend to look back to the democratic Athenian state of roughly 500-400 BCE, which owned its survival to those successful wars, as the source of our own democracy.  But how true is that?  Almost no Athenian political practice, from 500-person juries to election by lot, from one-year terms of office to ostracism, makes it into our own system.  It all vanished under Macedonian domination after 330 BCE or so.  Macedonian domination was replaced by Roman domination, and then the Eastern Roman Empire.  Does anyone see any trace of Athenian democracy in Byzantium? I sure don't.

Most of what we recognize as our democratic institutions are really graftings of revived Roman Republican rhetoric onto political practices with medieval origins, like 12-person juries and Parliament.  I don't particularly care for the Middle Ages, but realize that much more of my civilization grows out of that Christian, multifocal, continental civilization than from Rome, much less Greece.

Some of the Greek emphasis comes out of philhellenic propaganda from the wars of Greek Independence, in the early 19th century.  Greece had been ruled by Moslem Turks since the fall of Byzantium.  A nationalist independence movement had to hearken back to some unifying idea.  Now, it's not as if Greece had been of no interest to scholars--opera itself, a mainstay of European culture for centuries, was invented in imitation of what Renaissance revivalists supposed Greek choral odes had been.  Greek thought was everywhere.  But as a popular touchstone for your political system?  Not so much.

That war of Greek independence, the one in which Byron romantically died, led to western Europeans identifying their own culture with that of Greece, and their opponents the Turks with the ancient Persians.  History is never just "what happened", but how what happened speaks to who we think we are.  When we see the Persian Wars now, it has some of that conflict annealed invisibly onto it.  And that conflict itself was never as straighforward as European propagandists, anxious to pick up pieces of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, would have had it.

This does have an influence over what we think is "interesting" history to read about, and what we don't.  It's inevitable.  We just need to be aware of it.