The land of ancient Greece produced many of the educational and social aspects of the modern world. It is often considered by historians and philosophers as the cradle of western Civilization.
Greece had an interesting geographical location in the ancient world which created a natural crossroads and trading center for the Mediterranean world. It is from this beginning that Greece rose twice to create two large empires. Greece has coastal and mountain geography. Large mountains are in the center which lead to the coastal plains. This has given Greece the optimal environment for food and trade. Trade would help develop the Greek alphabet to record all of the transactions.
Greece has been a focus to education at all levels and in a multitude of courses. No introduction to a philosophy course in college is thorough if it does not first start with the pre-Socratics of ancient Greece.
The Greeks influenced the Romans in many ways. Greek mythology was taken by the Romans and altered slightly to fit the Roman worldview. The most common change was altering the names of the gods or goddess. However, the stories remained similar. Moral plays and myths influenced the writers of Rome. The fables that are accredited to Aesop are similar moral stories that were originally written by the Greeks.
The influence of Greece is even apparent in our modern world. The concepts of Plato’s republic are part of the ideals of democracy. Many of the western democracies have their basis in some form on the works of the Greek philosophers of government. Five of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World are in the areas that were controlled by Greece.
Many of our social concepts were developed in ancient Greece. The average life of a Greek was not simple, but the standard of living for certain classes was quite high. They had access to a variety of highly nutritious food sources, and this resulted in great stores of surplus food, which meant less time was spent gathering food.
This provided more time for leisure, which sparked a growth in intellectual thought. When certain sectors of society are not required to expend energy to grow or gather food, it allows them to search for other outlets for their energies. These outlets helped in the development of our modern society.
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Entertainment and Literature
Greece was also one of the major players in the development of theater and language. This works as a guide for the society as well as a means of entertainment. It is through an understanding of the tragedies and comedies of the time that the Greeks learned about their own character. Even their gods and goddesses were not immune from vanity and human emotions, and this is often depicted in the works of literature and mythology.
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Influence of Governments
Modern philosophy also has its roots in ancient Greece. Although not the only influence on modern thought, Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Socrates still have an impact on modern philosophy courses. The ancient Greeks were one of the first cultures to try to explain the natural world around them. Referring back to the notion that free time allows people to think about other aspects than the bare necessities, one of the common thoughts is to attempt to understand what is going on in the world around them.
By asking questions of each other a completely different view of teaching and learning developed. It was the Greeks who started the practice of the academy as an area of study. Students would come to the academies to learn under teachers like Plato and Aristotle. The students who learned under these men would then teach others in the community. This extended into an understanding of government and its responsibility to the people.
Greece is also the home to some of the most famous cities, rulers and conquerors in the history of the world. Alexander the Great is the primary Greek who comes to mind when one thinks of conquerors. Hellenistic influence was not limited to just the Greek Peninsula; it extended as far east as the Indus Valley, to the south in Egypt, and west to the Italian Peninsula.
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After the Ancient World
The Greeks eventually eclipsed the Roman Empire and absorbed the Peloponnesus. This was not the complete end of the Greeks since they would rise again after the Roman Empire split in the third century CE. The new empire was the Eastern Roman Empire but was better known by the name Byzantium. This empire lasted until the 14th century and was a buffer between the Roman Christian west and the Muslim east.
Impact of the Greeks
As you can see, Greece has a long and storied history, and she has contributed to all facets of the modern world. It is rare for a nation to remain a significant part of the world scene for as long as Greece has: from 500 BCE to around the 14th century CE. Our modern society owes our systems of government to the Greeks as well as many of the architectural, social and philosophical thoughts that exist.
Zanker, Paul. “Art and Imagery in the Age of Augustus. Michigan Press, 2000.
Image: Parthenon by Wallyg under CC by 2.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/135115202/sizes/m/in/photostream/
Palmer, Donald. “Does the Center Hold”. McGraw Hill, 2002.