You’ve probably heard it said that the Greeks have given the modern world countless gifts. But have you ever stopped to consider what those gifts are, and how they impact your everyday life?
One of the reasons I wrote Catch that Cat! was to promote the positive aspects of Greek culture and heritage, particularly now at a time where Greece is receiving a lot of negative press for its economic crisis.
In this week’s post we’ll look at five of the most important and enduring contributions to human civilization made by the Ancient Greeks.
Every great civilization has explored mathematics, but few have surpassed the Greeks in original contributions. In the 6th century BCE, Pythagoras led followers who were obsessed with finessing the rules of mathematics, giving us the useful Pythagoream Theorem. He was not alone in revolutionising mathematics; in fact, Archimedes (3rd century BCE), devised methods resembling integral calculus—almost 2,000 years before its “invention” by modern mathematicians!
Pythagoras’ was also known for the school he developed in order to study natural philosophy, which in modern terms encompassed mathematics, science, logic, ethics, and theology (among other disciplines). The school culminated in the triad of great thinkers, Socrates (died 399 BCE), Plato (died 348/7 BCE), and Aristotle (died 322 BCE). Each successive philosopher was the student of the one before, and each contributed a wealth of ideas to human thought.
No one person “invented” democracy; instead, it arose out of necessity. After generations of rule by kings and petty tyrants, a local noble Cleisthenes helped expel the corrupt rulers and instituted what was called demokratia, “rule of the people”, which created the foundation for the system of government enjoyed by modern Western nations.
The Greeks were among the first to systematically study medicine as a true discipline and not a collection of folk cures. Hippocrates (5th and 6th centuries BCE) was the father of Western medicine, putting into writing some of the first accurate descriptions of the human body. The “Hippocratic Oath” to which his followers subscribed is still taken by doctors today. So renowned was Greek medicine it was still being used in Europe and the Middle East centuries later!
Ancient Greek culture was also renowned for its art and culture. Greek statuary grew into graceful, realistic expressions of the human form and their painting was said to possess levels of realism that would not be recurrent in art until the Renaissance. Greek theatre also flourished with their plays exploring themes as wide politics, religion, philosophy, and man’s place in the universe. The written word was equally important, with Homeric epics, the Iliadand the Odyssey, becoming the cultural touchstone of the Greek world.
Want to learn more? See the reading suggestions below!
Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times by Thomas R. Martin
Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History by Sarah B. Pomeroy