Why I Admire The Ancient Greeks

I once heard or read somewhere that while the rest of the world gave us astrology, the Greeks gave us astronomy.  That simple statement sums up my deep admiration for the ancient Greeks -they were the most glorious happening in human history.  We owe almost all of our sciences to them, much of our mathematics, to say nothing of their contributions to literature and the arts.  Who among the ancients has given more to our civilization?

Everything about them was different from what preceded them.  Man is the measure of all things, they maintained, even creating their gods in man’s image, and placed reasoning and logic as the highest virtue.  As an example of this: they knew full well that the earth was a sphere, deducing this from its shadow cast to make a crescent moon (so eminently logical); that acceptance is best demonstrated by Eratosthenes of Cyrene, who in third century BCE, calculated the circumference of the earth, by measuring the angle of the sun’s shadow between two locations (Aswan and Alexandria, Egypt) and having someone pace off the distance separating them (he was only off by 200 some miles).   It’s the certainty in which this was perceived, with no doubts whatsoever, that is so impressive.

You can go on and on citing the insights of their great thinkers, but I think my simple illustration conveys the idea.  Although not often mentioned, their greatest contribution may have been the constancy of their written language, which has remained virtually unchanged since antiquity.  This has enabled us to learn about other civilizations, namely Egyptian, through deciphering its glyphs by means of the Rosetta stone.  Their written accounts of contemporary cultures that included their legends and histories have given us much of what is known about them to this day.   .

 As for their Gods and Goddesses, they conceived them as having all the flaws of humans, with only their immortality removing them from us, which, in a broader context, again puts man on an equal footing with them.  We know that, despite their reputation for logic and sound reasoning, they had problems with their religious fanatics, just as we do in our present times, the best example of this being Socrates made to drink poison for corrupting the morality of Athen’s youth (i.e. undermining their religiousness).  But, overall, they still present us with humankind at its best -inquisitive, questioning, thinking.  No other ancient civilization that I know of valued learning and knowledge more. 

 Yes, they waged their wars and ultimately could never unite, even when it meant their own downfall, and succumbed to the same weaknesses afflicting the rest of humanity.  I want to judge them by what they did when not at war and compare this to other cultures when not at war, and that is when their achievements shine over all others.  So I remain undeterred in my affection and appreciation for their accomplishments.  They truly were the most brilliant chapter in our history.  I owe my novel Polyxena to them -it’s a product of their literary heritage.


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