Greek civilization grew and prospered more than 2,000 years ago. Greece was not a single nation, but rather a group of city-states, the two most well-known of which were Athens and Sparta. The culture of Greece was influential in the development of the European groups that would follow, and continues to show influence even today in the lives of American. This chapter reviews the history and the culture of the ancient Greeks from the rise of the city-states to empire of Alexander the Great.
The Greek culture began before the Roman. The Iliad, one of the earliest of the great written Greek works, appeared roughly 700 years before the Aeneid , an early Roman work. The Iliad in turn was based on a good 300 years of verbal story telling.
Greek civilization was mostly conducted from small city states. The Greeks loved life and lived it with zest. They had little interest in the afterlife which, even for the greatest of men, was believed to be an eternal unpleasantness. In the Odyssey , the dead Achilles says that he would rather be a slave in life than king of the dead. The best that a man could hope to do would be to perform great deeds that would be remembered after his death. Because they highly regarded intellectuals (poets, philosophers and others) in addition to their great warriors, great deeds could be accomplished by all.
The Greeks believed in individualism and prized differences in personality and character. They were fascinated by the contradiction that it is those very virtues that made a man great which can lead to his undoing. This is very subtle thinking.
Their myths and religion reflect these traits. Their gods were personalized with individual strengths and flaws; gods made mistakes, got embarrassed and were caught cheating on their spouses. But, also there were gods who were heroic, wise, loving, and developed essential crafts like weaving.
Mortal heroes also played an important role in the myths. There were times when the gods needed a mortal hero to win battles for them. But very rarely did a hero become a god. Many of the most heroic tales involve snatching someone back from the underworld. This is in stark contrast to those religions in which getting to the next world the right way is the main goal.
The first Olympic games were held in Ancient Greece in the city state of Athens. The year was 776 B.C. There was a flame burning in the honor of Zeus, lord of all the gods. The very first Olympic games only held one event. That event was the marathon. The Olympics expanded to wrestling, boxing, horse racing, long jumping, javelin, and chariot races. Early Olympic victors became national heroes and celebrated in music and poetry. Definitely not like today's sports heroes who try to make as money as they possibly can!
Women were not allowed to watch the games, but were allowed to participate in the games. Men on the other hand were allowed to watch and/or play in the Olympic games. The Olympic games were held to help unite many different countries in a peaceful manner. Each participating country is limited to three entries.
The city state took shape in Ancient Greece by 700 B.C.. Most citizens of a city state claimed a common ancestry, and language and they practiced the same religion. A city state gave its members a sense of belonging because they were like one large family. A small group of wealthy men governed most of the city states of Ancient Greece. This form of government in which a few powerful people rule is called an Oligarchy. During 500 B.C., some city states began to move toward democracy. The city states granted all citizens the right to vote for government.
Warlike or Peaceful Greek city states were varied in in their makeup. Some, like Sparta, were very warlike and frequently went to war. Culture like theirs almost never expanded to new ideas. On the other hand places like Athens were beautiful, peaceful, and had a high regard for education. Athens was a place where ideas were welcome and appreciated.
Philosophy in Ancient Greece originated in 500 B.C. Philosophy means love and wisdom. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were ancient Greek philosophers. Many of the citizens of Ancient Greece were suspicious of these philosophers.
Science in Ancient Greece was based on logical thinking and mathematics. It was also based on technology and everyday life. The arts in Ancient Greece were sculptors and painters. The most famous Greek artists were Myron, Praxiteles, and Lysippus. The Greeks wanted to know more about the world, the heavens and themselves. People studied about the sky, sun, moon, and the planets. The Greeks found that the earth was round.
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