The Legacy Of Greece
Culturally, the Greeks still influenced their conquerors heavily, with the empires succeeding it incorporating many of their ideals, such that much of Western Civilisation can be traced back to their time. Their system of logic, prizing “reason” above emotions, and their ideals of democracy are trademarks of scientific thought today.
Such a major impact is due to the freedom of thought and speech allowed to ordinary Greek citizens, such that each individual was free to challenge established opinion, not dependent on religious authorities or the ruler to lay down what they should believed. Debate, rhetoric, was seen as the key tool for the refinement of theories, from which we can trace our parliamentary system, as well as the legal tradition of presenting arguments for either side.
Classical Grecian thought placed strong emphasis on finding the “reason” behind things, discovering order and meaning in both the natural world and the human world around them, a predecessor to today’s scientific quest for knowledge. This focus on patterns, on logic resulted in a flowering of science, arts and philosophy.
Traditional Greek literature structures can still be found in English literature, as Shakespeare borrowed heavily upon the Greek tragedies to write his own. In those works can be found the “principles” of living, as the Greeks placed emphasis on “sophrosyn” or self-control and moderation as the basis for living in accordance to morals and an ethical code. “Hubris”, which is reduced to arrogance in today’s usage, is the root of man’s downfall, expressed now as pride comes before a fall.
Their standards of morality were clearly defined, with none of today’s grey areas, and provided an unwavering principle for them to live by.
Early Greek philosophy is closely interwoven with science, as in a break from tradition with the Mesopotamians, the Greeks proclaimed there was a “scientific” reason behind natural phenomena, instead of attributing it to the inexplicable actions of divinities. Even atomic theory can be traced back to that time, as Democritus theorised everything consisted of indivisible, small particles. Pythagorus, who contributed much to modern-day mathematics, proposed instead that numbers were at the heart of the world, finding the “golden ratio” of perfect squares, and attempting to prove that nature was based on arithmetic proportions, particularly around the number “pi”. There is much evidence to suggest he was accurate, as fractals in nature – snowflakes, the leaves of ferns – do grow in patterns that correspond to a basic mathematical symmetry.
Perhaps the most famous quote is “Know thyself”, from Socrates, as “the unexamined life is not worth living”, and attempted to subject everything to logical scrutiny, with universal standards that governed behaviour, rebelling against the mysticism of religion. The roots of scepticism can be found there, a constructive form which encouraged independent thought.
Concepts such as “Beauty”, “Goodness/Virtue”, “Truth” and “Justice”; the “Ideal State” and the distinction between “Ideas” and “Reality” and the separation of “Soul”, “Body” and “Mind” which exist today in our modern society were also Grecian contributions. Even the principle of the equality between men and women is attributable to Plato, who believed there was no difference between the sexes, perhaps the first women’s rights proponent.