“I hate the Greeks because they didn’t give us anything to discover.” Well Friedrich Nietzsche, it’s not for nothing that Ancient Greece is called the birthplace of Western civilization! From literature to philosophy, science, math and even politics, the Ancient Greeks have no doubt left their imprint in every aspect of our modern day life -democracy anyone?
Whatever modern day Greece means to you, (summer destination/column inches in the newspaper for its current economic situation) let’s take a look at what the Ancient Greeks did for us. Here are a few of our favourites:
No doubt, the alphabet was one of the first things you learned at school and you’ve got the Ancient Greeks to thank for this. They played an important part in the development of the alphabet -the word itself is derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta.
Did you know that the Ancient Greeks invented the theatre? What started as a festival honouring Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest eventually evolved into an art that was a part of Greek social life. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for most cities to have theatres that could hold up to 15, 000 people. However, as was custom in those days, only men and boys were allowed to act. So the next time you’re laughing out loud to a comedy or crying over a tragedy movie, remember the ancient Greeks who started it all!
Out of all their contributions to modern society, democracy is arguably one of the greatest things the Ancient Greeks left us. Democracy, which literally means “people power” in Greek was an idea that flourished in the 6th century BC, giving 10% of Athens’ populations who were classified as citizens (women, slaves and foreigners did not make the cut at that time) the opportunity to vote on foreign and domestic issues.
The Olympic Games
What is now a global sports event has its roots in Ancient Greece where the top athletes of rival city-states gathered in Olympia every four years to compete in chariot racing, boxing, wrestling and pankration events. The games were held in honour of Zeus and instead of gold medals, winners were crowned with wild olives. While the original traditions of the Olympics died out by the 5th century A.D, the ideal of a sports competition that would bring nations together was thankfully revived in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin.
Trigonometry, Pythagoras theorem, the golden ration, folks, they’re all Greek! Sure you may have suffered untold misery having to master Euclidean geometry at school but without all of the above, you wouldn’t have navigation, architecture and a whole lot of other things!
Speaking of Pythagoras, the guy was also responsible for the word philosophy, which means “love for wisdom” or “friend of wisdom”. All this philosophy happening in Ancient Greece meant that all the leading thinkers were questioning the Greek mythology they had grown up with, looking instead to reason and empirical evidence when trying to understand something. Who are we? How can we be happy? Does the universe have a purpose? From this emerged the great minds of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, all of whom had a direct impact on the shaping of Western thought was we know it.