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Was Greece the Ideal Society?


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Was Greece the ideal society? It is an intriguing question, one that begs asking and answering. Let's examine some points:
  1. The Greeks invented mathematics. Pythagoras, Euclid, and others invented a system of number manipulation that is the basis for all higher math today.
  2. Greek scientists were the first to pursue science systematically. Aristotle, the father of modern science, believed that inductive reasoning was key to an understanding of science. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, based his work on observation. Thales developed the first two steps of the scientific method: collect information, then make a hypothesis about that information. Aristotle, studying later, completed the scientific method theory by stating the need to test a hypothesis. Thales also correctly predicted a solar eclipse. Aristarchus concluded that Earth revolves around the Sun. Hipparchus created a system of celestial mechanics to explain how the planets moved.
  3. The Greeks fought each other for nearly their entire independent existence. From the first glimpses of Minoan and Mycenean civilizations, wartime strife was rampant. The victory over Persia was a brief respite from the continual infighting that defined the Greek existence. Athens, in all its cultural glory, fell the victim to its own hubris and was defeated in the Peleponnesian War. Sparta, the main victor in that war, itself fell to Thebes 30 years later. These constant wars served only to weaken the Greeks as a whole and make them ripe for takeover&emdash;first by Alexander and finally by Rome. The Greeks were proud but too proud.
  4. Transportation was difficult at times and impossible at others. The valleys containing some city-states were surrounded by high mountains. The Greeks built relatively few roads or bridges. Transport of goods was done mainly by water. But harsh winters made water transportation risky and land transportation almost impossible. This served to further the individualism of the city-states.
  5. In Athens especially but in other city-states as well laws were passed by the people, who were elected to their posts. In Athens, all government officials were chosen annually by drawing lots. If an official was unpopular, he could be banished for 10 years. Even in Sparta, which was ruled by one or two kings, the people formed an Assembly and Senate and followed a constitution of laws.
  6. Certain things were sacred to the Greeks. One was their common heritage; another was their religion. Both were on display at the Olympic Games, first staged in 776 B.C. Each time the Games took place, all hostilities would cease and athletes would be allowed to travel to Olympia to compete and then travel home again.
  7. Today's philosophy has its roots in ancient Greece. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle popularized the main tenets of philosophy&emdash;questioning, probing, careful examination. No subject was spared their scrutiny. What is the world made of? Why are we here? What happens when we die? What is it to be a good person? What makes a successful businessman? What makes a good city-state? Why are wars fought? All these questions were vigorously asked and answered.
  8. Slaves could not marry or have a family. They could own property or testify in court. They did work as craftsmen, in some cases receiving the same wages as free men. Slaves served in mines, on plantations, in households and on the battlefield. In mines and on plantations, slaves worked in very harsh conditions. In the home, slaves were servants and received better treatment; on the battlefield, they were relegated to carrying baggage, cooking meals, and burying the dead. Greek society came to depend on slave labor. Some historians believe that at the height of Athens' Golden Age, up to one-third of all Athenians were slaves.
  9. Greek literature is unsurpassed in its contribution to later societies' work. Centuries before the Golden Age, Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Greeks invented drama and created some of the world's best plays. Shining stars were Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, the latter writing comedies and the former three writing tragedies. Plato crystallized Socrates' and his own philosophy into the Dialogues. Aristotle wrote Poetics and many other works that have stood the test of time and influenced philosophers and scientists for centuries. Herodotus, the "father of history," wrote a history of the Persian Wars; Thucydides, himself a general, wrote a history of the Peleponnesian Wars.

So, was Greece the ideal society? You be the judge.

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday


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