Gazing up at the Acropolis of Athens or tracing Plato’s footsteps across the Agora a few weeks ago evoked awe. Much of the Anglo-European heritage of my upbringing can be traced back to ancient Greece. Here’s where it all began—depending what you mean by “it.”
Civilization. Surely the ancients didn’t foresee the traffic jams of modern Athens when they associated civic virtue with cities. While cities arose independently from the Aztecs to the Indus Valley, many in Europe originated with the Greeks and their cultural offspring, the Romans.
Democracy. Though lively political discussion enlivened our Greek adventure, the role of ancient Athens as the source of modern democracy is overrated. Medieval parliaments emerged from royal councils. Cities and colonies drew voting rights from royal charters, trade associations, and joint-stock companies. Founders of the United States looked in part to the example of the Iroquois Confederacy.
Culture. You can’t look at the Parthenon and miss the Greek impact on modern architecture. Comedy and tragedy still play in ancient stone theaters. Greeks gave us the Pythagorean theorem, the Hippocratic Oath, Aristotelian logic, and Euclidean geometry. Alphabets, created for business records and law codes, flowered in Greece into poetry, epic, drama, and philosophy. Only the ancient Hebrews influenced Western culture to a comparable degree, and their influence spread in Greek translation. For the cultural heritage I grew up with, Greece is where it all began.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.