Athens: Where It All Began
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.
11/27/2017 08:50:00 am
"For the cultural heritage I grew up with, Greece is where it all began."
I wonder the same. Three possibilities: The word "democracy" comes from the Greek. Greek may be the earliest democracy documented in writing, though the non-literate Germanic tribes that overran Rome were also ruled by governed by assemblies of freemen. And the "Western Civilization" approach to history, invented around the time of World War I to argue for the superiority of Western values and the place of the United States in that heritage, taught an oversimplified straight line of all things worthy from Mesopotamia and Egypt through Greece and Rome to western Europe, Britain, and finally to full flower in the United States. The notion that similar practices might have had Germanic origins was anathema at the time we were fighting Germany.
11/27/2017 01:37:37 pm
I think it's the same in art history. On the other hand, how can you condense all that history into a semester or two, or even an advanced degree. Note that wasn't a question. :)
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.