Effects of Greek and Roman Civilizations on Current Social Issues Many elements of people’s daily lives today have influences that date back to Greek and Roman antiquities. The Western world’s understanding of political and social issues, and the tools governments employ to address these issues have been influenced by Greek and Roman ideas.
While Greek and Roman culture has little influence on the modern world’s music, medicine, applied science, and industry, their civilizations definitely have a great impact on the spiritual and intellectual activities of modern societies.(Highet 1) The Western term “politics” is derived from then Greek word “polis” which means “city-state.” European political philosophy has its roots in Greece, a society composed of several small city-states.
Each of these city-states has its own constitution or set of laws. The variety of constitutions in ancient Greece is overwhelming. Aristotle was able to provide evidence that there are no less than 158 constitutions in Greece during his time. The enormous variety of laws meant that city-states were run by different governments which fall into three major groups: monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy (Burns 21). Intellectuals during the time observed that different governments and different societies tended to generate different types of people. It was observed for example, that Athenians, who has a democratic government, were different in character from Corinthians who had an oligarchic government. Democracy is the rule of the whole male citizen population of a city-state while oligarchy is the rule of the few, also sometimes called “aristocracy” (Burns 21). Democracy today is still being practiced by many societies all over the world.
It has evolved however, from being just the rule of the male population to the rule of the majority of people, men and women alike. Ideas of Greek intellectuals Plato and Aristotle however, have been criticized by many scholars today because they weren’t applicable to larger societies and governments beyond the city-state. Once the city-state gave way to the expansive empires of Rome and Macedonia, their ideas were revealed to be too parochial to be of much use. However, Aristotle and Plato’s ideas still continue to challenge the boundaries of political thought up to this period in history. They question modern society’s ideas about the relationship between the number of citizens and political participation, the public nature of decisions, and other aspects of government and society.
There’s even evidence that Plato and Aristotle’s thought influenced Rousseau’s philosophy on state. Like Plato and Aristotle, Rousseau was eventually criticized because of his political model that is too much like a city-state when the nation-state was taking hold everywhere in the Western world (Wolin 63). Religion, particularly Christianity, also has influences from Greek and Roman civilizations. While Christianity’s roots are Jewish, it has many elements that have been added by many western and eastern churches. Jesus’ birth as told by the bible can be traced back to Roman myths. The immaculate birth of a baby who brings peace and happiness to the people was a story told all over the Mediterranean.
Evidence of this is Vergil’s form which was written forty years before Jesus’ birth. Vergil was a Roman poet who’s best known works include “Aeneid,” “Georgics,” and “Bucolics.” Greek influence was later added to the development of the Christian religion (Highet 8). Classical philosophy was able to survive as it lived on different media, including the gospel. The reason why it’s difficult to put Jesus Christ’s belief in a single political category may be due to the fact that it has diverse influences. St.
Augustine, a philosopher, admitted that his interest in Christianity arose out of his interest in Cicero’s “Hortensius,” an introduction to philosophy. Cicero was Roman political theorist, philosopher, lawyer, and statesman. His work and the works of other classical writers lived through to Christianity to be passed on to modern times (Highet 9). Even though Greek and Roman civilizations were eventually destroyed, their culture wasn’t completely wiped out. Roman law was able to make it through the Dark Ages alive, its principles more developed but not changed. The basic idea that law lasts for a long time and recognizes the rights of people came from Roman thought.
This concept is widely used in Europe, the United States today, and nations all over the world today (Highet 9). Roman political thought was revived by monarchs like Charlemagne and the city has hosted the main seat of Christianity although the religion didn’t originate from there. Interestingly, the Christian church has many parallels with the Roman Empire. The geographical distribution of the Christian church is similar to that of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, Catholicism’s setup involving a single man ruling a great organization, the senate, provinces controlled by administrations, missionary forces sent to unconquered lands, and immense wealth all have parallels with its Roman Empire counterpart (Highet 10). During the Renaissance, scholars rediscovered the genius of classical Greek literature and other forms of art. Artists and intellectuals were inspired to follow the Greeks’ path and what followed was the blossoming of artistic and intellectual activity of every sort. More importantly, the medieval habit of taking lessons from every source was gradually abandoned and replaced by criticism.
Before this, criticism had been used to analyze religion and philosophy, but because of the inspiration from the classic civilizations of Greece and Rome, people realized they can also apply criticism to art and literature (Highet 21). Today, critic of both facts and ideas are highly valued in modern society. Progress is not possible if people can’t look back at their origins.
Classical Greek and Roman thought provides people with a background on the current social issues and dilemmas they face every day. Modern institutions, including the state, are a product of a long process of evolution with its early models in Greek and Roman civilizations. Its strengths and flaws can be better analyzed by comparing it to the classical institutions of these civilizations. Present-day solutions to social problems may therefore be possible by reviewing many of the lessons humanity has learned from the rise and fall of the Greek and Roman empires.Works CitedBurns, James Henderson.
The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought c. 350- c. 1450. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.Fiske, John. American Political Ideas Viewed From The Standpoint of Universal History. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
Highet, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.Morford, Mark P.
O. The Roman Philosophers: From the Time of Cato the Censor to the Death of Marcus Aurelius. New York: Routledge, 2002.Wolin, Sheldon S.
Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western PoliticalThought. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004.