It is said that Western civilization owe its existence to the Greeks.
All the great systems and ideas found in Europe and America can be easily traced back to the Greek city-states. The significant contributions of Hellenistic thought is evident in governance. The Greeks introduced to the world a concept of rule by the majority that gave birth to democracy. They also gave the the world an idea of fair trial by creating the jury system in the court of law. The Greeks transformed the way the planet viewed entertainment by conceptualizing a form of drama called tragedy and comedy.In the world of sports their greatest contribution is the creation of the Olympics. These are just a few of the brilliant innovations and revolutionary ideas that came from Hellenism. Greece is composed of city-states that were autonomous.
From these political set-up and geo-political differentiation among neighboring territories, a city-state would soon come to prominence. Among these independent political units, there was none greater than Athens. The greatness of Athens can be partially explained by the equally astounding achievements of her sons.
In the field of philosophy we have some of the most acute minds in the history of mankind. What would the scientific and legal world be without the penetrating and thought provoking ideas of Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, and Alcibiades to name a few. But what really made the Athenians great is not only their discovery and genius.
They made their mark because they dared to be different. And not only that, their leaders and heroes encouraged them to wear their distinction with pride and show the world their virtues because they believe that what they have is a much more improved alternative to whatever the norm.The Athenians were at the forefront of change and the people in the 21st century were still feeling the impact of their undaunted courage to strive to become the leader of the pack in ancient Greece. Socrates the teacher par excellence who founded the Athens school of Philosophy was disgusted by the prevalent modes of philosophical analysis. He urged the Athenians to embrace a different route, one that is very much unlike the common practice of the day. It was so radical in fact that the Athenians turned against Socrates.
But they could not understand that Socrates just wanted them to become distinct and better than the rest. James Coloiaco, in his book “Socrates Against Athens”, pointed out that the people was wrong in judging Socrates: In condemning Socrates, Athens condemned a philosopher whose moral message threatened to transform fundamentally the identity of the polis. In order to reform itself along Socratic principles, Athens would have had to discard many of its traditional values and pursue a profoundly different understanding of the purpose of human life (p. 42). It was both a blessing and curse for Socrates to be such a visionary. The Athenians at this point could not fully grasp what he is aiming at. Coloiaco then explaining the motive behind Socrates passion to change the system and why the philosopher will not back down, has this to say: According to the philosopher, morality should be founded not upon unquestioning obedience to traditional authority and customary values but upon moral convictions arrived at through rational discussion.Socrates therefore threatened the established morality of his culture by striving to base ethics upon reason, in which individuals can think for themselves as autonomous agents and are capable of criticizing the rules and values of society (2001, p.
142). By trying to lift his fellowmen into a higher plane of thinking, Socrates and the Athenians lifted the world to greater heights. In the field of performing arts, the Greeks basically gave us the correct understanding of drama and in this field an Athenian towers above the rest, Aeschylus.But unlike Socrates who wanted the Athenians to be different or distinct for the sake of morality and truth, Aeschylus pleaded on the basis of the Athenians special relationship with their gods. In one of his plays Aeschylus made the people understand just how special they were in the eyes of Athena and here Athena spoke through the actor and to the crowd: Therefore I pray you,not upon this land Shoot forth the dart of vengeance; be appeased, Nor blast the land with blight,nor loose thereon Drops eternal venom, direful darts Wasting and marring nature’s seed of growth.For I, the queen of Athens’ sacred right, Do pledge to you a holy sanctuary Deep in the heart of this my land, made just By your indwelling presence, while ye sit Hard by your sacred shrines that gleam with oil Of sacrifice, and by this folk adored (Aeschylus). Allan Sommerstein made this comment that when Orestes and Athena gave such blessings the intended effect is to change the mindset of the Athenians, “The multiple conflicts in which Athens was currently engaged, far from being a grievous burden, are presented as a divine boon enabling Athenians to win glory for themselves and their city” (p. 0).
Last but not least, venturing into world history, Athens will boast not only of a historian – Thucydides – who was so much ahead of his time but also of a great warrior named Pericles who will be able to unify in one oratorical piece all these long held ideas that Athens is the greatest among all the Greek speaking world. In his “Funeral Oration” Pericles as told by Thucydides explained to all the world why they are a cut above the rest.In Pericles own words in the opening part of the oration, speaking in front of the many fallen comrades and encouraging those who are still alive to fight another day, he said, “But before I praise the dead, I should like to point out by what principles of action we rose to power, and under what institutions and through what manner of life our empire became great” (Thucydides). By the opening statements alone it is clear that Pericles wanted his fellow Athenians to believe they are different and therefore must be proud of their history, form of government and way of life.Pericles then clarified his main message and pointed out to specific aspects of Athenian life that made them distinct from their rivals and of course from other Greeks.
In the manner of governing themselves Pericles was proud to say that: Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors’, but is an example to them.It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition (Thucydides).Hamish Aird, commenting on the events -invasion of the Persian army – that in all likelihood was shaping Pericles thoughts when composing this funeral oration, asserts that, “When the Persian threat materialized, it took a huge effort, mainly by Athens, the only democratic state, to draw together the Greek cities to act in unison” (2004, p.
11). Haird added that, “By 479 BC the wars were over. Though they got as far as burning Athens and destroying all its old buildings and temples, the Persians were totally defeated.Athens had played a central role in the defeat of the Persians and had emerged as a powerful state with over 200 warships manned mainly by her own oarsmen” (p. 13).
Pericles’ boast that democracy is a better alternative was not an empty one after all. The orator then moved on to another aspect of Athenian culture and he drew his audience into a confident assessment of their military might: Then, again, our military training is in many respects superior to that of our adversaries.Our city is thrown open to the world, though and we never expel a foreigner and prevent him from seeing or learning anything of which the secret if revealed to an enemy might profit him. We rely not upon management or trickery, but upon our own hearts and hands (Thucydides). Speaking on things pertaining to aesthetics, Pericles asserts, “For we are lovers of the beautiful in our tastes [..
. ]” (Thucydides). David Cartwright supported this claim. In his “A Historical Commentary on Thucydides”, this portion of the “Funeral Oration”, had the following comments, “… ollowing the building program initiated in the early 440s Athens had by now the finest buildings of any city in Greece and provided a strong contrast to Sparta, where the citizens had neither the money nor the desire to adorn their city in this way. Athens had also become the intellectual center of Greece, while the “new learning” was conspicuously absent in Sparta” (1997, p.
110). Conclusion It has been well laid out that sons of Athens, great men, heroes and philosophers used all their influence to change the way the Athenians act and think. By doing so they were immortalized by their legacy. The rest of the world owe them so much for their achievements and sacrifices.
ReferencesAird, Hamish. (2004). Pericles: The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. Cartwright, David. (1997). A Historical Commentary on Thucydides: A Companion to Rex Warner’s Penguin Translation. Michigan: University of Michigan Press Colaiaco, James A.
(2001). Socrates Against Athens. New York: Routledge.
Sommerstein, Alan H. (Ed. ). (1989).
Aeschylus: Eumenides. UK: Cambridge University Press.