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Ancient Greece and the Formation of the Western Mind


  • pg 1
									 Ancient Greece and the
Formation of the Western
          Greece is considered by most historians
          to be the foundational culture of
          Western Civilization, although this view
          has come under more critical scrutiny
          in recent decades. Greek culture was a
          powerful influence in the Roman
          Empire, which carried a version of it to
          many parts of Europe.
   the Glory that was Greece,
And the grandure that was Rome.
                                  To Helen
                                  Helen, thy beauty is to me
                                  Like those Nicean barks
                                  of yore, / That gently, o’er
                                  a perfumed sea, /The
                                  weary way-worn
                                  wanderer bore
                                  To his own native shore.

                                  On desperate seas long
                                  wont to roam,
                                  Thy hyacinth hair, thy
                                  classic face, / Thy Naiad
                                  airs have brought me
                                  home/ To the Glory that
                                  was Greece,/ And the
                                  grandure that was Rome.
Detail from Grecian Urn.        . . .Lo! In yon window-niche
                                How statue-like I see thee stand,
                                The agate lamp within thy hand!
                                Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
                                Are holy-land!

                                By Edgar Alan Poe 1831

                                  Artist: Dante
                                  Gabriel Rossetti
                                  (1828 - 1882)
                                  Helen of Troy
                                  Art Style: Pre-
                                  Year: 1863


         Why Study the Greeks?
• Western intellectual history always begins with the
  ancient Greeks.
• This is not to say that no one had any deep thoughts
  prior to the ancient Greeks, or that the philosophies of
  ancient India and China (and elsewhere) were in any
  way inferior. In fact, philosophies from all over the
  world eventually came to influence western thought,
  but only much later.
• But it was the Greeks that educated the Romans and,
  after a long dark age, it was the records of these same
  Greeks, kept and studied by the Moslem and Jewish
  scholars as well as Christian monks, that educated
  Europe once again (Boeree).
Though the origin of the
Hellenes, or ancient Greeks, is
unknown, their language clearly
belongs to the Indo-European
• Named after the mythical king Minos, the
  Minoan civilization flourished on the island of
  Crete in the second millennium B.C.
• In the same period, the Myceneans developed
  a wealthy and powerful civilization on
  mainland Greece.
• At some point in the last century of the
  millennium, the great palaces were destroyed
  by fire.
• With them, the arts, skills, and language of the
  Myceneans vanished for the next few
  centuries, a period called the "Dark Age" of
• Much of what we know about them is based on
  the body of oral poetry that became the raw
  material for Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and
     “Where Do I Come From?
  Why do I Do the Things that I Do?”
• By serving as a basis for education, the Iliad
  and Odyssey played a role in the development
  of Greek civilization that is equivalent to the
  role that the Torah had played in Palestine.
• The irreconcilable difference between the
  Greeks gods of Olympus and the Hebrew god
  led to a struggle from which only one survived.
• For those of us raised under monotheistic
  religions or cultures, the Greek gods and their
  relation to humanity may seem alien.
                                                   “Mythic Greek
         Hebrews and                               gods were
                                                   admired for
           Greeks                                  qualities that
                                                   would make the
                                                   modern world
                   .ca/print.cfm?id=5998           flinch.”

• Whereas the Hebrews blamed humanity for bringing
  disorder to God's harmoniously ordered universe, the
  Greeks conceived their gods as an expression of the
  disorder of the world and its uncontrollable forces.
• To the Greeks, morality is a human invention; and
  though Zeus is the most powerful of their gods, even
  he can be resisted by his fellow Olympians and must
  bow to the mysterious power of fate.
    Greek Piety vs. Greek Myths
        Religious beliefs and practices of the ancient

• Greek religion is not the same as Greek
  mythology, which is concerned with traditional
  tales, though the two are closely interlinked.
• Curiously, for a people so religiously minded,
  the Greeks had no word for religion itself—
  the nearest term being eusebeia (piety).
• The student of Greek religion is naturally
  concerned to know what the Greeks believed
  about their gods.
• They had numerous beliefs, but the sole
  requirement was to believe that the gods existed
  and to perform ritual and sacrifice, through which
  the gods received their due.
  – To deny the existence of a deity was to risk
    reprisals, from the deity or from other mortals.
  – The list of avowed atheists is brief. But if a Greek
    went through the motions of piety, he risked little,
    since no attempt was made to enforce orthodoxy, a
    religious concept almost incomprehensible to the
• The Greeks had no word for religion itself, the
  closest approximations being eusebeia (“piety”)
  and threskeia (“cult”).
• The large corpus of myths concerned with gods,
  heroes, and rituals embodied the worldview of
  Greek religion and remains its legacy.
• It should be noted that the myths varied over time
  and that, within limits, a writer—e.g., a Greek
  tragedian—could vary a myth in order to change
  not only the role played by the gods in it but also
  the evaluation of the gods' actions.
• From the later 6th century BC onward, myths and
  gods were subject to rational criticism on ethical
  or other grounds.
  – In these circumstances it is easy to overlook the
    fact that most Greeks “believed” in their gods in
    roughly the modern sense of the term and that they
    prayed in a time of crisis not merely to the
    “relevant” deity but to any deity on whose aid they
    had established a claim by sacrifice.
  – To this end, each Greek polis (city) had a series of
    public festivals throughout the year that were
    intended to ensure the aid of all the gods who were
    thus honored.
  – They reminded the gods of services rendered and
    asked for a quid pro quo. In crises in particular the
    Greeks, like the Romans, were often willing to add
    deities borrowed from other cultures.
        What a Neo-Pagan Says
Nobody would suppose they would make themselves a
better person by emulating Zeus, or even Athena or
Apollo (let alone Hermes or Pan). (Indeed, aspiring to
be like the gods is the most obvious form of hubris,
and invites Their wrath, as we see from many myths.)
But this does not mean the gods are immoral. The
gods have Their own morality, and it makes no more
sense to apply Their moral norms to us, than it would
to apply our moral norms to wolves. . . We worship the
gods - we respect Them, acknowledge Them - because
They are the ineluctable powers of the universe,
neither good nor evil (because our moral categories
are not appropriate for Them).                 Sophistes
Grecian City States
                • Though united by
                  their common
                  Hellenic heritage,
                  Greek city-states
                  differed in customs,
                  constitutions, and
                • They were often
                  rivals and fierce
                  establishing colonies
                  in the eighth and
                  seventh centuries
                  along the
                  Mediterranean coast.
• The Greeks who established colonies in Asia
  adapted their language to the Phoenician
  writing system, adding signs for vowels to
  change it from a consonantal to an alphabetic
• First used for commercial documents, writing
  was later applied to treaties, political decrees,
  and, later, literature.
        Battle of Thermopylae
• An Allied Greek force of approximately 7,000
  men marched north to block the pass in the
  summer of 480 BC.
• The Persian army, alleged by the ancient
  sources to have numbered in the millions,
  arrived at the pass in late August or early
• Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks held up the
  Persians for seven days in total (including three
  of battle), before the rear-guard was annihilated
  in one of history's most famous last stands.
Aware that they were being outflanked, Leonidas
dismissed the bulk of the Greek army, and remained
to guard the rear with 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians,
400 Thebans and perhaps a few hundred others, the
vast majority of whom were killed.
The site of the battle today. The road to the
right is built on reclaimed land and            The Persian Immortals
approximates the 480BC shoreline.
 Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
That here, by Spartan law, we lie
             Athens and Sparta

• Inspired by their defeat of the Persian
  invaders, Athens and Sparta emerged
  as the two most prominent city-states
  of the fifth century B.C.
• With the elimination of their common
  enemy, however, the two cities
  became enemies, culminating in the
  Peloponnesian war, which left Athens
  defeated.            http://www.sikyon.com/index.html
                Sites Cited
• Berggren, Paula. Dale Hudson, and Anita
  Mannur “Ancient Greece and the Formation of
  the Western Mind.” Anthology of World
  Literature. 2003-2006 W.W. Norton
  m 5 Oct. 2006.
• Boeree,George C. “The Ancient Greeks, Part
  One: The Pre-Socratics” George Boeree’s
  http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/greeks.html 2000
  5. Oct. 2006.
• Bouchard, Gilbert A. “Olympics Viewed
  Differently by Ancient Greeks” Express News. 13
  Aug. 2004
  =5998 5. Oct. 2006
• Eddy, Steve. “Greek Myths” Living Myths. 2001-
  2006 http://www.livingmyths.com/Greek.htm 5.
  Oct. 2006.
• "Greek Religion." Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9110627 5 Oct.
• Papakyriakou/Anagnostou, Ellen. Ancient Greek
  Cities. 1997-2004
  http://www.sikyon.com/index.html 5 Oct. 2006.
• Parada, Carlos. Greek Mythology Link 1997
  ml 5 Oct 2006.
• Sophistes, Apollonius. "Hellenic Neo-Paganism"
  The Biblioteca Arcana. 1995-1997
  immoral 5 Oct. 2006.

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