To begin with my research notes, I thought I'd copy Khan Amore's notes on the contributions of the Greeks. He reserves these notes for use by teachers. Aside from his notes on what is our mutually favorite equation (Phi, you got to really love it!), the contributions of the Greeks does not take up all that much space on the image hard drive.
so to begin:
List of the Greatest Contributions of Ancient Greek Culture to Human Civilization:
1. The ancient Greeks invented Democracy. The very term itself is of Greek derivation, meaning “People’s Rule.” Never before (and, sadly, never since) has a people been ruled collectively, by a majority vote of its citizens. Unlike modern states which call themselves “Democratic” the Greeks had a true Democracy: Whenever any important decision of state needed to be made (such as the decision of whether or not to go to war) the citizens would meet in a plenary public council, and the most eloquent backers of a proposal would make their case before the assembly, and the most eloquent dissenters would offer rebuttal. The citizens would then vote on whether or not to enact the proposal, and the will of the majority would prevail. There are, however, a few disadvantages to this system of government. First of all, it is well-adapted for small city-states in which all citizens can be called together in council, at moment’s notice, whenever a governmental decision needs to be made, but for large states or empires in which the citizens are separated by vast distances, Democracy was really not practicable (although it might be workable again today, thanks to the Internet, a global telecommunications network which could be used to link the whole world into a single community, capable of near-instantaneous intercommunication). The English aristocrat, Winston Churchill, once said, “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute talk with the average voter.” This quote points out another disadvantage inherent in Democracy: A Democracy can only work well if the voting citizenry is intelligent, wise, well-educated, apprised of current events, and is ever-willing to shoulder the burden of running the state. In ancient Athens, Democracy worked well because the Ionian Greeks were brilliant, well-apprised of current events, and were taught that taking an active part in running their state was not only a duty, but an honor — it was the price of Freedom. And because the only people who could vote to go to war were the same people that would be fighting that war (i.e., male citizens), the decision to go to war was never taken lightly. Today, in that self-proclaimed bastion of “Democracy” called the United States, we do not have a true Democracy in which the citizens make all important decisions of state directly, rather the United States is a Republican State where, in essence, the only decision the citizens are allowed to vote on is the choice of which despot is to rule over them for the next few years. In the United States, those who decide on war do not themselves participate in the slaughter — they never see or feel the suffering which results from their decision to attack other nations — and so a situation is more likely to arise in which a simple-minded despot, for reasons of arrogance, vanity, hatred, or the hunger for power, wealth, or greatness, may cower in a bunker on the other side of the world from the battle field as he sends the young pawns of his nation into harm’s way, to kill innocent men, women, and children of other nations, or be themselves killed in the attempt. It could be argued that a representative form of government such as that which we find in the United States is really better suited to the Age of Specialization, for we might expect a career politician to be better able to run the country than would a cab-driver or janitor, but the persuasiveness of this argument is diminished when we consider the caliber of career politicians of the U.S. in our time. Before they had a Democracy, the ancient Greeks had an Aristocracy (meaning “Rule of the Best”) but Americans are so dead set against a nobility, or ruling class, that they gladly choose Plutocracy (“Rule of the Wealthy”) or even Kakistocracy (“Rule of the Worst”) in its stead. Helen Keller was referring to this quintessentially American tendency when she said, “We, the people, are not free. Our Democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” To make matters worse, most of the candidates that we have to choose from we know nothing about, and our votes really amount to little more than random drawings of names. Even if we should know something about a given candidate, there is really no way of knowing what decisions that candidate will make once he is in a position of power. Another flaw in Democracy is that it assumes that the votes of two football players are worth more in deciding national energy policy than the vote of one physicist. Truth is not decided by a majority vote. If it were, then the Earth would in truth have been flat throughout the whole of the Middle Ages. Democracy is inefficient and fickle — but therein lies both its weakness and its strength. If two nations, a democratic nation and a nation ruled by a dictator, were to be attacked, the dictatorship would certainly be faster in responding than the nation that would have to debate the matter and then put it to the vote. But the “Rule of Many” offered by a true Democracy provides crucial checks and balances that would serve to prevent a fool or a madman from entrenching himself in a position of power and wreaking havoc upon the world. As events in the very first years of the Third Millennium have proved, one fool in a position of power can do more damage than a hundred wise men can set right again. A true Democracy would limit the damage which could be done by a single fool in power, unless, of course, the majority of the voters were also idiots (which, sadly, is not a far-fetched scenario.) A dictatorship is certainly more efficient when it comes to legislation, too, for a dictator can dash off laws as quickly as he can write them, and they can be quickly enacted without debate. But perhaps the inefficiency of Democracy is an advantage in the case of law-making. Laws should not be too easy to make, for the fewer laws a nation is burdened with, the better. Because it diminishes Freedom, excessive legislation should be outlawed, but this is unlikely to happen because the people who would be called upon to make this anti-legislation law would, in passing such a measure, be putting themselves out of a lucrative and leisurely job. It would seem that the legislational inefficiency of Democracy is our best hope in curtailing excessive legislation. As Will Rogers put it, “Just be glad you’re not getting all the government you paid for.” But, just because we don’t live in a true democracy doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bother to vote. In a Democracy, politics is everyone’s business. Or duty. What’s the point in having a voice in your government (however small) if you fail to use it, and by voluntary muteness allow yourself to be ruled oligarchically by the few fools who do speak up? As Plato put it, “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” Democratic nations are not ruled by their citizens in general, but by those few citizens who bother to vote. Local or primary elections usually have a low voter turn-out, and in these elections your vote has more clout because there are fewer votes. For example, if you were the only voter to turn out for such an election, your vote would totally determine the outcome of the election, and your opinion would be the only one which mattered out of those of all the voters who didn’t bother to vote. If you live in a “democracy” and you don’t bother to vote, you might as well be living under a dictatorship, for in either case you have no say in what happens to you. Those that don’t vote have no advantage over those that can’t vote. If you don’t vote, you give up your “bitching rights,” and you will deserve whatever you get.
2. The ancient Greeks invented Tragedy, Comedy, Drama, and Theatre. Indeed, most of our theatrical terms derive directly from the Greek. For example, the word “tragedy” comes from the Greek tragoidia, meaning “goat-song,” in reference to the fact that it arose from the mimic representations, in dancing and singing, of satyr-like Dionysian revelers dressed in goat costumes; “comedy” similarly comes from the Greek word, komos, “to revel;” Drama is itself a Greek word meaning “action;” and “theatre” comes from the Greek theatron, which in turn is believed to come from the Greek word theaomai, meaning “Behold!” A spectator of a fifth century B.C. dramatic performance (or play) would walk along the level aisle (diazoma) and climb up the steps (klimakes) to reach his seat in a given section (kerkis) of the horse-shoe shaped theatre (theatron), a semi-circular ascending stepped bank of seats which looked down upon the performance. The theatres were quite large, in fact, the theatre of Dionysus in
3. The ancient Greeks invented Logic. The science of logic was first formulated by Aristotle. Later investigations into this field served only to extend his work, but did not alter its basic principles. Logic is the science dealing with the principles of valid reasoning and argument. Aristotle devoted his attention almost exclusively to a priori or deductive logic, which derives the particular from the general, and this form of syllogistic reasoning served as the primary tool of thought which enabled the development of Euclidean Geometry, which in turn continues to serve as the foundation of mathematics in general. (The fuller development of logic’s inductive form had to await the arrival of Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill.) Again, Logic may be defined as the Science of Reasoning, or the Science of the Laws of Thought. The laws of thought are natural laws, like gravity, with which we have no power to interfere, or to change, as we can do with man-made laws. Logic is quite simply the most powerful tool of thought in man’s possession. It enables us to determine with complete certainty, whether a given proposition is correct or incorrect, from the form of the argument itself, without even knowing any of the particulars. To illustrate the power of this tool of reasoning, consider the well-known syllogism: 1) All men are mortal. 2) Socrates is a man. Therefore, 3) Socrates is mortal. We may not know whether or not all men are mortal, or whether Socrates is in fact a man, but Logic assures us with complete certainty that if these two premises are correct, then the conclusion (i.e., that Socrates is mortal) is without a doubt correct, too. The logical, rational, Greek mode of thought disappeared from the face of the Earth right around the time of Hypatia’s brutal public assassination by a band of Christian monks under the command of Saint Cyril. At that critical juncture in history, when the Last Keeper of the Flame of Greek Knowledge was snuffed, Faith finally vanquished Reason, and for a thousand benighted years the mind of man stagnated and wallowed in the violence and madness of religious superstition.
4. The ancient Greeks invented Science. (this statement can be disputed somewhat, Latter-day Saints should see the Book of Abraham as to how astronomy was restored). Not this science or that science, mind you, but science in general. The word itself derives from the Latin Scientia, from scire, “to know,” although this derivation is misleading, for science is by no means Roman in origin. The literal meaning of the word Science is “knowledge,” but the term is really taken to mean “a systematic body of knowledge of the physical Universe and all it contains, derived, formulated, and accumulated in accordance with logical and scientific principles.” Science may be divided into three types: 1) Applied Science, a discipline which uses the methods and findings of science solely for the practical purpose of developing and producing new technology, products, or structures, 2) Natural Science, a study dealing with material phenomena, and based mainly on observation, experiment, and induction (as in chemistry and biology), and 3) Pure Science, a pursuit of truth or knowledge depending on logical deductions from self-evident truths (as in the fields of mathematics or logic) without overriding concern for practical applications. It should come as no surprise that the same people that gave us logic should also give us science, which relies so heavily on logic. Mind you, some attempts at the systemization of knowledge were made in the older civilizations of ancient Egypt and Babylonia — attempts which included the designation of units of measure, the development of a simple arithmetic and geometry used mainly for land surveying, and the elaboration of a calendar based on the observed periodicity of astronomical events, but the Egyptians and Chaldeans, clever as they were, did not use logical reasoning as a general method of discovering Truth as did the Greeks. The earliest peoples to attempt to discover the causes of natural phenomena through observation and reasoning were the Ionian Natural Philosophers of ancient
5. The ancient Greeks invented Lyrics. The lyric was originally a song to be sung to the accompaniment of the lyre — an ancient, three-stringed to twelve-stringed (usually seven-stringed) instrument having two horns and a sounding board made of a tortoise shell covered with bull’s hide. The poet and musician, Terpander (“Delighter of Men”), who was born on
6. The ancient Greeks invented the field of study we call History. The word itself means “investigation” in Greek. Of course, since the end of Pre-Historic times, men had been recording chronicles, legends, and myths, but there is a difference between story-telling and unbiased, unjudgmental, strictly factual history, and the man who is called the “Father of History” was a Greek. His name was Herodotus. Born in Fifth Century B.C. Halicarnassus (a Doric Greek colony in Southwest Asia Minor, which at the time was under the domination of Persia), Herodotus wandered the world in search of knowledge, enjoyment, wonder, and beauty, recording all he saw in a delightfully selfless, unfiltered and unprejudiced style. He was the first sight-seer in the world, and perhaps the happiest one as well. His journeys practically reached the boundaries of the known world of his time, and he recorded the many wonders he saw in his book History — a term used for the first time by him, in our sense of the word. The hallmarks of Herodotus’ style were those of the ideal historian: the complete omission of personal bias, the unflagging allegiance to truth rather than dogma, and the complete suspension of judgment. His writing is without mannerism, without an iota of self-consciousness. It is always simple, direct, lucid, interesting, and readable. As an example of his open-mindedness, and of the care he always took to differentiate what was known from what was merely believed, of the West he wrote:
“I am unable to speak with certainty. I can learn nothing about the islands from which our tin comes, and though I have asked everywhere I have met no one who has seen a sea on the West side of
This is an example of the way in which the Greek mind worked. The great river Ocean encircling the Earth had been described by Homer, the revered, even sacred authority, and by Hesiod, second only to Homer, and yet Herodotus without a qualm about impiety blithely declines to accept the truth of this assertion on authority, yet he is always mildly tolerant of other people’s views and never dogmatic about his own. Quite as characteristic of Herodotus is his matter-of-fact statement that the priestess at
7. The Greeks of the Sixth century B.C. originated the secular, rationalistic, empirical approach to Medicine which still today dominates mainstream medical practice. Man has practiced medicine from pre-historic times, but, although in earliest times some excellent herbal medicines were in use (notably opium), the healing arts were in general intimately associated with the rites of magic and religion. The duties of the shaman, witch-doctor, or medicine man of primitive cultures often included not only guardianship of health, but also propitiation of spirits to ensure successful crops, and the destruction of enemies with magical spells. Illness was attributed to evil spirits (which fetishes, amulets, and talismans were used to avert), the sick were sometimes killed to defuse epidemics, and the mentally deranged were regarded with awe. Primitive medical treatments were generally mystical in nature, although there was an extensive plant lore which in some cases may have exceeded our own knowledge of poisonous or healing plants (for example, consider the blow-gun poison, curare.) Medical practice in
8. The ancient Greeks revolutionized Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting. By the year 500 B.C.
9. The ancient Greeks developed Literature, Oratory, and Rhetoric into perfected art-forms. Rhetoric is defined as the art of persuasive, impressive, or eloquent speaking or writing. Among no other people has public speaking been so important and effective as among the citizens of the world’s first Democracy, in which every decision of state was publicly debated in plenary assembly. For almost two hundred years, from Themistocles to Demosthenes, great statesman swayed the Athenian city-state by the power of their thrilling eloquence; and enthralled citizens daily packed the Pnyx to hang breathless for hours upon the persuasive words of their leaders. As in our own law courts today, it was often the case which was most persuasively presented that prevailed, not the case which had the most merit. For this reason, public speaking was taught by teachers of rhetoric, called Rhetors. The Sophists of the Fifth Century B.C. were rhetors who made a profession of teaching rhetoric to anyone who could pay their fee. The emphasis of their instruction was not on Truth or Knowledge, but rather on how to achieve victory in public debate. Many of these teachers became very popular, and amassed great wealth. As masters of the art of persuasion, many sophists came to believe that one proposition could be proved as satisfactorily as another, and some of them developed a skeptical attitude toward religion and morality. Because any questioning of the nature of Right and Wrong, or of the foundations of society, has always been regarded as a subversive activity, the term “Sophist” acquired a pejorative connotation which persists to this day (today, Sophistry is usually taken to mean “Captious or fallacious reasoning; reasoning which is sound in appearance only; specious reasoning; a false argument, especially one intended to deceive.”) The sophists merely studied and taught the art of political ascendancy and political expedience without regard for ideal or principle — their goal was to teach their students, for a fee, how to use rhetoric as a tool to get them the political power they desired. In other words, these “philosophers” trespassed into the realm of politicians, judges, and legislators who were already in power because they had used precisely these same skills. Those who were already politically entrenched were, of course, not pleased to allow these “philosophers” (i.e., the “sophists”) to go around teaching anyone who could pay for it the rhetorical skills which could be used by potential rivals to challenge or unseat them, and this might go far in explaining the trial and death-sentence of Socrates, one of history’s great souls, who was accused of sophistry, and of “corrupting the youth.” In the Athenian democracy, those who through their eloquence and rhetorical skills often prevailed in public debate were considered the mouthpiece of the common people, and were called demagogues (meaning, literally, “Leader of the People.”) Because there is a fine line between eloquently speaking for the people, and swaying the people, the term “demagogue” has come to connote “A person who stirs up the people by appeals to emotions, prejudice, etc. in order to become a leader and achieve selfish ends.”) It would seem that politics has always been a nasty business, then as now, but neglecting for the moment the political applications of skillful oratory and rhetoric, it must be said that the eloquence of the ancient Greeks was truly spell-binding.
Lo! Sin by sin and sorrow by sorrow —
And who the end can know?
The slayer of today shall die tomorrow —
The wage of wrong is woe.
While Time shall be, while Zeus is lord,
His law is fixed and stern;
On him that wrought shall vengeance be poured —
The tides of doom return.
As the great classicist, Edith Hamilton summarized the Greek style of writing: “...The lover of great literature when he is confronted all unprepared with the Greek way of writing, feels chilled at first, almost estranged. The Greeks wrote on the same lines as they did everything else. Greek writing depends no more on ornament than the Greek statue [or the Greek temple] does. It is plain writing, direct, matter-of-fact. It often seems, when translated with any degree of literalness, bare, so unlike what we are used to as even to repel ... Clarity and simplicity of statement, the watchwords of the thinker were the Greek poets’ watchwords too ... The Greeks were realists, but not as we use the word. They saw the beauty of common things and were content with it ... The Greeks liked facts. They had no real taste for embroidery, and they detested exaggeration ... The things men live with, noted as men of reason note them, not slurred over or evaded, not idealized away from actuality, and then perceived as beautiful — that is the way Greek poets saw the world.”
10. The ancient Greeks invented Philosophy. Not only a whole slew of specific philosophies, but the whole field, as well. The very word, Philosophy comes from the Greek, and the concept is quintessentially Greek. It means, literally, Love of Wisdom. The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines Philosophy as “Seeking after wisdom or knowledge, especially that which deals with ultimate reality, or with the most general causes and principles of things and ideas and human perception of them, physical phenomena (as in natural philosophy), and ethics (as in moral philosophy); advanced learning in general (as in doctor of Philosophy); a philosophical system; system of principles for conduct of life; serenity, calmness.” Philosophy and Science were born together in the Sixth Century B.C. Their birthplace was in