The Impact of Greek Philosophy and Culture
1. Greek Philosophy and Culture:
The early Greeks were a fascinating people. They were innovators, artists, and athletes. But they are best known for their love of wisdom, or philosophy.
Philosophy begins with the Milesians, who were looking for natural explanations of things, as opposed to the mythological explanations of the past. Thales (624-547 BCE) suggested that everything was made of water; Heraclitus (540-480 BCE) believed that everything was in a state of change; Parmenides (515-445 BCE) believed that change was an illusion; and Anaxagoras (500-428 BCE) believed that everything was made of tiny particles he called "seeds". These ideas seem foolish to us now, but they were a significant departure from myths and began a new way of thinking about the world.
The Milesians were followed by the Pythagoreans (6th-4th centuries BCE), who believed in the transmigration of souls, meaning that after we die, our soul is reborn into another person or animal. They also believed in the harmony of the universe and that all things are connected. The Pythagoreans had a great influence on Plato and Aristotle, as we shall see.
The next major philosopher was Xenophanes (570-475 BCE), who criticized the anthropomorphism of the gods as they had been portrayed in myths. He suggested that perhaps there was just one god, or "the One", as he called it, who was very different from humans. Xenophanes had a great influence on Socrates and Plato, as we shall see.
The final pre-Socratic philosopher was Democritus (460-370 BCE), who agreed with Anaxagoras that everything was made of tiny particles he called "atoms". But Democritus went one step further and said that these atoms were indivisible and eternal. This was an important idea because it meant that change was not possible: if something is made of eternal atoms, it can never change. This idea would be very important to Aristotle, as we shall see.
After the pre-Socratics came the sophists (5th century BCE). The sophists were professional teachers who charged money for their services. They taught their students how to debate both sides of an issue and how to "win" an argument regardless of whether they were right or wrong. The sophists were not interested in truth so much as they were interested in persuasion.
Some people criticized the sophists for being money-hungry charlatans, but others saw them as helpful teachers who could teach people how to get what they wanted in life. Either way, the sophists were an important part of Greek culture because they helped to develop the art of rhetoric, which is still used today in speeches and advertising.
The most famous Greek philosopher is Socrates (469-399 BCE), who was not himself a sophist but was influenced by them. Socrates did not write down any of his ideas; instead, he preferred to have conversations with people in order to get them to think for themselves.
Socrates was interested in ethics, or how we should live our lives. He believed that the best way to live was in accordance with reason, or logic. He also believed that we should always be seeking truth and knowledge, and never be content with what we think we know.
Socrates was so committed to his beliefs that he was willing to die for them. He was put on trial for "corrupting the youth" and "not believing in the gods of the state", and he was sentenced to death. Even though he had the opportunity to escape, Socrates chose to stay and drink the lethal poison he was given. His death is still considered a martyrdom for philosophy.
The most famous student of Socrates was Plato (427-347 BCE), who also wrote down the ideas of his teacher. Plato agreed with Socrates that the best way to live was in accordance with reason, but he also believed that there was such a thing as objective truth: statements that were true whether anyone believed them or not.
Plato believed that the physical world is an imperfect copy of an ideal, perfect world that exists beyond our own. He called this world the "realm of Forms". For example, our physical world has many different objects that we call "trees", but they are all imperfect copies of the ideal Form of "tree" that exists in the realm of Forms.
Plato also believed in the transmigration of souls, like the Pythagoreans. He thought that when we die, our soul is reborn into another person or animal. This means that our soul already knows everything there is to know, but it forgets it when it is born into a new body. So learning is really just a process of remembering what we already know.
The most famous student of Plato was Aristotle (384-322 BCE), who also wrote down the ideas of his teacher. Aristotle agreed with Plato that there is such a thing as objective truth, but he disagreed with him about the realm of Forms. Aristotle thought that the Forms were just a mental construct, and that everything that exists is physical.
Aristotle also disagreed with Plato about the transmigration of souls. He thought that our soul is not reborn after we die; instead, it simply ceases to exist. This means that we only have one life to live, so it is important to make the most of it.
2. Alexander The Great:
Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) was a Macedonian general who conquered most of the known world in his lifetime. He is often considered one of the greatest military commanders in history.
Alexander began his conquest by defeating the Persian Empire, which had been a thorn in the side of Greece for centuries. He then turned his attention to India, where he conquered most of the subcontinent. Finally, he returned to Greece and began plans to conquer Italy and Africa as well. But before he could complete his conquest, Alexander died of a sudden illness at age 32.
After his death, Alexander's empire was divided among his generals, who became known as the "Diadochi". These generals were constantly fighting each other for power, and the empire was never able to unite again.
3. The Decline of Greece:
The decline of Greece began with the death of Alexander the Great. As we saw, his empire was divided among his generals, who were constantly fighting each other. This led to a period of instability and warfare that lasted for centuries.
In addition to the internal strife, Greece was also invaded by a succession of foreign powers: first the Celts, then the Romans, then the Goths, and finally the Arabs. By the time the Arabs conquered Greece in the 7th century CE, the once-great civilization was little more than a shadow of its former self.
Although Greece has been ruled by foreigners ever since, the Greek people have never forgotten their heritage. They have kept alive their language, culture, and love of learning. And in recent years, Greece has begun to regain some of its former prominence on the world stage.
Greek philosophy and culture has had a profound impact on the world. The ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have shaped Western thought for centuries, and the influence of the Greeks can be seen in everything from our art and literature to our politics and science. Even though Greece is a small country, its impact on the world has been anything but.