Achievements of Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece, a civilization founded thousands of years ago along the Mediterranean Sea, contributed many great achievements to the world, both in the past and in the present. Like the Islamic civilizations in the Middle East, Ancient Greece not only invented new ideas and technology, but also improved upon the ideas and technology of the past. Below, you will find many of the achievements of the Ancient Greeks which still have a great impact on the world today.
The Ancient Greeks were a polytheistic civilization who worshiped many gods and goddesses. They developed Greek myths, a rich set of myths, or stories, about their gods and goddesses. According to Greek myths, the gods and goddesses controlled different parts of the universe. For example, Zeus, the ruler of the gods, was in charge of the weather. The ancient Greeks believed that when it thundered, Zeus was at work.
The ancient Greeks also believed that the gods and goddesses were not very different from humans. They were just like any other family. Zeus was the father and his wife Hera was the mother. There were many children and relatives. Each god and goddess had a special role.
What did Ancient Greeks believe was the basic difference between the gods and humans? Most gods and goddesses were stronger than humans. The main difference was mortality, or death. Humans died, but the gods never died. Humans lived temporary lives, but the gods lived forever.
About 3,000 years ago, a blind poet named Homer lived in Ancient Greece. Homer believed that he had a special purpose. He wished to tell his people the myths of celebrated gods and goddesses. Homer wrote that “the glorious lessons of the gods are not to be cast aside.”
Because few Greeks could read or write during Homer’s time, people relied on the spoken word to pass on knowledge to their children. Homer wrote long, beautiful poems called epic poems. His epics were so detailed and full of adventures that they took many evenings to tell.
Homer’s two great epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, both tell of events connected with the long war between the Greeks and the Trojans. These epics are among the oldest words of literature. No one knows who finally wrote them down, but they were the same stories Homer told long ago. Here is an excerpt from The Iliad which tells ho the Greeks tricked the Trojans and won the war.
Now the Greeks, with the help of the goddess Athena, decided to play a trick on the Trojans. They built a gigantic wooden horse and pretended it was an offering to the gods. But, secretly, under the cover of night, they hid the best of their warriors, fully armed, inside the wooden horse… The Trojans stood amazed when they found the horse outside their city gates. They marveled at its tremendous size… They placed wheels under the base of the horse; ropes were stretched about its neck. And while boys and maidens changed sacred songs, it rolled onwards, upward, into Troy.
Four times at the gate it halted. And four times the clank of armor could be heard within. But, headless and blind, the Trojans pressed on and finally set the horse in the city’s holiest place, where the temples were hung with flowers as if for a feast.
Meanwhile, night rushed over the city and soon the Trojans lay deep in a quiet sleep. At once, the Greek warriors hidden within the horse rushed out and upon the sleeping city. Then, with the braying of trumpets and shouting of men, they rushed through the city with sword and flame.
So fell the ancient city and queenly city for long years. And the bodies of her children lay scattered in great numbers in the street.
Just as we read Homer’s epics even today, we also value another gift to modern times from the Greeks. Did you know that the Olympic Games have their roots in ancient history? The lighting of the Olympic flame, the oat of loyalty to Olympic ideals, and the release of doves as a symbol of freedom began with Greek festivals.
The tradition of the games originated as a festival to Zeus in 776 BCE. In the green valley of Olympia, a young cook called Corebus of Elis won the 200 yard dash. Although historians date the Olympic Games from this first recorded contest, they probably stretch back even farther in history.
Olympic competition was the glory of Ancient Greece. Every four years, athletes from all over Greece came to compete in the Olympic Games. Victory in an Olympic event brought the winner a crown of olive leaves. It also brought glory to their city-state.
Theater also had its beginnings in ancient Greece. Like the Olympics, theater grew out of the important religious festivals. Each spring thousands of Greeks gathered to honor Dionysus, the god of pleasure. As many as 20,000 people met in an outdoor theater carved into the lope of a mountain called an Acropolis. Sitting close together on steep rows of stone seats, they watched a festival of plays.
As it is today, the theater of ancient Greece was a magical place. For an entire week, people returned every morning to t heir seats. They wondered who had written the best play. Would it be sad or funny? Like the Olympic champion, the best writer received special honors.
Tragedy and Comedy
Theaters were carved into hillsides all over Ancient Greece. Though festivals were held in Athens, every Greek city-state had a theater to develop plays. Many of these theaters are still in use today.
One of the most famous Ancient Greek writers was Aeschylus. He was well known because he won first prize at the festival 13 times in a row. Aeschylus loved Athens and wrote plays to honor it. He had fought with his countrymen in many wars and therefore wrote plays about his experiences. These plays were called tragedies. A tragedy is a play in which life is treated seriously and usually has a sad ending. Aeschylus is known as the “father of tragedy”. Tragedies were performed only in the morning at festivals.
Comedies, or plays that are funny and have a happy ending, were performed late in the dat. A famous writer of comedies was Aristophanes. His comedies were loud, happy events. Aristophanes liked it when the crowds at his comedies talked and roamed around in the theater. Sometimes they would shout at the actors. A comedy in Ancient Greece was always full of jokes. Comedies were also written to make fun of famous people.
Love of Wisdom
Like theater, philosophy is part of the Greek legacy. Philosophy is a Greek word meaning “love of wisdom.” Through philosophy the Greeks searched for answers about their role in the universe. The Athenians loved ideas as much as they loved the freedom of democracy.
Athens most famous philosopher was a special man named Socrates. Socrates was well known in Athens because he dared to raise questions about Athenian values. He believed it was important to examine the laws, social customs, and even religious values. His motto was “know thyself.”
Many Athenians were angry that Socrates doubted the “glory of Athens.” As a result, in 399 BCE, Socrates was accused by the government of “forming an idea of revolt” among Athens’ young people. A jury decided that Socrates was guilty and sentenced him to death. But guilty of what? Is it wrong to ask questions? Later, when Socrates sat talking to his friends, his jailer brought him a cup of hemlock to drink. The poisonous drink quickly killed Athens first philosopher.
After his death, his student Plato carried on his work. Plato opened the first university called the Academy in Greece which taught students for 900 years after Plato died. The ideas of both Plato and Socrates are still studied today around the world.
Greece is made up of many small islands and a rough terrain which makes it difficult to travel and communicate, especially in ancient times. Because they were cut off from each other, the Greeks developed small, separate city-states. Each city-state loved its freedom and hated outside interference.
Greek city-states, in particular Athens, were the first place where democracy was used as a form of government. All citizens of Athens participated in government. Greek democracy stated that the power of the government rested in the hands of the people and that all citizens were equal before the law. Athenians believed that all citizens had a right and an obligation to participate in government. We get our ideas in America from Greek democracy.
Greek Architecture and Art
The Golden Age of Ancient Greece, when the civilization was at its height, brought marvelous art and architecture that is still enjoyed today. Greek temples such as the Parthenon in Athens were built in accordance with strict laws of balance and proportion. This classical style has continued to influence Western architecture, most notable in such monuments as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Greek sculpture was realistic, based on a careful observation of human anatomy. Yet at the same time it portrayed ideal people rather than real ones. Sculptors such as Praxiteles and Phidias created beautiful bodies in stone, free of human flaws. In doing so they celebrated the worth and excellence of human beings.
Achievements of Ancient Greece
Objective: Students will read to be informed about the achievements made by the Ancient Greek civilization to be able to draw conclusions about their impact on the world today.