Ancient Greece has been a topic of interest among scholars and even normal people about the ancient culture. It has left a profound effect on modern society, especially western society and is even considered to be the cradle of western civilization. Greek principles in literature and drama, as well as those in art and government, are thus said to have had a continuing impact on people in countless phases of history.
How did Ancient Greece influence the modern world?
The Greek influence had reached other areas of the world firstly through their trading routes but rapid expansion took place through the campaigns of Alexander.
Alexander conquered areas from the Greek lands to Egypt in Africa to the central Asian plains up to the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. His army and generals carried with them the Greek cultural aspects and their way of life.
After the death of Alexander, his generals established empires throughout central Asia which propagated the Greek way of life. We see such influences even in the Gandhara school of art in northwest India. Similarly, libraries were established, lighthouses were built and Greek architecture influenced these lands.
But with time these had only minimal effect in the long run. It was only with humanist movements and the renaissance in Europe that these aspects of Greek culture were again explored, especially through a special interest in Greek literature and epics.
The intellectuals in Europe began considering the Greek and the Roman culture to be the cradle of western civilization and their brilliant works had been decimated in the middle ages to plunge the civilization into ignorance. They tried to find answers in these Greek books and literature for everything. In this process, many ancient Greek books on science, mathematics, astronomy, and history were unearthed which led to its great influence on modern western culture.
Certain themes in literature and drama originated from Greek authors and are believed to have influenced much of the world. Homers Iliad and Odyssey are the first epic poems in recorded history.
Ancient Greek Influences: Democracy
The word ‘democracy’ is Greek. It means ‘government by the people. It was first used by the Athenians to describe their system of direct governance by voting of the citizens and the modern democracies are a direct legacy of the ancient Greeks. The Americans have directly attributed their system to being influenced by the ancient Athenian democracy.
Although their system of direct democracy is very different from today’s representative democracy, it still stands as an inspiration for modern democracy.
Ancient Greece Influence: The first alphabet with vowels
The Ancient Greeks played an important part in the development of the alphabet. The first two letters of the Greek alphabet – alpha and beta – have given us the word ‘alphabet’. The alphabets developed after the Dark ages by the ancient Greeks were the first alphabets in a western sense with distinct consonants and vowels.
The Olympic Games
The modern Olympics which is one of the most if not the most prestigious sporting events was inspired by the ancient Olympics which took place in Olympia in honour of Zeus from about 776 BC.
The Olympic flame which is lit before the start of the Olympic games is a reference to the sacred flame which burnt at the altar of Hestia throughout the ancient Olympic games.
Ancient Greek influence on science
The ancient Greeks have left a lasting effect on modern society and modern science. Greeks astronomers like Eratosthenes was the first to calculate the circumference of the earth and similarly, Aristarchus created a model of the universe in which the sun was placed at the center with the planets revolving around them including the earth which inspired Copernicus to build his heliocentric theory.
Famous mathematicians like Archimedes made great contributions to the field of geometry and calculus. Even models depicting the movement of the sun and moon were created by Hipparchus which included solar eclipse too.
Ancient Greece Influence on world architecture:
Another sphere of Ancient Greek Influences was architecture. The Greeks developed three architectural systems, called orders, each with their own distinctive proportions and detailing. The Greek orders are Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
Ancient Greek architecture formed the fountain of western architecture which included columns and pillars. These can be seen in modern public buildings and government offices in western counties and even in colonial buildings in Asia and Africa. The White House is a big example where doric pillars have been used.
Acropolis in Greek means “The Sacred Rock, the high city”. All around the world, the Acropolis of Athens is known as ‘The Acropolis’. There are many Acropolises in Greece but the Acropolis of Athens is the best known. The Acropolis is primarily dedicated to the Goddess Athena.
Influence of Ancient Greece on Art and Culture:
Greek art and sculpture have had a profound effect throughout the ages. Many of the styles have been reproduced and copied by some of what the modern day audiences would class as some of the finest artists to have ever lived e.g. Michelangelo.
Western art and sculpture derived from Roman art, while in the East, Alexander the Great’s conquest gave birth to Greco-Buddhist art, which has even had an influence as far as Japan all of which stem from ancient Greek art. The Greeks used many different types of materials in their sculptures including stone, marble, and limestone as these were abundant in Greece.
Banquets and Greek-style symposia were the most popular social gatherings attended by both sexes together. Tomb paintings and sculpted sarcophagi suggest that couples enjoyed the entertainment of musicians, tumblers, jugglers, and dancers while they reclined on couches together, sharing sumptuous meals.
Funeral inscriptions record extreme longevity and contentment: the ages of 70 or 80 years are not uncommon, and many tell of happy lives of soldiers or merchants lasting 106 years and longer.
Influence of Ancient Greece on Drama
The concept of the theatre was first devised in ancient Greece and their dramas and epics are still performed even today. Modern western dramas are derived from Homer, Sophocles, etc whose plays have been immortalized. Iliad and Odyssey are still one of the popular plays performed in modern theatres.
Influence of Ancient Greece on Medicine
The most famous physician in the ancient world was Hippocrates, whose studies on medicine are still included in the curriculum. The doctors before beginning their careers still had to take an oath known as the Hippocratic oath, a direct reference to the ancient oath taken by the physicians in Greece.
His studies in the field of diseases were historical and were the first to distinguish treatment from religion and also used the study of anatomy to understand and treat diseases.
Influence of Ancient Greece on Philosophy
How has ancient Greece influenced America?
The renaissance thinkers had a great interest in Greek texts and books and studied them intensively. They were greatly influenced by their theories and ways of life.
Many such scholars had migrated to the American colonies under the British in search of better opportunities in life. They carried with them their ideas and also these books. So there was a clear influx of Greek thoughts to America in the 16th and 17th centuries.
We see a type of ancient Greek egalitarian councils which were called democracy by the Athenians in the American towns. Here the towns were controlled by the town councils which voted on several issues. Similarly to the ancient system, only free or white males were allowed in these councils.
When the American colonies got independence from Britain and formed the United States of America they adopted this type of direct democratic system on a wider scale to frame a written constitution similar to the ancient Greeks and called it a democracy. The makers of the USA were greatly influenced by the Greek and especially Athenian ideas of freedom and liberty and their system of democracy.
The early American system was also very similar to ancient Greece as they depended on slave labour in the estates controlled by white landlords. Only free males were allowed to vote, ignoring the women.
We can also see how the states were given so much power instead of building a centralized country which was the trend in those times and had similarity with the decentralized Greek city-state although with a central overlord in the form of the central government.