“Man is the measure of all things” – Protagoras
Ancient Greece left us a most valuable heritage in providing Western Civilization with its two most fundamental traditions – ‘individualism‘ and ‘critical analysis‘.
From the freedoms enjoyed in certain Ancient Greek city states, we have evolved our modern democracies and our distinctive human rights culture, which is based on recognising the worth of the individual. The Ancient Greeks can be said to have invented literature and provided most of the basis for our appreciation of the visual and performing arts. On the other hand, Greece also gave us rigorous mathematical methodology and provided the deductive logic needed for determining scientific ‘proofs‘. By this, it paved the way for all our scientific breakthroughs, without which our modern technological world would never have been possible. Further, the Greek experience of logical and structured thinking, and their recognition of the value of the individual, went on to provided a sound philosophical and ethical basis for our modern world view and strongly influenced the development of Christian theology.
The Greeks experienced a ‘Golden Age’ during the mid fifth to fourth centuries BCE, when art, drama and literature flourished and simultaneously great discoveries were made in science, mathematics and medicine. This was particularly so in Athens, which flourished culturally as its new democracy grew in strength under the wise guidance of its impressive statesman, Pericles . The teachings of the great philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle encouraged free, but disciplined thinking and Plato’s Academy and the Lycaeum of Aristotle were the first in a long tradition of free thinking colleges, that led to the concept of the university as a autonomous institution for higher learning and excellence.
The Greeks were purists and in mathematics, science and philosophy, they always prefered to develop logical proofs from first principles in order to investigate, test and explain abstract concepts, rather than relying on pure observation to extrapolate a theory. This process is what we now call the scientific method. The Romans were good engineers and they could certainly apply mathematics effectively to solve practical issues, but it was the Greeks who found the true beauty in all of it.
- Fascination with the Human Form
In Greece a fierce appreciation of beauty and the arts was stimulated by continual speculation into the role of man in relation to his fellows and to his place in the universe. The individual, not the mass was always the yardstick by which all things were judged. The human form was idealised and the proportions of a healthy body were applied to architecture and inspired wonderful sculpture and decorative pottery. In Greece, philosophy was the partner of both science and religion. To enter the academy of Plato it was necessary to first study geometry.
It is not much publicised by the mainstream religions, but theologians and other religious academics are well aware that most of the theological base and much of the ethical values found in both Christianity and Islam were derived more or less directly from the Greek philosophers, rather than coming from the traditional Biblical lands of the Ancient Near East, as is generally supposed by the lay public. The main influences were Plato and Aristotle. Neoplatonist concepts were accepted into Christianity by the early Church fathers such as St Augustine and also found their way into Islam through the studies of the eminent scholars of the Caliphate of Baghdad and Granada in Moorish Spain. The theory of ‘ideas’ developed by Plato opened up ways of examining the nature of God, the existence of sin and the creation of the the cosmos. Throughout the centuries, the logical methodology of Aristotle has been used to test religious theory by some of the most eminent theologians of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths.