Greek Influence on Society

In this day in age, people are obsessed with the most advanced technology, the most modern style, and fair government. Little does most of the population know, that the influence and knowledge of the ancient Greeks has greatly shaped science and technology, architecture, and government.

The knowledge and the findings of the ancient Greeks are the building blocks of the science we have today. It is understood that science is just math with a purpose, so the Greeks have made a massive impact on science due to their advancements in math. They were the mathematicians that devised formulas and practices that are still used to solve problems. This includes such things as the Pythagorean Theorem, Pi, and other advancements in the realm of measurements (Bellos).

These advancements are some of the most common forms of math used today. I asked Douglas Cutler, math teacher at Pella High School, what he thought of the influence of the Greeks on math today, and he said, “The greeks can be credited with just about all the geometry you learn at the high school level. Another significant contribution that the ancient Greeks made was greater understanding of irrational numbers.

There were many scholars that contributed to this movement, Pythagoras, Archimedes, and Euclid (Bellos). These gentlemen were very important to the future knowledge and advancement to math and science. “It isn't that the mathematics the ancient Greeks discovered has changed, only that we continue to discover more and more of what lays beneath what they discovered before us,” Cutler says.

Math is just a very small part of sciences, and there were many more scholars and advancements made in this field of discovery. A significant part of ancient Greek society was astronomy. This is one of the most major gains in knowledge from the Greeks. Astronomy was used to calculate distances, directions, and even used in some of ancient Greek mythology. Hipparchus was one gentleman who is known for his advancements and knowledge in astronomy.

He developed an astrolabe, which uses stars and geometry to calculate angles. Another thing that was presented as a forthcoming idea, was the idea of Earth having its own orbit. Although the idea was not new, it was made slightly more popular by the astronomer Aristarchus. Of course this idea wasn’t accepted until much much later in history, it makes a presence here in ancient Greece.

The final science that the Greek knowledge influenced is medicine. Medicinal practices were first seen in Homer’s, Iliad (Demand). The Iliad shows some significant knowledge by Homer, as he mentions wounds taken by soldiers, and he can clearly identify body parts (Demand). He also shows what wounds are fatal, like shots to the stomach, chest, head and then goes on to say what wounds cause pain, but aren’t lethal, like arms and legs (Demand).

This is only the beginning though. As time moves along, we see more and more information being sought after by the Greeks. The father of medicine comes into play at this time, Hippocrates. Hippocrates has improved today’s technology, because he credited with being the first to turn medicine away from the gods (Greeks).

This has a huge impact on the world today because there are very few people that are polytheistic, or believe that worshiping the gods/God will heal a person. He used physical observations to diagnose his patients. He is author of the hippocratic oath, although the wording is different, which is still used by practicing medical personnel today (Greeks). Overall, the Greeks are credited with being the developers of modern science.

Moving away from science the next major Greek influence we see in todays society is in their form of government. The Athenians were the first civilization that used a form of government that did not include a king; democracy. The term democracy, when broken down into its Greek roots literally means people power (Demos-People, Kratias-Power) (Cartledge). “We may live in a very different and much more complex world, but without the ancient Greeks we wouldn't even have the words to talk about many of the things we care most about.

Take politics for example: apart from the word itself (from polis, meaning city-state or community) many of the other basic political terms in our everyday vocabulary are borrowed from the ancient Greeks: monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, oligarchy and - of course - democracy,” says Professor Paul Cartledge of Cambridge University. Democracy, as Cartledge has described, has the most obvious and one of the longest lasting effects on today’s society because well over 75% of the countries have a democracy of some sort (Davidson). This means that there is some sort of representation of the people within the federal government.

Democracy was “created” by Solon, Cleisthenes, and Ephialtes around 508 BC (Athenian). The democracy they developed consisted of the Council of 500, The Assembly, and The Courts. Each of these divisions had their own responsibilities to the government. The Council of 500 was composed of citizens that were randomly selected who had 1 year terms and could serve twice. Their job was to make and propose laws.

The Assembly was composed of elected officials that served life terms. Their job in society was to vote on the laws the Council of 500 had created. The Court’s significance came in that they were in charge of interpreting laws, and punishing those who broke the laws. It is a very similar idea to The Supreme Court in the United States today.

The greatest and longest lasting reign in Athens was under the rule of Pericles. During his reign, he worked to improve the economy, and the culture of Athens, among other things. Other city-states saw the success the Athenian democracy had, and modeled it, but none were as great as the democratic government in Athens (Athenian).

Of course, all good things come to an end, and after the death of Pericles, the government started to fail. The citizens started to revolt, which lead to an oligarchy in Athens (Athenian). Experts today still debate as to whether the Athenians ever made it back to a true democracy (Athenian). Shifting away from democracy, the final influence seen by the ancient Greeks is their influence on architecture today.

Take a look at the nations capital, Washington DC, and how closely the design of the building matches that of the ancient Greeks. When asked about this influence in the DC, Lori Witt, the chair of the History Department at Central College, says, “I definitely think the Greeks influenced the US today, and one place you can see that is in the architecture of many of our public buildings. We have adopted the stately-marble-columned look of the Greeks’ large public buildings on the Acropolis, such as the Parthenon, in the Lincoln Memorial, in the house at Arlington National Cemetery, and others in Washington DC.”

Witt also goes on to state that it’s not just Washington DC that uses this style. Many southern plantation owners would add columns to their houses to show class rank, as well as public buildings in cities such as Chicago and New York City.The style is also used in other places around the world, like The Oslo Trading Building in Norway (Greek Gateway). Although the style is still seen around the world today, architects have turned away from this style and are using more modern and contemporary styles.

Sticking with architecture, another reason why it is so important to society today is because of the math used behind it. The math that the ancient Greeks used is the same math that is used by current architectes (Camp 127). This includes formulas such as the Pythagorean Theorem, Euclid’s Parallel Line Postulate, and others. There were so many discoveries made in geometry during this Hellenic period, and geometry is the basis of architecture, so without the discoveries made in this time period, who knows where architecture would be today.

In conclusion, the knowledge of the ancient Greeks is critical to modern day society. Technology, design and government would be no where without the minds of the scholars in that time period. It is obvious that we needed the ancient Greeks to make advancements in the fields of science, government and architecture to get our would to where it is today. Who knows where we would be without those scholars and their advancements.

Works Cited "Athenian Democracy." Athenian Democracy. Princeton University, n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2013. Camp, John McKesson, and Craig A.. Mauzy. “The Athenian Agora.” 5th ed. Princeton (N.J.): American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2010. Print. Bellos, Alex. Here's Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion through the Astonishing World of Math. New York: Free, 2010. 54-62. Print.

Cartledge, Paul. “Ancient Greece.” Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print. Cartledge, Paul. "The Democratic Experience." Bbc.co.uk. BBC, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 3 Oct. 2013. Davidson, Kavitha A. "Democracy Index 2013: Global Democracy At A Standstill, The Economist Intelligence Unit's Annual Report Shows." The Huffington Post. \TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 03 Oct. 2013. Demand, Nancy. "Greekmenu." Greekmenu. University of Indiana, 19 May 2000. Web. 03 Oct.