Many scientists agree that Ancient Greece is the cradle of European civilization. Its philosophers, scientists, and poets greatly contributed to the development of Greek culture. Modern philosophical thought would be impossible without the works of Aristotle, Plato, and numerous philosophical schools. Dramatic art would have been different if, at one time, the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides had not seen the world. Besides, an incredible input to the development of European civilization and science was made by Greek mathematicians – Euclid, Archimedes, and Eudemus. To this day, doctors swear to apply their knowledge only for the benefit of patients by the Hippocratic Oath, “Primum non-nocere,” after graduating from higher medical schools. Moreover, the written testimonies of Homer and Hesiod were used by subsequent generations of astronomers. This paper aims at presenting Greeks’ contribution to the development of philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy and indicate the significance of Greek literature in modern culture development.
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The Contribution of Ancient Greeks to the Development of Philosophy
Out of a vast number of Ancient Greeks’ discoveries, the philosophical thought occupies a prominent place. The central point of ancient Greek philosophy was the focus on inquiry and reason, which placed the need for a rational analysis of the world. Socrates perceived philosophy as the “best guide to life,” an intellectual foundation, and motivating power for humans (Cooper, 2012, p. 2). Over time, philosophical ambition moved from the study of nature in general to human nature in particular. As a result, such significant subjects as ethics and morality emerged. These concepts are of utmost importance in all spheres of modern life; thus, one cannot overestimate Greeks’ contribution to present-day interpersonal and public relationships.
Traditionally, philosophy coupled three branches: the metaphysical, natural, and moral one. Meanwhile, at present, the philosophy of science is gaining more and more attention (Cooper, 2012). Divisions of philosophical science include philosophy of language, logic, and art. What unites all of these divergent aspects is that they are still concerned with ethics and morality. Unlike ancient philosophy, its modern counterpart has evolved from discrepancies between the good and bad character to differences between morally right and wrong deeds (Cooper, 2012). As a result of philosophical thought evolution, new philosophy trends emerged, among which utilitarianism and deontology were the most influential. Cooper (2012) remarks that philosophy was the most authoritative foundation of human life in Ancient Greece. Meanwhile, nowadays, the issue of right and wrong action occupies the principal place in the philosophical study. Still, without the initial intellectual ideas, which originated in Ancient Greece, the development of people’s moral and ethical values to the current extent would be impossible.
Greek Philosophers’ Influence on the Progress of Medicine
Another field that contributed to the development of modern society to its current state is medicine. Ancient Greece gave the world the most famous physician of all times, Hippocrates, who established a medical school and systematically analyzed diseases and treatment (Fox, 2020). Due to his restless attempts to improve the medical treatment system, Hippocrates was rightly credited as the founder of medicine. The medical standard for physicians, the Hippocratic Oath, was named after this great thinker (Fox, 2020). The oath serves as a shining statement of doctoring principles and dictates professional communication rules.
The emergence of medicine as a science originated not from the Ancient Greeks’ interest in body structure but from thinkers’ intention to express their thoughts in writing. In the 5th century BC, the so-called invention of medicine emerged, which was, in fact, one of the expressions of Ancient Greek philosophers’ new wave of thinking (Fox, 2020). Medicine was only one of the various topics on which thinkers expressed their opinions. For instance, Hippocrates was known to write about mathematics as a theoretical study.
Other prominent topics included political philosophy, environment and climate, and the nature of a man. The establishment of medicine was closely associated with improvements in writing skills and the art of sculpture. Initially, not all of those who affirmed medicine as a study field had to be a doctor (Fox, 2020). Humans were viewed as members of a natural world; hence, anyone could deal with medical topics due to their interconnection with philosophical ones. Therefore, one can trace a stable link between the Ancient Greek philosophical thought and medicine’s evolution as a science.
Greek Philosophers as Developers of Mathematics
Ancient Greeks also created a science that is considered more rigid and concrete: mathematics. Most known Greek mathematicians were Archimedes, Autolycus, Euclid, Theodosius, Apollonius, Pappus, Diophantus, and Menelaus (Waschkies, 2004). These mathematicians wrote their earliest works in the second half of the 4th century BC. Moreover, Aristotle’s philosophy of science, which was composed even earlier, indicated that mathematical proofs of that period were realized with the use of methods introduced by Euclid (Waschkies, 2004). Hence, there is evidence of the mathematical science existing in Ancient Greece well before the 4th century BC. Unfortunately, the original works and copies were lost, and there are no sources written before the 4th century BC (Waschkies, 2004). Hence, the most valid and valuable evidence of Ancient Greeks’ success in mathematics is represented by the works of Eudemus, which contained the classification of Greek mathematics from its earliest days.
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Along with mathematics, the development of geometry also took its roots from Ancient Greece. Even though some argued that geometry was discovered in Egypt, Aristotle’s Metaphysics gave rise to the development of sciences, including geometry (Waschkies, 2004). Historians analyzing Ancient Greeks’ works still argue whether geometry appeared from roots in pre-scientific knowledge (internal causes) or due to cultural and social environment changes (external causes). Meanwhile, philosophers and thinkers, such as Herodotus, Proclus, and Aristotle had an external opinion on the emergence of geometry. According to researchers, the most prominent feature of Greek mathematics is the presentation of mathematical ideas in theories (Waschkies, 2004). There are also axiomatic principles, which are always true, whereas theorems have to be deduced logically. The deduction occurred with the help of principles of theories that have already been proved (Waschkies, 2004). Since modern mathematics and geometry use the same classification, it is valid to note that Ancient Greek philosophers had a considerable influence on these sciences’ emergence.
Astronomical Models Formulated by Ancient Greeks
Greek philosophers also influenced the emergence and evolution of astronomy as a science. The first pieces of astronomical knowledge were found in the poems of Homer and Hesiod. Apart from references to the sun and moon, Homeric epics spoke of the Morning and Evening Star, the Great Bear, the Pleiades, Sirius, Orion, and other stars (Health, 1991). In Homer’s works, the Earth was flat and encircled by the River Oceanus (Health, 1991). Hesiod made use of the stars, but unlike Homer, he utilized celestial phenomena to determine seasons in the year. In Hesiod’s poems, spring started with Arcturus’s rising, and winter began with the Pleiades setting in the early twilight (Health, 1991). Those were the initial attempts to describe astronomic bodies and relationships.
More elaborate efforts to initiate astronomy as science are associated with the Ionian philosophers, who were also involved in the emergence of philosophy and mathematics. The most prominent feature of Ancient Greek philosophers was an inquiry, which made them determined to learn not only facts but also how and why they appeared and functioned (Heath, 1991). Ionians came up with astronomy progress using the discoveries of more ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and Babylon.
Ancient Greeks admitted that Egyptians and Babylonians observed the stars for a long time before Greeks had started their researches. Herodotus, a renowned Greek historian, wrote that the Egyptians divided the year into 365 days and 12 months, and divided each day and night into 12 hours (Heath, 1991). Many of these and other discoveries were borrowed by Ancient Greeks to develop astronomy further, which resulted in the doctrines of Pythagoras, Democritus, Plato, Heraclites, Euclid, and other Greek astronomers. Modern science is based on Ancient Greeks’ assumptions regarding stars, planets, and their movement and impact on the Earth.
The Role of Greek Literature in the Establishment of Modern Culture
Undoubtedly, the literature of Ancient Greece had a significant influence on the formation of literary ideas and plots. Moreover, ancient Greeks invented genres that are still used in modern literature (Lloyd, 2006). The absence of a single church, an institution characteristic of most European societies that developed in the following centuries, ensured the preservation of many myths and legends describing cosmology and the heroic deeds of people, gods, and demigods, therefore, allowing the writers to illustrate inhumane abilities and superpowers in the art. Ancient Greek philosophers, historians, and physicians also contributed immensely to the development of the written word.
The first dramatic genres of tragedy and comedy appeared in Ancient Greece and became the outstanding examples for a great number of modern pieces of literature. The purpose of the tragic performances was to induce catharsis in the viewer or cleansing through tears (Storey & Allan, 2005). The works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are the prime examples of dramatic art that influenced the formation of the genre, in which Shakespeare, Schiller, and Lope de Vega then worked and, consequently, created their masterpieces. The path of the human soul and its development through suffering has also enriched modernist and postmodern literature, resulting in the worldwide acknowledged writings (Storey & Allan, 2005). To this day, literary scholars use Aristotle’s Poetics as a tool for the analysis and criticism of dramatic and lyrical genres.
At the same time, the names of the authors of ancient Greek comedies have not come down to us since comedy was considered an easy or “low” genre, designed to entertain the audience and make it laugh in order to receive positive emotions and digress from the disturbing issues. Interestingly, Aristotle believed that comedy originated as part of the recreations practiced during the festivities in honor of the god Dionysus (Storey & Allan, 2005). The philosopher thought that comedy is undoubtedly a good genre, as it brings happiness, which is the ideal state and the ultimate goal of any human activity. Although the philosopher believed that misbehavior deserves condemnation, he recognized that people enjoy it, and did not condemn “low” humor and comedy. On the opposite, Plato believed that watching comedies was akin to self-destruction, demolishing the humane nature of a person (Storey & Allan, 2005). In particular, in his Republic, Plato declared that comedy, as a genre of art, must be strictly controlled and forbade its performance in his ideal state.
Aesop’s fables deserve special attention in the context of creating a pattern for poetry and literature. Many of Aesop’s fables and tales depicted animals and inanimate objects that participated in dynamic relationships (Storey & Allan, 2005). Each fable had a moral, which was displayed in a separate line. This approach is considered a personal invention of the author. Although the identity and existence of Aesop are considered fictional by some scholars, it is known that he was a poet who traveled to cities and read his fables with musical accompaniment.
Another figure that many historians also consider fictional was Homer, the author of the famous epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, which are the major and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek literature. The Iliad and Odyssey poems included personas from many Greek myths and legends and were based on the writing tradition practiced in Hellas for millennia (Storey & Allan, 2005). Poems were written in a hexameter, which modern authors rarely use since this epic meter was intended to be read aloud in front of an audience.
Thus, Greeks’ contribution to the development of modern philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and literature was presented. In earlier times, the tradition of philosophical thought was inextricably linked with medical, mathematical, historical treatises. Besides, the ancient Greeks contributed to astronomy, giving names to numerous modern constellations and enriching them with authentic myths and legends. The first drama and literature genres were created in ancient Greece. Modern scientific and philosophical thought could not be the same without Euclid, Archimedes, Hippocrates, Herodotus, Plato, and Aristotle.
Cooper, J. M. (2012). Pursuits of wisdom: Six ways of life in ancient philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus. Princeton University Press.
Fox, R. L. (2020). The invention of medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates. Basic Books.
Heath, T. L. (1991). Greek astronomy. Dover Publications.
Lloyd, G. E. R. (2006). Ancient worlds, modern reflections: Philosophical perspectives on Greek and Chinese science and culture. Oxford University Press.
Storey, I. C., & Allan, A. (2005). A guide to ancient Greek drama. Blackwell Publishing.
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Waschkies, H. J. (2004). Introduction. In J. Christianidis (Ed.), Classics in the history of Greek mathematics (pp. 3–18). Kluwer Academic Publishers.