Concepts of Ancient Greek Culture

The period which is now called Classical Greece was marked by significant changes in political, social, artistic and religious life of people. In particular, one can speak about the establishment of a civic state, the adoption of new approaches to education and science, the development of new artistic forms, and more critical attitude toward those people who occupy the positions of authority.

This essay will focus on such concepts that became particularly important during this period, namely eunomania (good governance), polis (collective life), paideia (education), kalokagathia (balance), and hamartia or unintentional sin. These concepts are important because they reflect people’s willingness to live in a just state, and their attempts to determine the limitations of their knowledge. Moreover, they illustrate the aesthetic values of ancient Greeks.

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This discussion of these concepts will be based on the study of philosophical and literary works such as Plato’s The Republic or The Clouds by Aristophanes. Moreover, we will discuss examples from visual arts. At first, it is necessary to explain the concepts related to political and social life of Ancient Greece.

Plato’s Republic touches upon many important issues, relevant to people of Ancient Greece, but it mostly reflects such a concept as eunomania. Overall, this notion can be defined as a city that is governed by good laws. It should be noted that Plato, himself, does not participate in the dialogues that he describes.

His teacher, Socrates, acts as the main interlocutor who tries to give a definition of justice and tries to identify the characteristics of an ideal city. Moreover, he and his companions discuss various forms of government such as democracy, oligarchy, timocracy, and so forth. In this work, Plato attempts to illustrate how a good city can be constructed.

Socrates makes a debatable statement about good city and good laws. In his opinion, a well-run state ensures that a person works on “the task he was naturally suited to, and for which he would keep himself free from other tasks, working at it throughout his life, and taking every opportunity to produce good results” (Plato, 57). To a great extent this quotation means the citizen of a good city is able to fulfill his or her talents. Most importantly, it is the best way of creating eunomania or a state that is governed by good laws.

This discussion of eunomania can be closely tied to education and such concept as paideia which occupies an important place in Aristophanes’ play The Clouds. Moreover, this concept plays a significant part in Plato’s Republic. Overall, it can be interpreted as education or shaping the moral character of a young person. In this play, Aristophanes attempts to satirize Socratic education and shows that it breeds complete disregard or even rejection of social and moral norms.

This is how he describes Socratic education, “they will persuade you to consider everything dishonest as decent, and the decent as dishonest” (Aristophanes, 72). Overall, the author suggests that educators should pay attention to traditional values of a society. The purpose of paideia or education is to instill the values and rules that have already been established in the community. This argument is challenged in Plato’s Apology. In this work, he records Socrates’ defense during the trial.

The author shows that the goal of Socratic education was to teach the ability to question the scope of one’s knowledge. Through Socrates Plato demonstrates that education or paideia can hardly shape a good character unless, educators can acknowledge that “they know nothing” or at least accept the limitations of their knowledge (Plato, 4). This is one of the most important Platonic arguments.

It should be noted that The Republic reflects another important concept, namely polis. This concept refers to the community of people who engage in self-government. This term can also denote collective life of people. In a series of Socratic dialogues, Plato describes how a good community should function. Overall, this author makes a very radical argument about collective life of people.

In particular, Socrates says that the task of rulers is to use “persuasion and compulsion to bring the citizens into harmony, and make each class share with the other classes the contribution they are able to bring to the community” (Plato, 226). To a great extent, this quotation means a citizen has to think primarily about the interests of the community but not about his or her personal ambitions. This quotation also implies that polis has to be premised on altruism rather than self-interest.

To understand Classical Greece, one has to examine such concept as kalokagathia or proportion; it is eloquently illustrated in such sculptural work as the Pythian Apollo. This concept can be defined as harmonic combination or unity of physical and moral qualities. This term can be applied to politics, education and art (Gerder and Gaiger, 26).

This sculpture describes an Ancient Greek god Appolo who supposedly attempts to slay a serpent named Python. This sculpture exudes the impression of courage and reserve. It seems that the main objective of the author was to create an idealistic image of a human being (Gerder and Gaiger, 19). This sculpture is closely related to the concept of kalokagathia because it shows that a perfect human being be able to combine both physical and moral beauty.

Finally, we need to discuss such concept as hamartia which is eloquently illustrated in Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King. This term can be interpreted as a mistake or unintentional sin that is derived from ignorance, rather than malice.

This play is derived from the myth about Oedipus who tried to thwart a prophecy of the Delphic oracle according to which he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. However, by trying to avert this tragedy, Oedipus actually fulfilled the prophecy. A blind prophet, who meets Oedipus, makes a very eloquent statement about ignorance as a cause of evil.

He says to Oedipus “You have your eyes, but see not where you are in sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with” (Sophocles, 7). This argument is aimed at showing that sin does not always originate from malice. Very often, it is caused by people’s inability to realize their ignorance. This play shows that overconfidence in one’s knowledge can result in hamartia or a fatal error that Oedipus made.

The concepts that have been discussed here tell much about the values of Classical Greece. According to its principles, an idea human being should be aware of his or her limitations, especially, if we are speaking about knowledge. Moreover, such a person has to combine both moral and physical beauty. Finally, these concepts indicate that ancient Greek people attached much importance to a society in which one can develop and realize one’s talents.

Works Cited

Aristophanes. The clouds: an annotated translation. Trans. Marie Marianetti. New York: University Press of America, 1997. Print.

Gerder Johann and Gaiger Jason. Sculpture: some observations on shape and form from Pygmalion’s creative dream. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.

Plato. The Republic. Trans. Giovanni Ferrari and Tom Griffith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.

Plato. The Apology of Socrates. Trans. Cathal Woods and Ryan Pack. San Francisco: Creative Commons, 2007. Print.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Trans. David Grene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Print.


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