The Way to Greece Part 2




ELLINIKA GRAMMATA                         ATHENS 2004



Athens, the first democracy

  • One of the most influential concepts of Ancient Greece has been that of democracy (Demos + Kratos = The power of the people).
  • In the 6th century BC, Solon made the important legislative changes that for the first time gave people the right of appeal before a court and allowed everyone to sit as a juror in these courts.
  • In the 5th century BC Kleisthenes created ten new tribes from all over Attica and broke the political hold of the aristocratic families.
  • Later, by organizing a much larger naval force, Themistocles created a class comprised of thousands of rowers who wanted a greater share of political power.
  • In turn Pericles introduced payment for those who help political positions so every poor citizen could afford to participate in the public life of the city.
  • According to Aristotle, the main difference between men and animals was that men lived in cities. The word “city” in Greek is polis, which can also be translated as “city-state” and it is the origin of the words “politics” and “political.”
  • The city-state was independent, defended itself against other city-states (e.g. Sparta) and had its own “identity.”


The wars against the Persians

Marathon (490 BC): A turning point in Western history

  • In 499 BC, the Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor revolted against Persian rule and asked mainland Greece for help. Only two cities responded by sending ships: Eretria in Euboea and Athens.
  • The Persians sought revenge for this defiance so in 490 BC King Darius sent a large fleet to Eretria, which capitulated very quickly.
  • By contrast, the Athenians, with a much smaller force, defeated the vast Persian army. The Greeks lost 192 soldiers while the Persians lost 6,700 on the plains of Marathon.


The Battle of Thermopylae: An extraordinary act of heroism

  • In 480 BC, Darius’ son, Xerxes, returned to fight against the Greeks with an even larger army. During the invasion, the Persian army reached a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea – Thermopylae.
  • There the Spartan king, Leonidas, and several thousand men blocked the pass. The Spartans were famous as warriors and their state was organized to guarantee military superiority.
  • Soon, only Leonidas remained with 300 men, greatly outnumbered by the Persians. They heroically defended the pass for several days until they were all killed.
  • Their self-sacrifice bought precious time for the rest of the Greeks to prepare their army and eventually to defeat Darius.


The Battle of Salamis

  • In 480 BC, during a sea battle fought in the narrow stretch of water between Athens and the island of Salamis (Salamina), the Athenians destroyed the Persian fleet. Herodotus credits Themistocles with formulating the strategy Athens used to win this important battle.


The Peloponnesian War: The clash between Athens and Sparta

  • The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) was a defining period in Athenian history as it culminated in the destruction of Athens.
  • The underlying cause of the war was the growth of Athenian power after the Persian Wars.
  • Athens and Sparta adopted very different strategies. Pericles and the ten generals who led the Athenian side sought to barricade the population within the city’s walls, relying on the fleet to keep supply lines open and fend off the enemy. Sparta used its superior land army to devastate Attica.
  • In 429, the overcrowded conditions in Athens caused the outbreak of a plague, which killed thousands of people, among them Pericles.
  • In 404, the Spartan admiral Lysander succeeded in destroying the Athenian fleet at a battle in the Hellespont.



  • At the end of the first year of war against the Spartans, the Athenians held a funeral for those killed in the war. The funeral oration was delivered by Pericles (495-429 BC) who, according to Thucydides, was Athen’s greatest statesman.
  • Pericles said that he who takes no part in public affairs is not considered unambitious but on the contrary he is considered useless – an idiot.
  • The word in Greek means “one who exhibits antisocial behavior” and this behavior is something that the Greeks consider a denial of one’s humanity.
  • We throw open our city to the world and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing.
  • Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. The freedom that we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life.


The Acropolis and Parthenon

  • In 448 BC Athens was an imperial power. Pericles decided to build the Acropolis and in 447 the project was begun with the cooperation of the renowned architects Ictinus and Callicrates and the famous sculptor Phidias.
  • Pericles had a grandiose plan to honor the city’s patron and protectress, Athena Polias. He thus decided to build a temple, the Parthenon, dedicated to the virgin-goddess (parthenos = virgin).
  • The Acropolis dominated the skyline of Athens and was the center of the city’s religious life.


Hippocrates: History’s most famous doctor

  • Hippocrates (c460-375 BC) laid the foundations of Western medicine by rejecting superstition in favor of scientific observation, classifying diseases, and creating a set of moral and professional standards for physicians.


The Hippocratic Oath

  • The Hippocratic Oath, a code of ethics for doctors that is still taken by medical school graduates, is named in his honor.

I swear by Apollo the Physician and Asklepios, and by Health and Panakeia (all-healing) and by all gods and goddesses that I will keep this oath according to my power and my judgment …

I will use regimens for the benefit of the ill according to my ability and judgment and abstain from whatever is wrong for them. I will not give poison to anyone, though I be asked …

And about whatever I may see or hear in treatment, I will remain silent, holding such things to be sacred …

Isocrates (436-338 BC): Athenian orator, rhetorician and educationalist

  • Athens has so far surpassed the rest of mankind in thought and speech that her followers are the masters of the rest, and it is because of Athens that the word ‘Greek’ is not so much a term of birth as of mentality, and is applied to a common culture rather than a common descent.


Herodotus: The ‘father’ of history

Herodotus of Halikarnassos

His histories

Here set down

That the deeds of men may not be forgotten in time

And that the great and notable achievements

Of both Greeks and Barbarians

May not be unrenowned

And more especially the causes of the war between them.

  • Herodotus (484-420 BC) is credited with giving the word “histories” its current meaning of a record of the past. His history of the Persian Wars describes the cultural differences between the Greeks and their neighbors, though not of all his work meets the standard of modern scholarship.


Theater: A Greek invention, a school for the citizens

Aeschylus: The birth of tragedy, and of soap opera

  • Considered the first great Athenian tragic poet, Aeschylus (525-456 BC) came from a noble family. He fought at the Battle of Marathon and later in the naval battle of Salamis.
  • In 484 he won his first victory in the dramatic competition at the Festival of Dionysus. In 467 he composed the first important trilogy about Oedipus, but the only one of these plays that has survived is Seven Against Thebes.
  • His only surviving trilogy is the Oresteia, which dramatizes the fall of the house of Atreus.
  • In these plays, Agamemnon, leader of the Greek expedition against Troy, sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia in order to help the Greek army begin their campaign.
  • Clytemnestra, his wife, never forgives him for his action and with her lover Aegistheus murders Agamemnon in his bath shortly after his return from the Trojan War.
  • Their son Orestes murders his mother to avenge the death of his father.
  • He is pursued by the Furies and is brought before the Aeropagite Council, where he stands trial by jury.
  • Only seven of the many plays Aeschylus is said to have written have survived: The Persians, The Choephoroi, The Eumenides, Prometheus Bound, The Suppliants and The Seven Against Thebes.
  • Wisdom alone comes through suffering.


Sophocles: Actor turned playwright who deals with love and ethical dilemmas

  • Born in the Athenian district of Colonus, Sophocles (496-406 BC) came from a noble family and received an excellent education that enabled him to compose music for the choruses of his tragedies. He was known for his handsome looks and grace.
  • Of his 100 or so works, only seven tragedies and one unfinished satiric drama have survived: Ajax, Antigone, The Trachiniae, Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King), Electra, Philicretes, Oedipus at Colonus.


Euripides: An ‘anarchist,’ innovator, and feminist

  • The youngest of the three most important tragic poets, Euripides (485-406 BC) goes furthest in challenging the conventions of tragedy.
  • He questioned the traditional views of what constitutes a hero, what god is, and what the position of women should be. He was an innovator, a restless spirit.
  • Of his 90 plays, 17 have survived: Alcestis, Medea, The Heracleidae, Hippolytus, Andromache, Hecuba, The Suppliants, The Madness of Hercules, Ion, The Trojan Women, Electra, Iphigenia in Tauris, Helen, The Phoenician Women, Orestes, Iphigenia in Aulis, The Bacchae.


Aristophanes: Sexual innuendo and slapstick comedy

  • Considered to be the greatest comic poet of antiquity, Aristophanes (457-385 BC) was a sharp observer of the social and political life of Athens. In his plays he satirized society and shocked audiences.
  • 11 of his 44 comedies have survived: Acharnians, Knights, Clouds, Wasps, Peace, Birds, Thesmophoriazusae, Lysistrata, Frogs, Ecclesiazusae, Plutus.


A Golden legacy


was the teacher of


who founded the Academy and was the teacher of


Who founded the Lyceum and was the teacher of

Alexander the Great


I know only one thing,

That I know nothing …

  • Socrates (469-399 BC), the most famous and influential of philosophers, actually wrote nothing at all. Most of our knowledge about him comes from the works of Plato.
  • He invented the dialectic method, a system of dialogue whose goal was to find an unambiguous definition of terms such as piety, justice, or truth, but his dialogues ended inconclusively.
  • Nonetheless he persisted in these discussions because he believed that “virtue is knowledge” and anyone who could distinguish “good” could do no wrong.
  • In 399 BC Socrates was charged with “introducing new gods and corrupting the young.” Socrates response at his trial is Plato’s dialogue, Apology.
  • Socrates was sentenced to death but refused to flee on the grounds that it was against the law; thus he ended his life by drinking poison.
  • The unexamined life is not worth living.


Plato: Socrates’s most illustrious student

  • Plato (427-348 BC) founded the Academy (named after the hero Academos) in Athens in 387 BC – the first known university.
  • His writings often take the form of dialogues, primarily with Socrates as the main character.
  • In The Republic, Plato lays out his ideas for the perfect state, “…until philosophers are kings, or the kings of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political power and wisdom meet in one … cities will never have a rest from their evils.”
  • The worst of all deception is self-deception.

Aristotle: The first systematic philosopher

  • Considered one of Plato’s best students, Aristotle (384-322 BC) left the Academy when Plato died and founded the Lyceum.
  • One of the greatest systematic philosophers of antiquity, Aristotle had an impressive knowledge of medicine, physics, anthropology, politics, and literature.
  • His influence can be seen in both medieval Christian and Islamic thought.
  • His concepts were the foundation of Western culture until the 17th century and remain embedded in contemporary thinking.
  • The state is a creation of nature and man is by nature a political animal.
  • Habit becomes second nature.
  • He who prefers solitude is either a wild beast or a god.


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