What Did the Greeks Contribute to Western Civilization?

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Of all the cultures to have influenced contemporary Western civilization, Ancient Greece is perhaps the most powerful. According to LeadershipClassics.org, the imprint of the ancient Greeks on Western society spans such diverse areas as politics, philosophy, science, art, architecture and sports. Additionally, according to History-World.org, the impact of Greek literature cannot possibly be overestimated.

For the West, the ancient Greek experimentation with democracy is exceptionally important. Athens, in particular, served as an incubator for democratic ideals and the institutionalization of assemblies elected by the people. It was Athens which also offered the first surviving Western law codes. The foundations of Western philosophy and science can also be traced back to the Greeks. In the sciences, men, such as Pythagoras and Euclid, made enormous advances in mathematics and astronomy. In medicine, Hippocrates applied the first systematically rational thinking to the field. With respect to philosophy, almost all of Western thought traces its origins back to the core Greek thinkers, particularly Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Greek art and architecture has also been enormously influential. Greek attention to the beauty of human form has influenced Western portraiture and sculpting profoundly, seeing renewed popularity in eras such as the Renaissance and Neo-Classical period. Greek-styled architecture also saw rebirth during the Neo-Classical period, and, according to Architect of the Capitol, cities like Washington D.C. boast many buildings constructed in this style, including the Capitol Building itself. In sports, the Greeks’ passion for organized competition continues with the Olympic Games they created, as well as with other tournament traditions worldwide. Finally, Greek writers, tragedians and poets, such as Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, Aeschylus and Sophocles, have contributed inestimably to Western literature and drama, providing many of its core stories, literary motifs and mythic references. According to History-World.org, “the great English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once commented that all philosophy is but a footnote to Plato. A similar point can be made regarding Greek literature as a whole.”