The culture the Athenians developed is still influencing is today, especially in terms of politics. They had true democracy, and ours is representative, but the idea came from them. We just made it more practical. Still, within a session of our Congress things might look a lot like ancient Athens!
Aristotle, in his Poetics, wrote one of the most insightful, thoughtful, and provocative discussions of literature (especially tragedy) ever written. I have just been teaching it again, and I am struck every time I teach it by how wonderfully perceptive it is. In fact, I have just also been reading David Brooks' book The Social Animal and am struck by how much of what Brooks says (especially about how we learn by imitation) is so very relevant to Aristotle's ideas.
The idea of Plato's cave and our perception of reality, and how easily our perception of what reality is can actually be about what reality isn't, is a major concept that is referred to so often in cultural history. A recent book by the deceased Nobel Prize Winning novelist, Jose Saramago, called The Cave, uses this philosophical principal to great impact. As other editors have commented, we owe so much to the Greeks that it is hard to know where to begin answering this question.
One thing that Socrates brought out was the idea that people do not really know the meaning of abstract words like kindness, loyalty, valor, friendship etc. Because of this, Socrates emphasized the importance of knowledge, of information. Do we really understand the meaning of such abstract words? I know I've devoted much thought over the years to defining words like kindness and compassion and such.
Greek theater developed the use of a chorus to support the movement of the action in a play, a format widely used by playwrights ever since. Greek chorus parts were usually spoken, sometimes to musical accompaniment, but their importance in setting the scene, providing background information, or filling in gaps in the action was significant. The Greeks also developed the basic structure of the performance venue.
I would have to add the concept of hamartia. Aristotle introduced this term in his text Poetics. This term came to be used within many texts in regards to its reference to the "tragic error" or "tragic flaw." Regardless of terminology, hamartia is alluded to in many plays including the works of Shakespeare.
Greek philosophers such as Plato followed up on the questioning of Socrates into a written form. Aristotle's theories were based on scientific theories, and he was among the first writers to undertake literary criticism. Homer was one of the first writers of epic poetry, while Sappho was a founder of the lyric poetry style. Aeschylus was among the first writers to use dialogue in playwriting, while Aristophanes was one of the first to introduce comedy into his playwriting. The works of Sophocles and Euripides helped to refine early drama.
I agree with post #2. Plato's perception of the world is best explained and illustrated in his Cave Allegory. Where those who see only the shadows of what is real think that is the real world; those casting the shadows know what true reality is.
There are so many of these that it is hard to know where to start. Two examples:
- The idea that the world is simply our perception of a true or purer reality that exists outside of our perception. This is an idea put forth by Plato -- his idea of the forms.
- The Aristotelian ideal of the "golden mean." This is the idea that all things can be good or bad. They are good if done in moderation, but bad if they are done too much or too little.