What are the unique characteristics of the Greek culture?
The history of Ancient Greece spanned a significant period of time - from the fall of the Mycenaean dynasty around 1250 BCE to the eventual conquest of Greece by Macedonia in 338 BCE. In this time, the Greeks laid the foundations of political, cultural, and philosophical thinking that would have resonance down to the modern period. The eternal Greek quest for philosophical truth, Aristotles invention of inductive reasoning, the Athenians experimentation with a radically new political system - democracy - and more all provided the bedrock upon which many institutions of later civilizations were built.
One of the most impressive and innovative elements of Ancient Greece's culture was the attempt by the city-state of Athens to model their government upon the principles of democracy. Aristotle very simply defined democracy as the "rule of the many," which in practice meant that every voting-age male citizen of the polis had the right to cast their vote at the "assembly" - called the ekklesia in Greek. Citizens also had the right to "ostracize" any person that they deemed a threat to the integrity of the polis. Although this process represented the principles of popular consent and public decision-making, it could often backfire. This was most obvious in the ostracism of Aristides - known as "The Just," on unreasonable grounds.
Ancient Greek culture is also famous for its extraordinary literature. Some of the earliest and most famous epic poems ever written include the works of Homer, who wrote both the Odyssey and the Iliad. Both of these magnificent works provide a picture of what the Greek world may have looked like just as the Greeks were exiting the Dark Ages and entering the Archaic period. In the Iliad, for example, Homer details the fateful battle between Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and Priam, the ruler of the fabled city of Troy. Among other things, the reader is introduced to the Greek concepts of glory and honor, which are exemplified in the many bouts of single combat that take place between the heroes of the epic. Martial prowess and fearlessness were attributes valued above all else, and Homer provides us with a window into the world that would inform the mentalities of Greek kings for centuries to come. Homer's work is considered to be a masterpiece of world literature, and represents just one of the many accomplishments of this truly remarkable civilization.
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