Ancient Greece

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The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens in 1850

Ancient Greece (Greek: Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a north-eastern Mediterranean civilisation, existing from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of classical antiquity (c. 600 AD), that comprised a loose collection of culturally and linguistically related city-states and other territories. Most of these regions were officially unified only once, for 13 years, under Alexander the Great's empire from 336 to 323 BC. It was also ruled by the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC until its collapse. In Western history, the era of classical antiquity was immediately followed by the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine period.

Ancient quotes

  • Your ancestors came to Macedonia and the rest of Hellas and did us great harm, though we had done them no prior injury. I have been appointed leader of the Greeks, and wanting to punish the Persians I have come to Asia, which I took from you.
    • Alexander the Great, Alexander's letter to Persian king Darius III of Persia in response to a truce plea, as quoted in Anabasis Alexandri by Arrian; translated as Anabasis of Alexander by P. A. Brunt, for the "Loeb Edition" Book II 14, 4
  • And the hairy he-goat [stands for] the king of Greece; and as for the great horn that was between its eyes, it [stands for] the first king. And that one having been broken, so that there were four that finally stood up instead of it, there are four kingdoms from [his] nation that will stand up, but not with his power.
  • There will yet be three kings standing up for Persia, and the fourth one will amass greater riches than all [others]. And as soon as he has become strong in his riches, he will rouse up everything against the kingdom of Greece.
  • The kingdom of Greece was a terror to the world, but Mattathias the priest, with faith and not with weapons, boldly met the terror and defeated it. 'Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the woman?' (Song, 6. 10). She is no other than Esther, who like the morning star was the light brought to Israel in the dark days of Media. 'Clear as the sun and terrible as an army with banners' (Song, 6. 10): these were no other than Mattathias the High Priest and his sons, who like an army with their banners stood up against the evil power of Greece, from which every power fled as one flees from the strength of the mid-day sun. Their army and their banners were faith in their God; they were stimulated by the words of the prophet (Joel 4. 6-10), 'The children of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians . . . Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning-hooks into spears; let the weak say, I am strong.'
  • So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world, and she has made the name of Hellas distinctive no longer of race but of intellect, and the title of Hellene a badge of education rather than of common descent.
  • O Solon, Solon, Hellenes aei paides este, geron de Hellen ouk estin.
    • Translation: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you.
    • Plato, Timaeus, 22b.
  • The Greeks render more beautiful whatever they obtain from foreigners.
    • Attributed to Plato. As Plato(?) wrote in Epinomis 987 D-E. Quoted from Kazanas, N. (2015). Vedic and IndoEuropean studies. Aditya Prakashan. , chapter Archaic Greece and the Veda
  • I believe that the earth is very large and that we who dwell between the pillars of Hercules and the river Phasis live in a small part of it about the sea, like ants or frogs about a pond, and that many other people live in many other such regions.
    • Socrates, as quoted by Plato, Phaedo, 109a–b
    • Harold North Fowler, ed. Euthyphro; Apology; Crito; Phaedo; Phaedrus, LCL 36 (1914), p. 375

Modern quotes

  • There have been only two great peoples: the Greeks and the Jews. Perhaps the Greeks were even greater than the Jews, but now I can see no sign of that old greatness in the modern Greeks. Maybe, when the present process is finished we too will degenerate, but I see no sign of degeneration at present.
  • Both Greeks and Jews were the only people who were able to leave their homeland or birth city (natio) and maintain the identity through subsequent generations and both did so through the strength of their respective cultures (The phenomenon of empire as reflected in the experience of Carthage and Rome is of a different order. It is noteworthy that their respective Diasporas disappeared when the mother city lost its political control. ) Both people received a boost during the Hellenistic period: The Jews when they fell in love with Greek logic and the Greeks when they adopted Christianity, a variant of the Jewish religion. The national identity that emerged in the ancient times from the mix of language and religion was a unique kind of supranationalism that became a model for new peoples who entered Western civilization in the Medieval and modern periods.
    • Robert Bowman, Ian A. Skoggard, Melvin Ember & Carol R. Ember (2005). Encyclopedia of diasporas: immigrant and refugee cultures around the world. Berlin: Springer. ISBN 0-306-48321-1. 
  • The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece
      Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
    Where grew the arts of war and peace,
      Where Delos rose, and Phœbus sprung!
  • Well, what if I'm wrong, I mean — anybody could be wrong. We could all be wrong about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the pink unicorn and the flying teapot. You happen to have been brought up, I would presume, in a Christian faith. You know what it's like to not believe in a particular faith because you're not a Muslim. You're not a Hindu. Why aren't you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America, not in India. If you had been brought up in India, you'd be a Hindu. If you had been brought up in Denmark in the time of the Vikings, you'd be believing in Wotan and Thor. If you were brought up in classical Greece, you'd be believing in Zeus. If you were brought up in central Africa, you'd be believing in the great Juju up the mountain. There's no particular reason to pick on the Judeo-Christian god, in which by the sheerest accident you happen to have been brought up and ask me the question, "What if I'm wrong?" What if you're wrong about the great Juju at the bottom of the sea?
    • Richard Dawkins, Answering audience questions after a reading of The God Delusion[1], Randolph-Macon Woman's College, (23 October 2006)
    • Posed question: "This is probably going to be the most simplest one for you to answer, but: What if you're wrong?"
  • In antiquity, the power of Greek cities was manifested by their ability to found far—off, independent colonies, where the cities and colonies were connected more by language, culture, and history than by law or a hierarchical relationship. This is what the French geographer Georges Prévélakis calls a “galactic” organization, as opposed to a “dendritic” organization based on the relation between a centre and its periphery. The spread of Roman power—first by the republic, then the empire—over the entire Mediterranean did not cause Hellenism to disappear as a cultural unity. After the empire split in two in 395, Hellenism actually blossomed in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, where it became the principal cultural component, especially in the religious domain: The Great Schism of 1054 divided Roman Catholics from the Greek Orthodox. Even political power became Hellenized. The seizure of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453 ended the Byzantine Empire, but Hellenism survived in the Ottoman Empire. Along with the Jews and the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church was allowed to establish an autonomous religious community, called milliet, that was responsible for the allocation and collection of taxes and for such matters as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. With the development of the Mediterranean trading system in the sixteenth century, Greek communities appeared outside the empire, including western Europe (Livorno and Venice) and Russia. Contact with Enlightenment philosophy and the ideas of 1789 fed the aspiration for a Greek state. This was created in 1830, founded on the ambition of restoring Greater Greece by recovering the Ottoman territories of Asia Minor. That hope collapsed in 1922-23 with the end of the Greco-Turkish war and the territorial agreement between the two countries.
    • William Rodarmor; Stephane Dufoix (2008). Diasporas. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 39. ISBN 0-520-25359-0. 
  • Sport is linked with the technical world because sport itself is a technique. The enormous contrast between the athletes of Greece and those of Rome is well known. For the Greeks, physical exercise was an ethic for developing freely and harmoniously the form and strength of the human body. For the Romans, it was a technique for increasing the legionnaire's efficiency. The Roman conception prevails today.
  • Greek nationalists in the early nineteenth century, and their supporters in Europe, took it for granted that they were freeing the heirs of classical Greek civilization from the Ottoman Empire. Surely history would grant them a second chance. Greek scholars wrote books showing that there was a direct line from the classical world to the modern. (The four centuries of Ottoman rule were largely overlooked.) Foreign scholars who suggested that such a view was too simplistic were pilloried or ignored. Written Greek was modelled on the classical and so generations of schoolchildren struggled with a language that was very different from the one they spoke. It was only in 1976 that the government finally conceded and made modern Greek the official language.
  • The Grecians and Romans were strongly possessed of the spirit of liberty but not the principle, for at the time that they were determined not to be slaves themselves, they employed their power to enslave the rest of mankind.
  • A society in whose culture the Ancient Greeks played such an important part was bound to have a view about the Modern Greeks. The inhabitants of that famous land, whose language was still recognizably the same as that of Demosthenes, could not be regarded as just another remote tribe of natives or savages. Western Europe could not escape being concerned with the nature of the relationship between the Ancient and the Modern Greeks. The question has teased, perplexed, and confused generations of Greeks and Europeans and it still stirs passions to an extent difficult for the rational to condone.
    • William St Clair (1972). That Greece Might Still be Free: The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. Open Book Publishers. pp. 15-16. ISBN 1906924007. 
  • Whether the present inhabitants of Greece are descended from the Ancient Greeks is a profoundly unsatisfactory question. No method of subdividing the question makes much sense. On the one hand, one can attempt to trace the numerous incursions of immigrants to Greece and try to assess the extent to which the ‘blood’ of the Ancients has been diluted by outside races, Romans, barbarians, Franks, Turks, Venetians, Albanians, etc. On the other hand, one can point to the remarkable survival of ideas and customs and, in particular, to the astonishing strength of the linguistic tradition.
    • William St Clair (1972). That Greece Might Still be Free: The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. Open Book Publishers. pp. 15-16. ISBN 1906924007. 
  • The legacy of the Greeks is under assault today thus deserves defence and celebration for the simple reason that much of what we are is the result of that brilliant examination of human life first begun by the Greeks: as Jacob Burckhardt says, "We see with the eyes of the Greeks and use their phrases when we speak." We must listen to the Greeks not because they will give us answers, but because they first identified the questions and problems, and they knew too where the answers must come from: the minds of free human beings who have control over their own lives. And this, finally, is the greatest good we have received from the Greeks: the gift of freedom.

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