The legacy of ancient Greece is hard to deny. Perhaps the most noticeable remnants are the magnificent ruins of their architecture, like the Parthenon temple, and the famous histories of the cities of Athens and Sparta. The epic stories of Greek myth are also still found in art and literature today. However, there are many other ways in which the achievements of the ancient Greeks continue to play important roles in our present society. In countless ways, their work served as the foundation for the way we communicate, think and learn about the world, and approach health and medicine.
The search for knowledge was extremely important to the ancient Greeks. They called this pursuit Philosophia, or the love of wisdom. The famous philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle developed specific methods to examine the nature of reality, the world around them, and the workings of their own minds. They also analyzed the mythologies that played an essential part in ancient Greek culture.
Today, we still rely on philosophical theories to examine and share ideas, messages, and lessons. The Socratic Method is one important tool the ancient Greeks used to understand the world. This is where a teacher asks a student a series of deep questions, encouraging the student to examine where their ideas came from, and what their underlying assumptions about the topic might be.
Today, many educational institutions from grade school to post-graduate programs use the Socratic Method. Socratic questioning is also common in psychotherapies like cognitive therapies. Doctors ask patients questions, prompting them to look within themselves to find the root of the challenges they are facing.
The Scientific Method
The Socratic method was just one tool the ancient Greeks relied on. They also developed systematic ways of observing the physical world around them, which eventually became the scientific method, relied on by researchers all over the world. These ideas were very different from the religion-based explanations relied upon at the time.
Some of the foundations of the scientific method that the ancient Greeks promoted first were observations, maps, models, and inductive reasoning. Thanks to Aristotle, they began to divide their studies into different disciplines like physics, zoology, biology, and logic. Later, a discipline developed to study geometry and geometric theories. The Pythagorean theorem is the most famous of these and is still taught in higher-level math classes.
In some cases, the scientific and technological achievements of the ancient Greeks were surprisingly modern. Remarkable examples include the 2,000-year-old analog computer device, alarm clocks, and even central heating.
Medicine And Medical Ethics
The ancient Greek’s fascination with the biology of living things included the study of human health and medicine. The most famous of the ancient Greek physicians is Hippocrates, often called “the father of modern medicine.” His work and writings approached diseases in a systematic and empirical way, trying to link cause and effect. This was very different from the religious approaches that were common at the time, which laid matters of health in the domain of the gods and other mythological entities.
Hippocrates wrote often about ethical concerns faced by physicians. The Hippocratic Oath is a famous writing named after him and was the first official statement on medical ethics in the Western world. It outlined the proper behavior, responsibilities, and duties physicians should follow. Medical students today still swear oaths of this kind, with the majority still including four concepts from the original, such as patient confidentiality, not harming the patient in any way, respecting teachers, and acting in accordance with the integrity of the profession.
The First True Alphabet
Perhaps none of these advancements would have survived as well as they did without the most important one–a written alphabet. The ancient Greeks developed the first “true” alphabet, in that theirs was the first to include letters for vowel sounds, as well as consonants. Vowels were not written down in previous alphabets like cuneiform or Egyptian hieroglyphs. Having a full alphabet allowed them to better communicate, share, and preserve their ideas in writing.
The Greeks had adopted the Phoenician alphabet through Phoenician traders and colonizers which was simple to learn and used to write down many languages. The Greeks took the letters of the Phoenician alphabet they didn’t need (because they were for sounds not used in Greek) and instead used them to represent vowel sounds.
Greek colonists brought a form of the earliest Greek alphabet to Europe where they adapted it to meet the needs of the people. The Roman Empire used one of these adaptations for the Latin alphabet, spreading it far and wide. The Latin alphabet is still used to write in English and many other modern languages.
The greatest achievements of Ancient Greece are fundamentally important to the foundation of our society. These are just a few of them, and barely scratch the surface of this culture’s lasting legacy. There is always more to learn.