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During the Greek Golden Age, art and philosophy expressed

hellenic “weltanschauung”, their unique outlook on the world and

way of life. Through the works of artists, playwrights, and

philosophers, one can see both sides of the conflicted systems of

the world, such as; good vs. evil, order vs. chaos, stability vs.

flux, relativism vs. absolutism and balance and harmony.

The Greeks were materialists. They adopted the philosophical

doctrine which says that physical matter is the only reality in the

universe; everything else, including thought, feeling, mind and

will can be explained in terms of physical laws. Their materialism

was expressed in an excessive regard for worldly, beautiful

material things and concerns. They used their art to show the

glories of humanity and man. The sculptors of the Golden Age aimed

to create graceful, strong and perfectly formed figures. Their art

showed natural positions and thoughtful expressions rather than

abstract art forms. Their standards of order and balance became

standards for classical art in western civilization.

The Greeks were proud of their temples and other architecture,

made to honor the gods and beautify the polis (city-state). Their

famous architectural styles were the heavy Doric columns and the

slender scrolled Ionian columns. The Parthenon, the Greek temple

for the goddess Athena, is a impeccable example of symmetry and

proportion. The sides of the Parthenon give an optical illusion of

perfect balance on all sides. Their desire for balance in art and

architecture represents the balance of the world; order and

moderation are expressed in the simplicity of lines and shapes.

The resulting overall structure works together to achieve harmony.

In ancient Greece, public drama was more than entertainment.

It was a form of public education. It dealt with issues of

importance to the people, such as; the authority of the leaders,

the power of the people, questions of justice, morality, wars,

peace, the duties of the gods, family life and city living.

Aeschylus wrote about the furies and how they punished man for

wrongdoings. This shows that he believed that chaos would be

punished because order (and law) is the ideal state.

Sophocles is best known for his plays of Oedipus. Those plays

dealt with family and civic loyalty. The Greeks emphasized,

particularly in their plays, the importance of loyalty as a goal to

strive for.

We learn a lot about Greek views through their philosophy,

which literally means the love of knowledge. The Greeks educated

through a series of questions and answers, in order to better teach

about life and the universe.

The first philosopher was Thales. He believed in absolutism

and eternal matter. He said that water was the original matter and

that without it, there would be no life.

Parmenides stated that stability and permanence were the

underlying conditions of the universe. He believed that change is

only an illusion and that one’s senses can only grasp superficial

realities of change.

Heroditus argued with Parmenides saying that change was the

basic condition of reality. He further claimed that all permanence

was false. Thus he saw things as naturally being in flux rather

than a stable state.

Democritus argued with both Parmenides and Heroditus. He

insisted that there is nothing spiritual and that only matter

existed. He then went on to say that everything is made of little

invisible particles, hooked up in different arrangements. He was

an atomist.

The Greek philosophers went on to question the nature of being

and the meaning of life. Pythagoras was the first metaphysicist,

one who studies beyond physical existence. He believed in a

separation between spirit and body, an opposition between good and

evil and between discord and harmony.

In the 5th century, the Greeks learned from Sophists, who

believed that the views of society are standards and the sole

measurement of good, truth, justice and beauty. Protagoras was a

sophist. He said that, “man is the measure of all things.” He

believed in a constant flux, and that nothing is absolutely right

or wrong, but subject to change. His view is much like that held

by Parmenides.

The philosophers then asked a question such as; what would

happen if things that were wrong were seen by society as

acceptable? What, for example, if society condoned murder?

Socrates was one who argued this point of view. He stressed truth

as absolute, not changeable depending of the thinking of society as

a given time. He believed in set standards of ethics. He said

that right and wrong can be figured out on an absolute level. If

one understands the truths, he can live a good life, without evil.

Plato agreed with Socrates. He, too, said that morals,

ethics, as well as matter, were absolute. He stated two levels of

existence; the physical world of “shadows” and the real world of

“ideas”. Plato wanted a philosopher-king who would stress harmony

and efficiency, as Plato did.

Another philosopher, Aristotle, believed in a world of

moderation and balance. He disagreed with Plato’s two levels of

existence. Instead, Aristotle said that all functions of the soul

die with the body and that there is no afterlife. Aristotle also

said that truth followed logically from other truths. One must

reason, step by step, before reaching conclusions.

Greek thinkers assumed that the universe was put together in

an orderly way. They insisted that people could understand their

laws, merely, through the process of reason.

There were many conflicting ideas among the elite of ancient

Greece, of what the “Greek outlook” is. Our western society has

learned a lot from the Greeks. We inherited their art and love of

symmetry, their literature and understanding of man, their

philosophies which stimulate our thinking, causing us to ask

questions about our existence. As modern and knowledgeable as we

are today, we would not be nearly as sophisticated if not for our

ancestors the great thinkers of Greece in ancient times.


Jantzen, Steven L., Krieger, Larry S., Neill, Kenneth. World

History, D.C. Health & Company: Massachusetts, 1988.

The American Heritage Dictionary, Dell Publishing Co. Inc.,

New York, 1986.

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