Five Things That Ancient Greece Has Contributed to Modern Culture
25 JUN 2018
Ancient Greece is not just ancient history. The legacy of this classical culture has had a significant influence on culture today, from athletic spectacles such as the Olympics to the storytelling structure of Hollywood films. Even if you have never read a single scroll by Plato or Aristotle, you have most likely encountered one of the many ways that ancient Greece remains a presence in contemporary life.
1 Olympics and International Sports
Every four years in ancient Greece, rival city-states entered into a formal armistice, setting aside political intrigue, legal disputes and weapons of war to send their best athletes to the Olympic Games. Although the original tradition of the Olympics died out in the 5th century A.D., the ideal of a sports competition that would bring nations together inspired the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896.
The pagan religion of the ancient Greeks may no longer be the established faith of the Aegean peninsula, but references to the legends of its gods and heroes continue to pervade our own culture. Common expressions such as "Pandora's box," "harpy" and "Herculean" are among the many modern-day references to ancient Greek mythology. Its influence can also be detected in a more oblique way; for instance, a number of commentators have observed that modern comic book superheroes bear the stamp of Greek myth.
3 Dramatic Structure
In his "Poetics," the 4th-century B.C. philosopher Aristotle observed that plays in the genre of tragedy tended to follow a recurring pattern: the story has a beginning, middle and end, with more complex plots involving some form of reversal, crisis and resolution. Aristotle's breakdown of ancient Greek tragedy has provided a ready-made template for contemporary screenwriters, not to mention screenwriting instructors.
The hallmark of ancient Greek fashion was elaborate draping, and images of Greek styles abound in statuary and images painted on painted on pottery. As the "Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion" notes, revolutionary Parisian fashion designers such as Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet pioneered contemporary style with neoclassical creations, some of which even were given Greek names. Designers continue to draw inspiration from ancient Greek clothing even today, most notably in the popular style known as the goddess gown.
Of all of the contributions of ancient Greece to modern culture, arguably the greatest is democracy, which is itself a Greek word literally meaning "people power." The democratic tradition in city-states such as Athens embodied the ideals of legal equality, personal freedom and governance by the people. These principles have been influential around the globe, shaping political institutions, revolutionary movements and, as Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed regarding the U.S., even the spirit of society itself.
- 1 The Ancient Olympics; Nigel Spivey
- 2 The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, Volume 1; Michael Gagarin, ed.
- 3 Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema; Martin M. Winkler, ed.
- 4 Superheroes and Greek tragedy: Comparing Cultural Icons; Sally MacEwen
- 5 The Internet Classics Archive: Poetics by Aristotle
- 6 Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting; Syd Field
- 7 Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece; Kurt A. Raaflaub et al., eds.
- 8 American Studies at the University of Virginia: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America