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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 16 - Glory that was Greece

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • What political and ethical ideas did Greek philosophers develop?
  • What were the goals of Greek architects and artists?
  • What themes did Greek writers and historians explore?

Greek philosophers
  • Greek thinkers challenged the belief that events were caused by the whims of gods. Instead, they used observation and reason to find causes for what happened. The Greeks called these thinkers philosophers, meaning "lovers of wisdom."
  • Greek philosophers explored many subjects, from mathematics and music to logic, or rational thinking. Through reason and observation, they believed, they could discover laws that governed the universe. Much modern science traces its roots to the Greek search for such principles.

Greek philosophers
  • Other Greek philosophers were more interested in ethics and morality. They debated such questions as what was the best kind of government and what standards should rule human behavior. 
  • In Athens, the Sophists questioned accepted ideas. To them, success was more important than moral truth. They developed skills in rhetoric, the art of skillful speaking. Ambitious men could use clever rhetoric to advance their careers. The turmoil of the Peloponnesian War led many young Athenians to follow the Sophists. Older citizens, however, accused the Sophists of undermining traditional values.

Greek philosophers
  • One outspoken critic of the Sophists was Socrates, an Athenian stonemason and philosopher. Most of what we know about Socrates comes from his student Plato. Socrates himself wrote no books. Instead, he lounged around the marketplace, asking his fellow citizens about their beliefs. Using a process we now call the Socratic method, he would pose a series of questions to his students and challenge them to examine the implications of their answers. To Socrates, this patient examination was a way to help others seek truth and self-knowledge. To many Athenians, however, such questioning was a threat to accepted traditions.
  • When he was about 70 years old, Socrates was put on trial. His enemies accused him of corrupting the city's youth and failing to respect the gods. Standing before a jury of 501 citizens, Socrates offered a calm defense. But the jurors condemned him to death. Loyal to the laws of Athens, Socrates accepted the death penalty. He drank a cup of hemlock, a deadly poison.

Greek philosophers

  • The execution of Socrates left Plato with a lifelong distrust of democracy. He fled Athens for 10 years. When he returned, he set up a school called the Academy. There, he taught and wrote about his own ideas. Like Socrates, Plato emphasized the importance of reason. Through rational thought, he argued, people could discover unchanging ethical values, recognize perfect beauty, and learn how best to organize society.
  • In The Republic, Plato described his vision of an ideal state. He rejected Athenian democracy because it had condemned Socrates. Instead, Plato argued that the state should regulate every aspect of its citizens' lives in order to provide for their best interests. He divided his ideal society into three classes: workers to produce the necessities of life, soldiers to defend the state, and philosophers to rule. This elite class of leaders would be specially trained to ensure order and justice. The wisest of them, a philosopher-king, would have the ultimate authority.
  • Plato thought that, in general, men surpassed women in mental and physical tasks, but that some women were superior to some men. Talented women, he said, should be educated to serve the state. The ruling elite, both men and women, would take military training together and raise their children in communal centers for the good of the republic.


Greek philosophers
  • Plato's most famous student, Aristotle, developed his own ideas about government. He analyzed all forms of government, from monarchy to democracy, and found good and bad examples of each. Like Plato, he was suspicious of democracy, which he thought could lead to mob rule. In the end, he favored rule by a single strong and virtuous leader. 
  • Aristotle also addressed the question of how people ought to live. In his view, good conduct meant pursuing the "golden mean," a moderate course between extremes. He promoted reason as the guiding force for learning. 
  • Aristotle set up a school, the Lyceum, for the study of all branches of knowledge. He left writings on politics, ethics, logic, biology, literature, and many other subjects. When the first European universities evolved some 1,500 years later, their courses were largely based on the works of Aristotle.

Architecture and art
  • Greek architects sought to convey a sense of perfect balance to reflect the harmony and order of the universe. The most famous example of Greek architecture is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The basic plan of the Parthenon is a simple rectangle, with tall columns supporting a gently sloping roof. The delicate curves add dignity and grace.
  • Greek architecture has been widely admired for centuries. Today, you can see many public buildings that have adopted various kinds of Greek columns

Architecture and art
  • Early Greek sculptors carved figures in rigid poses, perhaps imitating Egyptian styles. By 450 b.c., Greek sculptors had developed a new style that emphasized natural poses. While their work was lifelike, it was also idealistic. That is, sculptors carved gods, goddesses, athletes, and famous men in a way that showed individuals in their most perfect, graceful form.
  • The only Greek paintings to survive are on vases and other pottery. They offer intriguing views of Greek life. Women carry water from wells, warriors race into battle, and athletes compete in javelin contests. Each scene is designed to fit the shape of the pottery

Poetry and Drama
  • Perhaps the most important Greek contribution to literature was in the field of drama. The first Greek plays evolved out of religious festivals, especially those held in Athens to honor Dionysus, god of fertility and wine. Plays were performed in large outdoor theaters with little or no scenery. Actors wore elaborate costumes and stylized masks. A chorus sang or chanted comments on the action. 
  • Greek dramas were often based on popular myths and legends. Through these familiar stories, playwrights discussed moral and social issues or explored the relationship between people and the gods.

Poetry and Drama
  • The greatest Athenian playwrights were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. All three wrote tragedies, plays that told stories of human suffering that usually ended in disaster. The purpose of tragedy, the Greeks felt, was to stir emotions of pity and fear. In The Oresteia, for example, Aeschylus showed a powerful family torn apart by betrayal, murder, and revenge. Audiences saw how pride could cause horrifying misfortune and how the gods could bring down even the greatest heroes .
  • Like Sophocles, Euripides survived the horrors of the Peloponnesian War. That experience probably led him to question accepted ideas. His plays suggested that people, not the gods, were the cause of human misfortune. In The Trojan Women, he stripped war of its glamour by showing the suffering of women who were victims of the war.

    Poetry and Drama

  • Some Greek playwrights wrote comedies, humorous plays that mocked people or customs. Almost all surviving Greek comedies were written by Aristophanes. In Lysistrata, he shows the women of Athens banding together to force their husbands to end a war against Sparta. Through ridicule, comic playwrights sharply criticized society, much as political cartoonists do today.

 Writing of History
  • The Greeks applied observation, reason, and logic to the study of history. Herodotus is often called the "Father of History" in the western world because he went beyond listing names of rulers or retelling ancient legends. Before writing The Persian Wars, Herodotus visited many lands, collecting information from people who remembered the events he chronicled. 
  • Herodotus cast a critical eye on his sources, noting bias and conflicting accounts. Yet, his writings reflected his own view that the war was a clear moral victory of Greek love of freedom over Persian tyranny. He also invented conversations and speeches for historical figures. 
  • Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War, a much less happy subject for the Greeks. He had lived through the war and vividly described its savagery and its corrupting influence on all those involved. Although he was an Athenian, he tried to be fair to both sides. 
  • Both writers set standards for future historians. Herodotus stressed the importance of research. Thucydides showed the need to avoid bias.