How much do we personally know about Ancient Greece? Most of us can say that we know that the Olympics began there, that Plato wrote about Atlantis, and Homer wrote the Iliad, and Alexander the Great ruled there. Beyond this limited knowledge, what do we know about Ancient Greece?
If we were to step back to the fifth century B.C., what would we see and hear? Perhaps we would hear the distant roar of thousands of men at the Olympic Games cheering on their favorite sprinter. Or we would see a skilled craftsman working on a delicate gold filigree necklace. We would hear children shouting and playing, just as they do today. Perhaps a sister would be showing her sibling a fired black and red pot and they would marvel at the technique used to create it together. In the town center, you might encounter several men arguing over the merits of democracy. What else were you liable to see and hear?
Would you believe that one of the finest masterpieces of ancient art would wear a size sixteen to eighteen dress if she was clothed? (Compare that dress size to a present-day Hollywood starlet who wears a size six.) What if I told you that one of the world’s great conquerors had been bisexual? And did you know that most women in Ancient Greece lived out their lives behind the walls of their homes and rarely set foot outside?
Where did this great civilization on the Aegean Sea come from? It grew out of the Stone Age. The Minoans (dominant in 3000-1400 B.C.) gave rise to the Mycenaean culture (peak of power was about 1400 B.C.). The Mycenaean rulers became rich and powerful off the fertile farmlands and extensive trade routes. They hired highly-skilled craftsmen to display their wealth in exquisite gold and silver jewelry, weaponry and vases. However a series of invasions and civil wars ended this civilization.
The Greeks entered the ‘Dark Age’ and much of this craftsmanship as well as literary skills were lost. The Mycenaean rulers passed into history and became the Greek gods of mythology, noted for their only too human squabbling and favoritism towards particular humans. Zeus, the Indo-European sky-god, had been introduced by Hellenic invaders in 2000 B.C. and became the Ancient Greek’s supreme god. In time, the Olympic Games were dedicated to Zeus.
The Ancient Greeks have left their legacy to the modern Western world not only with the Olympic Games but also (to mention a few areas) in their literature, their art and philosophy. That legacy deserves careful consideration and examination so we might get to know our modern world better.