Athens is one of the most popular cities of ancient Greece. It was a very significant city for out of its four walls came out philosophies, culture and political concepts that are still used and copied today. Like any other ancient civilization, Athens went through stages of development until it reached its Golden Age around the fifth century (500-400 B. C. ). At this time Athenian democratic philosophical concept reaches its height and arts and literature (that are admired today) flourished.
Athens is the first place in history where a democratic form of leadership was exercised. A government was established in which free citizens ruled themselves. Democracy comes from a Greek word meaning “ rule by the people”(Perry 70). Democracy attained its full expression under the wise leadership of Pericles, an Athenian statesman who ruled Athens from 460- 429 B. C. After Pericles rebuilt the city of Athens from the onslaught of the Persians, he then encouraged his citizens to freely participate in its governance (Hooker 1999).
He remarkably stated that “ we do not say that a man who takes no interest in government is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all”. To encourage active participation in government, Pericles opened government jobs for all classes of people, rich or poor, and paid them wages. He allowed the freedom of speech and thought. Citizens could openly criticize their leading generals and statesmen without fear of being punished. In the Assembly Area, Athenian citizens had the equal opportunity to voice out their opinions.
No wonder Plato said, “ Athens was full of liberty and free speech”(Perry 73-74). In the light of history, this state of affairs in Athens is very remarkable for in other civilization at that time, particularly in Europe and Egypt, the rulers or noble families do not encourage free speech but punished those who have the guts to challenge their authority or “divine” right to rule. It never entered their minds that they should share their political power with the rest of the masses. For them, the role of their subjects was to provide them food and labor (Donadoni 1).
In many cases they used their subjects as pawns to fight their enemies and invade other territories like in Ethiopia (Lipsky 238). Because of their small size, roughly around 35,000 male citizens (only males were counted and recorded), the citizens ruled themselves directly (Perry 69). There was no need for any representative, but instead forty times a year all the citizens meet in the Assembly to debate, vote and made laws . All of them decided whether they should sign a treaty, build a building or make peace with other cities (Hooker 1999). Aside from that, the Athenians do not have professional government officials, judges or soldiers.
They were more than enough to fulfill the duties of the government. What they did was they select a government official by lot like picking his name among others from a hat. The chosen official will then perform his assigned duties for one year and after that he will not be allowed to take the same position again, but he can take on another government position. In this way, most, if not all, male citizens of Athens were given the chance to lead in their respective communities. For an Athenian mind, those who did not serve their community were considered useless citizens.
And when necessary, the Athenians served in the army or the navy. For the most part, however, the most active politicians and military leaders came from the noble families for they have the time and education to do so (Perry 74). To be an efficient leader and a useful citizen, education was widely promoted in Athens. Athenian boys and young men were enrolled in private schools, or were schooled at home by tutors. They studied many areas of discipline like reading, arithmetic, writing, public speaking, geometry, astronomy and poetry. Singing, dancing and playing the lyre was also part of their curriculum.
They were also encouraged to discuss their ideas about life, politics, and right and wrong. At eighteen, young Athenian men began two years of military training and service, and then they become citizens and took part in politics (Perry 75). This is very much way different from Egypt at that time, where the priest and other nobles hide what they knew about astronomy or science from the rest of the masses but instead used their knowledge to fool the citizens into believing they possessed certain powers because they were able to predict the cycle of the seasons.
Education in Egypt was only for the rich and the nobles, the rest of the citizens were kept in illiteracy in order to be abused and taken advantage of (Perry 49). Aside from education, the Greeks also developed their physical strength. They were encouraged to engage in sports like running, wrestling and gymnastics. Male strength was celebrated at the national games at Olympia, from which the Olympic games of today is derived (Famighetti 1995). Because of their extensive education, the Athenians at this time developed their artistic and literary skills. They developed their poetry into drama.
Their drama was based on old stories of gods and heroes. Playwrights used these stories to depict the way of life of the Greeks and explore human problems. Most of the plays that they wrote were called tragedies and comedies. The theme of their drama focused more on fate and destiny. The dramas were performed in outdoors, in large theaters that can accommodate as many as 20,000 people. Because the performances lasted from sunrise to sunset opening day was a public holiday. Everybody was encouraged to attend and watch the performances, the poor were given money to buy seats, and the prisoners were released from jail to watch the dramas.
The influence of Greek drama today can be seen as when modern playwrights and theater designers modeled their ideas from the oldest drama of all—the Greek Theater. As in modern theater, audiences in ancient Greece sat in a half-circle around a circular area where the actors, dancers and musicians performed. Also, modern drama today employed the use of masks or costumes similar to ancient Greece where the actors wore masks depicting different characters or emotions (like good or evil, happy or grief-stricken, male or female) and in their portrayal of God’s and goddesses they wore thick soled boots and padded costumes (Perry 74-75).
With regards to arts and architectures, the Greeks were very particular with excellence. They strived to represent beauty and artistry in their building and sculpture. In fact, Greek art and architecture were considered as models of art for today. Greek painters and sculptors showed human beings as ideally beautiful (Mitchell 994). Statues of Athletes had well-developed and well-proportioned bodies, while faces of men and women were shown with perfect features. They erected statues of their gods and goddesses, and displayed them as epitomes of beauty.
The Greeks were able to make beautiful works of architecture by applying mathematical laws of proportion. Temples and theater were constructed with balance and harmony (Perry 86). An example of a building made with complete harmony is the group of pillared temples on the Acropolis, a hill in the center of Athens. The largest of them is the famous Parthenon, the temple of Athena, patron goddess of Athens. It took fifteen years to build Parthenon. Though it was simple, it was perfectly proportioned, and seemed to have grown out of the rocky hillside (“Parthenon” 1997).
Perhaps, the greatest legacy that Athens had given to modern world with regards to architectural art is that “ beauty of style…and grace and good rhythm depends on simplicity”. Simple, but beautiful, balanced and graceful are characteristics of ancient Greek art (Perry 86). At this time also, the great and influential thinkers in the history of man lived, Socrates and Plato. The promotion of education and learning as well as the encouragement of free speech and though served as an ideal ground for these two men to explore scientific and philosophical ideas.
Socrates emphasizes careful thinking and questioning while Plato questions ideas about government. According to Socrates, an individual should rely on reason and not on emotions, to govern his or her behavior. He encouraged the Athenians to develop critical thinking in their daily lives for according to him “ an unexamined life is not worth living”. However, Socrates insistence on critical thinking and his criticisms of democracy appeared to have threatened the city’s tradition. He was accused of corrupting the youth so that he was sentenced to die.
To carry out the death sentence, Socrates calmly drank the poison and talk with his students until it took effect (Perry 88). Plato was a student of Socrates. Unlike his teacher who stressed on the individual, Plato was more concerned in society as a whole (Famighetti 1995). He said that laws must serve the best interest of everyone, not just the strongest or the richest people. Plato however, opposed democracy for he felt that the average Athenian citizen cannot be trusted with good leadership. He preferred a Republican state of government where the leaders are trained philosophers.
He further declared that the “philosopher kings” would not be interested in money but spend their years getting education and experience (Perry 88). Although Athenian democracy and culture was a remarkable advance, it had limitations. For one, only adult male, about ten percent of the population, was considered full citizens. Greek women did not have the same rights as men. Education for women was only for training in household chores. They were not allowed to hold public office or compete in sports (Crofton 246).
The reason was because they agreed in what Aristotle had said that “ the male is by nature superior, and female inferior, and…the one rules and the other ruled”. Second, they do not allow slaves to become citizens of Greece. For them, like the rest of the ancient world, slavery was an accepted way of life (Perry 75).
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