Modern Greek Cultural Heritage

697 words | 3 page(s)

The impact of Greece on the shape and direction of the entirety of human civilization is an indisputable fact. Some of you may be familiar with the popular film My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), which features the memoirs of a first generation Greek American woman. Her father in the film, despite migrating to the United States, remains a staunch Greek patriot: he has a persistent habit of tracing everything, from politics to household objects, back to their origin in Greek and Ancient Greek culture. Despite the hyperbole of the character, there is a kernel of truth in his remarks: modern Greek Cultural Heritage is something that transcends the boundaries of Greece, and impacts our lives in an astoundingly diverse manner.

If we speak of modern Greek cultural heritage, we are essentially speaking of an intersection of the past and the present. The concept of a Modern Greek cultural heritage is thus simultaneously a reference to Ancient Greece. Tracing these historical connections, and how they manifest themselves in our daily lives is an astonishing exercise. For example, in the Western world, the apex of any political system is said to be democracy. Democracy, of course, has its origins in Ancient Greece, and more particularly Athens, at that time a city-state. Athens was namely the first political entity to experiment with a democratic form of government, allowing the general populace to have a profound voice in the determining of their political futures. (Thorley, 2004, 61) This model did not die in Athens, but extends now to the present era, praised as the most just and fair form of political rulership. Whether one believes that the democracies we have today are true democracies is another question, but the original idea is Greek and demonstrates the tie between the ancient and the modern Greek cultural heritage.

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From yet another perspective, our world has continually moved towards a scientific way of understanding reality. Science is based in questioning prejudices, in testing hypotheses, and seeking the truth. Science does not have time for superstition or dogma, it does not merely accept any claim made by anybody: it seeks to rigorously test a claim so as to assess its truth or falsehood. It is precisely such an exercise that originates in Ancient Greece, with the birth of philosophy. The philosopher Socrates, with his style of critical questioning of premises that are assumed to be true, established the beginnings of an intellectual and inquisitive culture, whose traces we find in our scientific practices today. Socrates challenged the mythological Gods, he constantly sought to problematize assumptions, and this is epitomized in his remark: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” (Johnson, 2011, 74) This is a profoundly scientific way of looking at the world, since it does not merely accept some pre-given truth, but attempts to critically evaluate its legitimacy. In this sense, Ancient Greece founds the dominant form of human knowledge today, science, through its invention of philosophy.

Greece, although a deeply intellectual culture, also possessed a vivid artistic eye, not merely focused on the mental, but also on the physical. When one travels to Greece today, to Athens, one will see the long line of tourists lining up to see the crucial moments, such as the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus, which remain standing as testimonies to the continual influence of Greece. These are not only historical relics, but invented an entire style of art and architecture, which can be found, for example, in the pillars before the White House in Washington, D.C.

And this is just a small list of how Ancient Greek culture and Modern Greek cultural heritage manifests itself in this world. We could continue to the “birth of tragedy” and other forms of art, to the first historians Thucydides and Herodotus, who essentially invented the discipline of history. We could look at our language and our scientific vocabulary to see how many of the terms we use are from Greece. We could even look at the sacred texts of Christian culture, the New Testament, and see that they are written in the Greek language. The wide-ranging almost mind boggling impact of Greek cultural heritage is not an exaggeration, but a profound truth.

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