The legacy of ancient Greece is hard to deny. Perhaps the most remarkable remains are the magnificent ruins of their architecture, such as the Parthenon temple, and the famous stories of the cities of Athens and Sparta. The epic stories of Greek myth are also found in art and literature today. However, there are many other ways in which the achievements of the ancient Greeks continue to play an important role in our society today. In countless ways, their work has served as the foundation for how we communicate, think and learn about the world, and approach health and medicine.
The pursuit of knowledge was extremely important to the ancient Greeks. They called this pursuit Philosophia, or the love of wisdom. The famous philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle developed specific methods to examine the nature of reality, the world around them and the workings of their own minds. They also analyzed the mythologies that played a vital role in ancient Greek culture.
Today, we still draw on philosophical theories to examine and share insights, messages, and lessons. The Socratic method is an important tool that the ancient Greeks used to understand the world. This is where a teacher asks a student a series of probing questions, encouraging them to consider where their ideas come from and what their underlying assumptions on the subject might be.
Today, many educational institutions, from elementary school to postgraduate programs, use the Socratic method. Socratic questioning is also common in psychotherapies such as cognitive therapies. Doctors ask patients questions, prompting them to look within to find the root of the challenges they face.
The scientific method
The Socratic method was just one of the tools the ancient Greeks relied on. They also developed systematic methods of observing the physical world around them, which eventually became the scientific method that researchers around the world rely on. These ideas were very different from the religion-based explanations relied on at the time.
Some of the foundations of the scientific method that the ancient Greeks first promoted were observations, maps, models, and inductive reasoning. Thanks to Aristotle, they started dividing their studies into different disciplines like physics, zoology, biology and logic. Later, a discipline developed to study geometry and geometric theories. The Pythagorean Theorem is the most famous of these and is still taught in higher level math classes.
In some cases, the scientific and technological achievements of the ancient Greeks were surprisingly modern. Notable examples include the 2,000 year old analog computing device, alarm clocks and even central heating.
Medicine and medical ethics
Ancient Greece’s fascination with the biology of living things included the study of human health and medicine. The most famous of the ancient Greek doctors is Hippocrates, often called “the father of modern medicine”. His work and writings approached diseases in a systematic and empirical way, trying to connect cause and effect. This was very different from the religious approaches that were common at the time, which placed health issues in the realm of gods and other mythological entities.
Hippocrates often wrote about the ethical concerns facing physicians. The Hippocratic Oath is a famous writing that bears his name and was the first official statement on medical ethics in the western world. It outlined the proper behavior, responsibilities and duties that physicians should follow. Today, medical students still take such oaths, with the majority still including four concepts from the original, such as patient confidentiality, not harming the patient in any way, respecting teachers, and act in accordance with the integrity of the profession.
The first true alphabet
Perhaps none of these advancements would have survived so well without the most important – a written alphabet. The ancient Greeks developed the first “true” alphabet, in that theirs was the first to include letters for vowels, as well as consonants. Vowels were not written in previous alphabets like cuneiform or Egyptian hieroglyphs. Having a complete alphabet allowed them to better communicate, share and retain their ideas in writing.
The Greeks had adopted the Phoenician alphabet through Phoenician traders and colonizers, which was simple to learn and used to write many languages. The Greeks took letters from the Phoenician alphabet that they didn’t need (because they were for sounds not used in Greek) and instead used them to represent vowel sounds.
Greek colonists brought a form of the early Greek alphabet to Europe where they adapted it to meet the needs of the people. The Roman Empire used one of these adaptations for the Latin alphabet, spreading it far and wide. The Latin alphabet is still used to write in English and many other modern languages.
The greatest achievements of ancient Greece are of fundamental importance for the foundation of our society. These are just a few of them, and barely scratch the surface of the lasting legacy of this culture. There is always more to learn.