The Intellectual and Cultural Influence of Ancient Athens

The Theatre of Dionysus - Birthplace of European theatre

Episode 19: Greek Gods, Philosophy and Science

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

The ancient city-state of Athens created one of the richest and most influential cultures in Western history.

They adopted the Phoenician alphabet (adding vowels to it) to create a written Greek language and they adopted papyrus from the Egyptians to preserve their ideas in books.

In addition to geometry, astronomy, philosophy, physics, engineering, drama and medicine, the Athenians introduced the modern concepts of reason and logic. Prominent Greek philosophers included:

  • Thales (born around 600 BC) – asserted the entire physical world could be worked out through reason and mathematics and correctly determined the approximate shape of the earth and its orbit around the sun.
  • Pythagoras (born 570 BC) – led a religious cult that used mathematical proportions to understand musical harmony and the movement of the planets and stars.
  • Democritus (born 460 BC) – theorized everything in the universe is made up of atoms.
  • Hippocrates (born 460 BC) – the first physician to to systematically classify illnesses based on points of similarity and difference.
  • Socrates (born 470 BC) – asserted knowledge can only be obtained through constant questioning.
  • Plato (born 427 BC) – (most famous disciple of Socrates) deduced planets move in a circular pattern around the sun and that day and night result from the Earth spinning on its axis.
  • Aristotle (born 384 BC) – Plato’s most famous pupil, founded the Lyceum and taught Alexander the Great. More focused on data than Plato, he studied and documented the physiology of all animals, and expounded on ethics, virtue and good character.

In this lecture, Benjamin also discussed the Greek gods and their origin myths, as well as the Cult of Dionysus and  efforts by Athenian to channel the Cult’s drunken and lascivious behavior into lavish open air theatrical events. Seating as many as 20,000 people, these events featured plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and other playwrights.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/greek-gods-philosophy-and-science

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