Ancient History/Greece/Classical Greece

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Classical Greece 750 - 336 BCE

This original Greek marble statue represents Asclepius, the son of Apollo. Both were regarded as healing gods by the Ancient Greeks. The staff and snake on this statue is still used today as a symbol to represent healing most notably on ambulances.

The glory of Classical Greece begins in the Athens of Socrates and ends with the self-imposed exile of Aristotle. Socrates was born an Athenian citizen and was sentenced to death by an Athenian court for the crime of sedition. Aristotle was born in Macedonia and left Athens after failing to secure the leadership of Plato's Academy in 348 BCE. These two philosophers bookend a remarkable period of experimentation and innovation throughout Greece and its colonies. Herodotus, a Greek colonist from Halicarnassus, wrote the first objective history in European literature and Pericles, an Athenian statesman and general, initiated a building program in Athens unparalleled in beauty and scope. We can only use our imagination as we look upon the ruins of the Parthenon of Pericles' Athens. Shorn of its metopes and internal decorations and devoid of function it still preserves the majesty of focus and aims. During this period Attic drama became the dominant form of theater throughout the region and the Festival of Dionysus at Athens saw the first productions of plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. This cultural dominance by Athens was matched by Spartan military hegemony both a byproduct of the defeat of Xerxes and his Persian army at the Battle of Platea in 479 BCE by the combined Greek city states. The end of the Persian threat led to increasingly strained relationships between the city states of Athens and Sparta due in part to Athens now safe access to the Aegean where it could dominate trade with its navy and correspondingly increase its regional influence. To Sparta this was an unacceptable proposition and the friction would result in the Peloponnesian War. Sparta would emerge victorious but would not be able to retain its territorial gains since both sides were constrained by internal and external pressures. Sparta attempted to impose upon Athens the client rule of the Oligarchs to which Plato was extended an invitation which he declined. The death sentence of Socrates and his execution in 399 BCE was just one symptom amongst many of the increasing oppression and violence by the government of the Oligarchs. Plato recorded for prosperity the trial and execution of Socrates in the form of a philosophical dialectic called the Apologia. Plato's testament to the death of his teacher and friend was to idealize the philosophical integrity of Socrates. In the Apologia Socrates denies himself the right to flee the injustice for he is an Athenian citizen and subject to the laws of the state. Twenty-four years earlier Aristophanes had lampooned Socrates in his play The Clouds presenting Socrates' entrance upon a deus ex machina and basket. The inference of impiety could not be discarded and the power of Socratic dialogue had been acknowledged. The Thirty Tyrants through a popular revolt were removed and Spartan influence failed as democracy was restored. Athens had stated its wish to return to self-determination.

Ancient Greece: Introduction · 01 · 02 · 03 · 04 · 05