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Western Civilization and the Ancient Greeks

Western civilization owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the ancient Greeks; indeed, it would not be going too far to admit that our culture would not exist as it is today without the contributions of the Hellenic world. Two concepts which were invented by the Greeks and continue to have traction in todayÆs world are hubris and the polis: tragic pride and the community. They are universal notions that are embedded with the truth of the human condition, and are just as important today as they were three thousand years ago.

The concept of Hubris is one of the most common motifs of Greek literature. The term means exaggerated pride or self confidence which often results in retribution by the fates. Or, in other words, tragic pride (AA). The list of Greek mythological characters that were brought down by their hubris is long and distinguished. One typical example is Arachne, an excellent weaver who became so besotted with her own skill that she began claiming that she was more skilful than Athena, the goddess of weaving. Confronted by Athena, Arachne challenged the goddess to a weaving contest. Though ArachneÆs tapestry was flawless, Athena turned her into a spider for her hubris in challenging the gods (AA2). Another classical example of hubris was PhaetonÆs request to Sol to ride the Sun Chariot. The mortal cannot control the fiery steeds and is cast down by ZeusÆ lightning lest he scorch the earth (

The Polis is also a concept that has influenced modern thought. The term means the city-state, or the body of citizens which comprise a state, and includes in its purview the right of citizenship. It is the root word for the word politics. The idea that a city was defined by its collection of citizensùor, as we would call it today in homenage, the body politicùwas a revolutionary one. The polis features prominently throughout Greek mythology. For example, when Epaphos was the ruler of Egypt, he married Neilo...

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Western Civilization and the Ancient Greeks. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 18:12, May 24, 2020, from