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Hellenism: Who Cares?

Hellenism: Who Cares?

In many ways America is the cultural by-product of ancient Greece.


We ourselves, whether we like it or not, are the heirs of the Greeks and the Romans. In a thousand different ways, they are permanently and indestructibly woven into the fabric of our own existence. (“The Founders of the Western World,” by Michael Grant)

Hellenism, the culture that blossomed in Athens, is the primary source of western civilization. In many ways America is the cultural by-product of ancient Greece. Before the Greeks, everyone who lived in Europe was unlettered, uncultured and somewhat barbaric. It was the Greeks (followed by the Romans), who brought philosophy, the study of history, athletic competition, sophisticated literature, poetry, theater, architecture, urban planning and the concept of democracy to the modern world.

Historians insist that there is almost nothing in our society that doesn't have its roots in ancient Greece. Consider the United States Capitol building in Washington DC:

• the structural design is Greek architecture

• the form of government it houses was born in Greece

• the logic, philosophy and rhetoric that animate its debates originated in Greece

Cultural Domination

If you’re traveling somewhere in the world and you want to know if American culture has reached that place, don't look for an American flag. Look instead for McDonalds "Golden Arches."

Imagine: There are places in the world today where Levi jeans sell on the black market for 200 dollars. Croatia is starting to produce basketball players talented enough to be NBA All-Stars. And somewhere behind the Great Wall of China, countless teenagers are lining up for pirated CDs of rap music.

The Greeks would have been awfully jealous because this is exactly what they were trying to do with their culture. They wanted their philosophy, entertainment, arts, literature, theater and athletic games to become the defining elements for peoples’ lives everywhere.

The Greeks were different from other empires. They didn't want your land, your resources or your riches. They wanted your mind.

And the Jews weren’t willing to give that up!

Adapted from "Chanukah - Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul"

October 29, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Anonymous, November 22, 2002 12:00 AM

Capitolium: Not the Edifice of Freedom

Kudos, an observation, and a comment:

The Romans, not the Greeks, invented the arch and then the dome - a circular series of arches - adapting it to and capping a large, cavernous building or "capitolium," from both whose design and which word comes our own US Capitol.

And yet, the Capitolium in Rome's Forum housed its Pantheon, a reflection of its limited, pagan vision of the font and meaning of all the cosmos. It was Israel, however - Rome's spiritual and military nemesis, until 70 BCE, when it sacked Jerusalem, having had enough rebellion and humiliation at the hands of Judean zealots - whose belief in The Living God I feel conducted the more essential and distinguishing elements of Western Civilization - its dedication to liberty, responsibilty and accountability, and perseverence, beyond all measured and discouraging obstacles throughout history.

Israel thus remains the human heart's and our own civilization's strongest and, in a way, most legal internal edifice: the perpetual dedication to the love and honoring of all human life - truly the greatest and most sublime universal endeavor the world has ever seen and known. This view and practice, I hold, is perhaps prior and basic to any validity and vitality in our civilization's Greco-Roman institutions.

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