George Pararas-Carayannis

(Excerpts from a series of articles published in the Hellenic Free Press, Chicago, 1959)

Athens of the fifth century B.C. The significance of the Greek achievements lies not so much on what the Ancient Greeks did or how they.did it, as in the motivating factors that led them to the new things and perfected their thought and inventions.

This motivating factor is on one hand attributed to the unexpected victory over the Persians at the beginning of the fifth century and the peace that followed - the latter providing a fair field for intellectual and political progress - and on the other hand the psychology and interdependence of spirit of this particular era.

Athens of the fifth century B.C., as well as the rest of Greece, was Promethean in a sense that it was always striving for excellence. Constant betterment for mankind was seeked by a succession of ingenious inventions, ideas, concepts. Never in history there has been a government, a community, a nation so close to perfection. In the Athenian world a strong sense of individual worth persisted constantly. Thoughts and conducts were governed by human understanding and human experience. The way of thinking was as arrogant and egotistic as it was productive and healthy. The highest value in life for instance was individual distinction and the highest prize, individual glory. Rivalry was accepted as a principle of human existence. All the Greek life, whether it was cultural, political or athletic was organized in the form of competition. The winners did not care for monetary rewards; the real prize was fame and immortality. In this world a youth was brought up with the belief that he was better than everyone else and he had to prove it. Winning individual distinction was considered as the highest service a man could render to the group of.which he was a part.

The narrow and confined boundaries of the city-states helped the ancient Greeks retain their individuality and their views of superiority. But even after the conquests of Alexander the Great enabled Hellenism to take possession of the entire Near and Middle East and reduced the old city states to insignificance, the Greek cultural imperialism in arts and sciences did not crush. The enormously enlarged environment asserted the individual worth even more and made the struggle for recognition greater.

As for the Greek government, there hasn't been a more democratic. In Greece there was no government through representation. Every citizen sat in the assembly and spoke and voted for himself.

But their views on religion, were also revolutionary. They loved their gods and worshipped them with no expectation of being loved or helped by them in connection with their environment They realized that they had to conquer nature and that in this world they were the masters. They had respect for physical phenomena such as gravity or death because they knew they could not alter them. The only thing they could do was try to explain them rationally, and try to accommodate themselves on this earth, making the best of it. They were able to realize that powerful forces do exist and operate beyond the sphere of humanity, and yet hold on to their individual worth, dignity and importance.

Such was the spirit of Ancient Greece. The spirit that enabled Creeks to progress and strive for excellence while pushing back the boundaries of what was possible.


© 2000 George Pararas-Carayannis

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