Greek and Roman Influences on Modern Society

The Greeks were the first to question the world, and to believe they could understand it. They were the first to study science and philosophy, and carried them quite far. The Romans are credited with much of what we know about law, and even the Constitution was based on their ideas. Democritus is one of the most important Greeks with his Atomic Theory. He believed that all things are made up of atoms and the void. We found that he made some mistakes in his declarations, but his main concept was correct and provides the basis for our atomic findings. This theory is one of the most important in all history.

Pythagoras is another very important Greek, who pioneered mathematics. His most famous theory, and most useful, is the Pythagorean Theorem. It states that in a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. That theory, and many others, are still used today. Another man, Euclid, was very important in today’s mathematics. He compiled the Elements of Geometry, which remained in use in many classrooms until very recently (including Montgomery). Sadly, Pythagoras, and other mathematicians, hit a roadblock which stopped mathematics almost completely until modern times.

Irrational numbers scared them, and they decided that something irrational had no place in the rational world. Of course, today we have overcome those fears, and there are several irrational numbers which are indespensible, like pi. The Greeks also evolved history and drama. Both had been around for a while, but the Greeks brought new ideas to them, and changed them into the form they are today. For many years, men had documented the events of time, but it wasn’t until Herodotus and Thucydides that men tried to make an actual story, from beginning to end, of an event.

Today, many people write stories about ‘what could have appened’ in an event, or predict something that could happen, and what its consequences might be. Greek drama had always been one actor playing a god, and a chorus representing the people, which was probably a bit boring. Aeschylus added a second actor, and did away with the chrous, and Sophocles and Euripedes refined the style, writing about not only gods but everyday human beings. Today, there are many different forms of entertainment.

Apart from the plays on stage, we have television and movies. The Greeks wrote tragedies with gods, and today we have more action-packed movies and TV hows. The Greeks were the most original thinkers of the Classical period, but not necessarily the most important. The Greeks invented science and philosophy, and advanced them both greatly, and they refined history and drama. The Romans, however, didn’t do anything very new in any of those fields. Their biggest advances were in law. The Roman government was first a republic, the Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR), or the Senate and the People of Rome. At first the ‘people’ were only some of the wealthiest men in Rome, but over time they included tribunes, which represented the common people.

This worked well for a while, but as the Romans began to find less and less territory to conquer, they started having internal conflicts. They asked themselves, how could they have peace and freedom? For freedom, they would have to sacrifice peace because free men would eventually disagree on things, and fight. On the other hand, to have peace the freedom would be lost, because there would have to be a higher power to control the people. Their was one solution, however. Cicero, a prominent politician, said that the only way to have peace and freedom together was a overnment where each man controlled himself, but he always did what was right. In effect, a government of laws.

He proposed a constitution that, if followed by all men, would give total freedom and peace. Our Constitution is only slightly modified, with an executive branch to control the police and military forces. The Greeks also had another great idea for law. They had the Twelve Tables, which were erected in the forums of all Roman cities, and they had the laws of all the land on them for every man to abide. These laws remained in effect for many centuries, and were replaced by similar laws that lasted for many ore centuries, called the Codex Constitutionum.

This forms the basis for the legal systems of many European countries’ legal systems, and that of Louisiana. The Greeks, with their science, philosophy, history, and drama, and the Romans with their refined Greek drama and philosophy, and their law, greatly affected modern society, and many of its influences are evident today. If it wasn’t for the Greeks, we wouldn’t have such dramatic entertainment, or vivid recounts of history, and without the Romans, America may not be free (or peaceful).


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