The Discovery of Ancient Greek Civilization Ideals Through Greek Literature

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In order to understand a culture, it is important to understand their arts, ranging from their music, their visual arts, to their theatre, etc. One of the most important arts used to understand a culture is literature. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, literature is defined as writings in prose or verse, especially writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest. By understanding the literature of a certain culture or civilization, it is deductable what human characters were honored and cherished by the people of the time. During the Greek civilization, two works are able to be used to find out what the Greeks admired in the human persona. In the Iliad, the epic poem commonly attributed to Homer, and in Sophocles’ drama, Antigone, are both examples.

In the Iliad, it follows the story of Achilles, an Achaean, who refuses to go to war (after an attack on his honor). Patroclus, his close friend, volunteers to wear his armor and go into battle. During the battle, Patroclus is killed by Hector, the head of the Trojan armies. Achilles, in anger, goes to war, and kills Hector. To bring even more dishonor to his death, Achilles does not bury the body, and instead lets the birds of the air attack the flesh. Finally, he gives in to King Priam pleas to return the body to Troy, out of sympathy. This epic poem demonstrates much of what was idealized by the ancient Greeks. For example, in one passage, they visually praise themselves, by calling themselves “the bronze-armed Achaeans”. This indicates that they not only thought that it was good thing be strong, but they also took pride in their strength. As well, when King Priam begs Achilles, he is moved as the “…words stirred within Achilles a deep desire to grieve for his own father.” While the ancient Greeks did believe in the natural order of justice, they did find a place for compassion and empathy, making them very humanistic. As for other...
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