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Ancient Greece to Ancient Rome - the Comparison

Mar 18, 2011 952 Words
This paper will focus on three key points shared by both cultures which will help demonstrate the relationship between these two civilizations: religion, the arts and the state. Ancient Greek and Roman civilization left a permanent stamp on history, including the areas: politics and the state, art and literature, religion and philosophy. Yet, if it were not for the Roman civilization that emerged around and eventually swallowed them, we might not know a great deal about the contribution that the Greek had to society. When Rome conquered Greece, Romans were impressed with many of the concepts of their culture and society which they readily adopted. For example, the Romans adopted the Greek system of education with a focus on disciplines that are still embodied today. Polytheism is a large similarity between Greece and Rome, but Rome would eventually experiment with monotheism. The origins of modern religion and festivals are to be found in the Greek and Roman religious rites and practices. In Rome, religious cults celebrated rites and mythology and were devoted to the eclectic and cosmopolitan Roman outlook regarding religion. Like the Greeks, the Romans initially accepted polytheism and many of the Gods in the Greek Pantheon were adopted by the Romans though their names were changed. For example, the god of the seas was Poseidon in Greece but Neptune in Rome, while the Greek god of wine, Dionysus was known as Bacchus in Rome. Comedy and tragedy began in religious festivals honoring Dionysus (_Western Civilizations Beyond Boundaries_, p. 86), while Bacchus was celebrated in similar festivals in Rome. The Romans even went a step further by sponsoring numerous priestly committees, or colleges, to secure the peace of the gods. Any by establishing elected pontiffs, with a chief pontiff, (_pontifex maximus)_as the head of the state clergy. The Romans eventually allowed priests to interpret the law on the theory that an offense against humans was an offense against the gods (_Western Civilizations Beyond Boundaries_, p. 133). However, the gods served a vital role in both Greek and Roman societies. The gods were used in literature, architecture, and many other aspects of society to demonstrate to man his relationship with the gods and with other human beings. We see this in The Odyssey, as Odysseus is a close to perfect example of how a man interacts with the gods and other human beings. The gods were significant to both cultures, but they were designed as an instrument to demonstrate the ways of god to man and of men to other men. In the decline of traditional communal values of the late Republic and early empire, many turned to cult worship—many of which came from the East. These often offered personal salvation and an intimate relationship with divinity. These religions came to be known as mystery religions, most of these were not universally popular. Only the Cult of Isis was generally popular. The enthusiasm of mystery religions can possibly be explained by the difficulties of life in the later empire. People needed some comfort, answers, human capacities seemed unable to deal with all the problems—people turned inward. Human efforts were not enough—clearly divine help was needed. The mystery religions paved the way for Christianity. (_The Roman Empire, _Online Reading). The Roman arts, including plays, poems, sculpture, dance and architecture, mirrored their Greek counterparts. It is the transference of these aspects of Greek culture that still finds a level of emphasis in modern society, from the philosophy of Plato and Socrates, to our architecture, legal system and education. Yet, for all their borrowing, Rome did achieve new forms of literature not witnessed in Greek civilization. Although the Greek’s had created literary standards and genres such as drama, poems, and historical writing (_Western Civilizations Beyond Boundaries_, p. 87-9), it was the Romans that took the Greek model and perfected it to satisfy their own taste for the art of rhetoric (_Western Civilizations Beyond Boundaries_, p. 142). If we look at The Iliad, we can see what is meant by historical narrative. In The Iliad, we read about the fall of Troy and its leader, Hector, Priam’s son. Hector’s dilemma is one involving a choice between personal glory and community survival. The community was all important to Greek society and Hector will only retain personal honor if he is able to accept his community responsibilities. Hector is torn between his love of family and his love of state, both considered very important ideals to the Greeks just as much as they would be later be to the Romans. However, Hector is impulsive and rashly kills Patroklos which signifies the fall of Troy in this historical narrative. Hector realizes his lapse in judgment and knows the only way to regain honor is to give himself up for the good of the community. He knows this is in vain, but he knows he is damned for certain if he does not. Hector is killed
in front of the city by Achilles. However, this historical narrative set the form for later Roman works of literature that would describe Rome’s heroes and history. Due to the fact that Rome, in one way, would fall because its emperors too often did what was good for them and not necessarily the state (community). Therefore, we can see that Greece and Rome not only shared many values and elements of society in common, ranging from cultural, to religious and political, we can also see that both of these great cultures have had a great effect on Western Civilization by the fact that many of those elements find themselves interwoven with elements of our own modern societies.

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