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Greek Humanism Essay

Problem of Humanism is of central importance for modern society, as it deals with people and considers them to be the highest value in life and creative vocation. The source of European humanism is believed to come from antique Greece. Here image of human starts to reveal itself. In sculpture of ancient East, for example, people’s images were still mixed with beasts’ ones. On the contrary Greek sculpture for the first time performed an idea of real human, revealing beauty and virtues of his external appearance and inner world. First statues resembled Egyptian ones in some cases. But they seemed to be similar only in appearance. Unlike Egyptian sculptures, Greek ones tried to show beauty of naked body, being strong and proportionally set-up. An image of virtual man is a basis for Greek art. Ancient Greece didn’t want to repeat Asian traditions.

Though Greeks already knew about Asian achievements, they defined their own way of social and political development emphasizing human as the centre of all activities. Model of harmony was human body. Even gods were represented as humans in appearance, but more forceful than usual men. They were depicted as highest creatures but with perfect human bodies.

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Humanism is also seen in Greek architecture to some extent. Unlike Egyptians, Greeks didn’t try to build their mighty, grandiose temples, which were believed to suppress humans. On the contrary Greeks tended to make their buildings proportionate to humans. They wanted people to feel comfortable and even strong near buildings and temples. Humanism revealed in all spheres of Greek culture. Greek literature, particularly tragedy, showed life of human facing still undefeated fate with all calamities. Greek philosophy exposes independence of human mind, looking for truth. But in those times spiritual independence still couldn’t be established, due to power of antique state and certain beliefs. For Europe Greek humanism remained a symbol of high human culture. Greece rendered it’s philosophy and life views through posterior cultures. Even the works of first Greek philosophers show Human as the highest authority in the whole Universe. Greeks raised human mind to the rank of divinity.

Culture of Greece is a unique phenomenon, showing general values in nearly all spheres of spiritual human activity. Ancient Greeks tried to bring up harmony in spirit by means of body. Ancient Greece created art that penetrated into beauty and greatness of independent man — free citizen of polis. No wonder that great poet Sophocles mentioned in his tragedy “Antigona” that there are lots of wonders in nature but none of them is stronger than human.

Sophocle’s works were a step to further development of ancient theatre. His works reflect life and feelings of common people. Some certain feature of character is always emphasized. An important detail of his works is role of fate in human’s life. In “Antigona” Sophocle exalts brevity, wisdom, proudness. It is a story of a woman who has meaningly chosen the way which finally lead her to death. Sophocle approves her behavior. In Ancient Greece there was a belief that if not to bury dead body it would doomed to eternal torment. Antigona is faithful to family relationships and that’s why she is not afraid of Kreont’s revenge. She acts with great heroism. Sophocle pays attention to people’s dids, while divine will is secondary. It usually revels itself in prophecy. It’s not a reason, but an interference into the people’s deeds. It another reason to think that Sophocle kept to humanistic point of view.

In Sophokle’s “Antigona” the main heroine is depicted as a defender of human’s law, based on blood relationship. On the contrary Kreont — highest state authority — embodies state interests and customs. Tragical conflict lies in contradiction between genetic and state morals. Sophocle vividly depicts attempt to admit rights of both morals and to avoid conflict between them. Regardless of Kreont’s warnings, Antigona buries her brother, whose body could be burned by the Sun and eaten by beasts. But why is she punished for such humanic deed? Answer is that her noble action contradicted with the views of society on laws, which ought to be obeyed. Though her actions are out of law and considered to be a crime, she runs risks. She is not afraid of peril, she doesn’t notice danger to be being caught and executed. On the other hand her sister obeys the law and doesn’t want to participate in such illegal actions. It shows difference in human morals. Antigona would rather die than let her brother be unfairly treated. Individual protest against the will of state and society is the main problem in Sophocle’s “Antigona”. The main Antigona’s feature is a feeling of family duties and responsibility. Belief in humanism was stronger than any law of society. Sophocle was inspired by the idea of human personality. Antigona overpowered tyrant’s threatenings. Sophokle wrote a hymn in honor on human.
Greatness of Sophocle’s characters lies in their ability to remain faithful to human duties.

Another representative of Greek philosophy was Pindar. He wrote songs of praise in honor of winners at public contests (epinikies). They are considered to be highly developed in Pindar’s works. He wrote in different styles of choral poetry: hymns to gods, laudatory odes. Winners brought fame not only for themselves, but also for their nation of tribe. In his works Pindar praised human’s will to achieve perfection. In the beginning of his works Pindar tends to mention only victory, without any certain description of the competition. Then he turns to the past for some details. And finally gives instructions to winners to behave with dignity. But no matter how Pindar expresses his thoughts and in what order, the main feature of his works remains deep interest in Human itself. Pindar raises man to the highest rate of perfection.

Philosophic views, literature and art of Ancient Greece greatly influenced further development of world’s culture. Particularly it concerns the history of Europe, though it influenced Asia as well. Greek humanism became a foundation for modern society. Dealing with modern humanism it’s important to say that the greatest achievements in science became the main reason for disappearing of humanism in people’s life and behavior. Creating machines people forget about beauty and importance of real things. Humans still can’t cope with machines. Technical civilization destroys human’s inner world, emotional life. The great amount of technical devices makes people forget about world around. And it certainly should make people remember that they are not machines but humans with feelings and emotions. In his tragedies Sophocles represents views of Ancient World in general. As many people of that time Sophocle was interested only in spiritual development, loyalty to moral principles. In this way material development didn’t concern him at all. But, as you’ve probably noticed, modern people usually try to make their life more comfortable, creating new machinery to make life easier. But modern society often forgets about bringing up important qualities of character. People think it’s more important to get information faster, to cook food tastier, to move more quickly. And consider it to be feature of civilization. But in reality it’s more likely to be a feature of degradation rather than civilization. Actually ancient Greeks appear to be more spiritually developed and more educated. That is the main difference between Ancient and Modern world. Modern people pay more attention to material development rather that spiritual.


Steve Vincent ‘Humanism’ — 1999 Humanism

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