Fate and government: belief concepts in Ancient Greece
A general overview of Ancient Greece would not be complete without mentioning the roles of destiny and fate, the citizen’s preoccupation with politics and military prowess, as well as the interactions between humans and the gods they worshiped. The thesis of this paper will examine the relationship of ancient literature and architecture and the various concepts that help define these aspects of Greek life and culture, so that we can better understand the philosophical constructs and belief systems of ancient Greek society. My chosen list of topics include: Aeschylus’ Persians; Homer’s The Iliad; Plato’s The Republic; the meaning and purpose behind the Parthenon; and Antigone by Sophocles. Through these works, I will connect the Greek concepts of hubris, ananke, eunomia, kalokagathia and demos, respectively. As stated above, one of the major components of Greek culture was the glorification of military talent and strength; perhaps its opposite could be the dishonor in committing the often disastrous crime defined by my first concept–hubris.
Aeschylus’ Persians is a fine example of overstepping one’s bounds and facing the dangers of overweening pride. Hubris is defined as intentionally allowing the overreach of your ambition that must be fulfilled at any cost–even when facing the loss of honor and the obvious and inevitable reality of failure. In the second part of the trilogy, Aeschylus addresses the ambition and actions of King Xerxes as he chooses to blindly fight the Greeks. Despite the advice of others, including his mother, Queen Alossa, the Persians are soundly defeated by the Greeks at Salamis. As the ghost of Alossa’s husband Darius foretells the loss: “The mother of disasters awaits them there, / Reward for insolence, for scorning God” (Raphael et al 26). This statement directly addresses the notion of hubris and the repercussions inherent in defying the gods. Xerxes is a perfect example of how runaway pride and ambition can guarantee a confrontation with divine retribution.
In Homer’s The Iliad, we find examples of the concept of ananke and the struggles to come to terms with its repercussions. Ananke is defined as the control of fate and destiny, not so much in everyday living but as a determining factor regarding life’s overall outcomes. Ancient Greek culture was focused on the controls of destiny and judged this acceptance as heroic; in fact, those who fought the will of fate were considered cowardly fools. It was an honorable duty of man to accept whatever fate was dealt to him. Set during the Trojan War, The Iliad addresses the struggle to accept fate’s decisions–and at times attempt to defy them. During one particular battle scene, Patroclus tells Hector: “You yourself are not one who shall live long, but now already/ death and powerful destiny are standing beside you” (Lattimore 849) This quote addresses the general cultural belief in destiny and the natural desire to ignore these realities when faced with one’s own demise. The definition and use of ananke–and the senseless belief that one can defy fate–is found throughout Homer’s work.
My examination of Plato’s The Republic will address the concept of eunomia and its place in the role of justice and the ideal society. Eunomia is defined as the civil order that exists under a well-governed state, where good law and justice supports its foundation. Plato’s work deals with a wide variety of philosophical concerns, such as the corruption of power and the need for philosopher-kings to rule over the less enlightened. In the first section of The Republic, a discussion ensues that addresses the meaning of true justice for all citizens and the societal repercussions. As one participant states: “As the government must be supposed to power, the only reasonable conclusion is, that everywhere there is principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger” (Plato 20). The conversation is an attempt to define justice and examine its many components, pro and con, as this quote confirms. I feel that the principle of justice is interconnected with the concept of eunomia, because a well-governed state must address the idea of fair and equally-measured justice for all its citizens.
The Parthenon is an important historical wonder, illustrating not only great architectural beauty and ability, but also the Greek concept of kalokagathia. Defined as a desire for balance, kalokagathia represents proportion and equilibrium–in this case manifested in a physical structure. The Parthenon is a temple in the Athenian Acropolis dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. While not a temple in the conventional sense, the structure has worked as a treasury, among other uses. Since its completion in 438 B.C., the structure has been through a variety of transformations, such as a Christian church and, for a time, a mosque (Hurwit 135). The architectural forms include a rectangular floor plan and Doric columns, among other well-planned features. The relationship between the Parthenon and the concept of kalokagathia can be found in the physical, architectural balance of the structure and the even proportions of its construction.
Antigone by Sophocles allows the reader, through the actions of its lead character, to understand the Greek concept of demos. Demos refers to the citizens living within a state and is often used as a political reference regarding the class structure of that society. The story of Antigone focuses on the familial obligations of a sister to her deceased brother and the bigger issue of the individual vs. the control of the state. Her brother Polyneices, after being killed in battle, is denied a formal burial because of disloyalty; this fact has earned him the wrath of Creon, the despotic leader. When Antigone states: “He has no right to keep me from my own,” she is referring to the power of Creon and his actions that would deny her brother a proper burial (Sophocles line 28). Her fight to honor her brother reflects on the struggle against an authoritarian government and the conflicts that can occur between the aristocracy and the citizens they rule. The role of demos cannot be overlooked in her struggle for personal freedom and the ability to address family matters that should be no concern of the state.
To summarize, this paper has addressed the Greek concepts of hubris, ananke, eunomia, kalokagathia and demos through works of ancient literature and architecture. To bring together these aspects of Greek culture I will tie in the findings of each work: In Persians, Xerxes, by embracing the state of hubris, displayed runaway pride and ambition which cemented his confrontation with disaster; Homer’s The Iliad shows how the concept of ananke is so much a part of the fabric of Ancient Greece; Plato’s The Republic is an example of how the concept of eunomia is so intertwined with the principle of justice; the concept of kalokagathia can be found in the structure and intent of The Parthenon; and Sophocles’ Antigone touches on the role of demos and the timeless struggle of the individual vs. the restrictive controls of the state.
In conclusion, the examination of these concepts is an important point of study if one is to understand Greek society and how its members viewed the world around them. In order to view a culture appropriately and therefore its people, it is vital that the language and beliefs be the focus of any examination. The words they use will give the viewer and scholar insight into what they find important and what they fear. The thesis of this paper supports the study of Greek concepts as they relate to literature and architecture, allowing the reader a chance to peak back in time and better understand the thought-processes and belief systems of that ancient time.
Fate and Government: Belief Concepts in Ancient Greece Outline
- Introduction of paper
- How the major aspects of Greek society such as fate and politics shape their concepts
- Thesis of paper: How Greek concepts are reflected in literature and architecture
- A summary of examples that will support thesis
- Transition the reader into the body of the paper
- Aeschylus’s Persians
- How hubris brought disaster upon Xerxes and the Persians
- The definition of hubris as overreaching your ambition and overweening pride
- A brief summary of the work that discusses the concerns of Xerxes’ mother
- A quote reflecting the folly of Xerxes’ campaign against Greece
- An interpretation of the quote as it relates to the meaning of hubris
- The connection between Xerxes and hubris as it produces disastrous results
III. Homer’s The Iliad
- The concept of ananke and the human struggle to accept fate
- The definition of ananke as fate and destiny
- A brief description of the Homer’s work and a particular battle scene
- A quote that reflects the important Greek idea of ananke
- An explanation of the quote as it relates to the concept
- How the idea of ananke cannot be avoided and its prevalence in ancient literature
- Plato’s The Republic
- The concept of Eunomia as it relates to the role of justice in society
- The definition of eunomia as a force of civil order and good law
- A summary of the debate within this particular focus, such as the role of justice
- A quote addressing the power a government has to implement justice
- Connect the quote to the idea of eunomia as it relates to the ideal state
- The role justice must play in a well-governed state and the idea of eunomia
- The Parthenon
- The Parthenon as it illustrates the concept of kalokagathia
- The definition of kalokagathia as a reflection of balance and order
- A summary of its construction and purpose
- Interpret the meaning of the structure
- How the concept of kalokagathia is reflected in the Parthenon’s construction
- Sophocles’ Antigone
- How Antigone’s actions reflect on the concept of demos
- The definition of demos as a reference to citizens living within a state and class structure
- A brief summary of Antigone’s attempt to bury her fallen brother
- A quote from Antigone that illustrates the struggle between the individual and the state
- The quote addresses the struggle between her private affairs and the demands of Creon
- Sophocles’ story expands on the human struggle for freedom
- A restatement and summary of the minor conclusions as they relate to each concept
- Restate the thesis and the specific conclusions of the paper
- Grene, David, trans. Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. Print.
- Hurwit, Jeffrey M. The Athenian Acropolis. London: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
- Lattimore, Richard, trans. Homer’s the Iliad. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951. Print.
- Plato. The Republic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Son, 1928. Print.
- Raphael, Frederick and Kenneth McLeish, trans. Plays: One by Aeschylus. London: Methuen, 1998. Print.