Comparison of Ancient Greek Philosophy and American Philosophy

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Ancient Greek philosophy differs from modern American philosophy in many ways. We shall examine these differences (and similarities) in terms of family life, the wealthy, slavery, and education. Observing the lives of Greek deities and heroes in Greek mythology, in addition to Greek art, can give us some idea of what everyday life was like in ancient Greece. Greek men had a fairly low opinion of women. Aristotle said that man is by nature superior to the female, and so the man should rule and the woman should be ruled.

According to Euripides, women made disparaging comments about themselves: a) I am only a woman, a thing which the world hates. b) No cure has been found for a woman’s venom, worse than that of reptiles. We are a curse to man. It is not clear as to why the Greeks held women in such disdain. I would surmise, however, that the Greeks held that since women are weaker physically, it follows that they are inferior to men in general. Even in America, up until recently, women were considered second class citizens.

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However, in modern day America, women enjoy the same rights as men. They are allowed to vote, hold public office, and have the same opportunities for higher education and employment as men do. Negative or disparaging comments about women are not tolerated. According to Greek tradition, the first woman, Pandora, was created as a form of punishment because men had learned form Prometheus the secret of making fire. Even though Pandora was beautiful and irresistible to men, all of her hidden characteristics were deliberately intended to bring sorrow, harm, and trouble to man.

However, according to modern American philosophy, which is based on the Judao-Christian version of Creation, men and women came from the same source-material (earth), and women were created as a favor to man. That they are physically weaker is inconsequential. Let us take a look at how Greek children spent their time. Girls would receive their entire education and training in the home, while boys might learn their father’s trade or go to school around the age of seven. This difference was a natural outgrowth of Greek culture. Women were expected to aise children and fulfill their domestic duties, while men had to learn a trade in order to support their families. Noteworthy, however, is that in Sparta, seven year old boys were trained in the military and were not allowed to leave the barracks until age thirty! Despite what may have been a difficult life for some, Greek children did get an opportunity to play. The toys they used and the games they played are amazingly similar to childrens’ toys and games of today. In archeological sites, dolls, rattles, tops, swings and many other items have been unearthed.

There is also evidence that the Greeks kept pets such as dogs, pigs, tortoises and caged birds. When girls reached puberty, they were considered adults and could marry. Girls took their childhood toys and left them at the temple of Artemis. This signaled that their childhood was over and they were becoming adults. After marrying, the women were expected to have a baby. Not being able to bear children was seen as a curse from the gods. This was probably due to the fact that the Greeks needed a strong military, and so reproduction was important.

In contrast, America does not place much emphasis on having children because the strength of our military lies not in numbers, but in technologically advanced weaponry. For example, India which has a standing army of about 3 times the size of ours, is nevertheless much weaker militarily because of their primitive weapons. In ancient Greek society, infanticide in the form of exposure was acceptable. Even though some unwanted newborns were exposed, and some children were slaves, the works of art also tell us of the efforts that Greek parents and society undertook to protect their children.

One grave marker shows an emotional scene: a relief of a father with his arm around his daughter. “What these grave stones show us,” says co curator John Oakley, “is that contrary to popular belief, the Greeks loved their children much as we do, and that they felt grief when children died prematurely. ” In contrast to ancient Greek society, American children typically spend their entire childhood, (from about 5-18 years of age) in school. The school day ends early, (around 3 PM), leaving plenty of time for children to do homework and play.

Today’s forms of entertainment for children is far different than that of the ancient Greeks. With the invention of television and the computer, children are left alone to watch TV and play computer games for hours on end. Very little formal education is provided in the home. However, many families do teach their children about honesty, manners and other forms of proper behavior. In poorer families, however, children learn destructive forms of behavior such as cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug abuse. At the same time there are laws protecting children from “abuse“.

Abuse according to American law would include any form of corporal punishment. Parents could find themselves in jail for merely giving their child a “spanking. ” Ancient Greek society emphasized the importance of a tight family structure, with husband and father firmly in control. As was mentioned before, women were held inferior. Even the activities of women were directed toward their husbands’ interests. Marriages were arranged by a woman’s father; husbands could divorce wives at will, whereas women had to go to court. Adultery was tolerated for men but was grounds for divorce in the case of women.

In America, however, women are on equal footing with men. But a ship cannot have two captains. Therefore, the family structure has fallen apart to a great extent with a divorce rate of 50%. Ancient Greece was an agricultural society. Most of the people lived by farming, and the main form of wealth was owning land. In each city there was an upper class and a middle class. However, the vast majority of people were craftsmen, peasants, or slaves. Most of the people in ancient Greece had a very low standard of living. Despite all of the achievements of ancient Greece, for most of its people life was hard.

In America there are many opportunities for wealth. After the industrial revolution, technology provided various sources of income. Land owners are not the wealthy citizens in our society; it’s the advancements in technology which provides jobs and helps run the economy. Knowledge of our advanced technology and its outgrowths is necessary in order to making a good living, and, therefore, a college education is vital. Slavery played a major role in ancient Greek civilization. Without it, the citizens wouldn’t have been able to devote so much time to other activities such as the government, art and thought.

The main source of slaves was prisoners of war. Another source of slaves was children that had been born into slavery, i. e. the children of slaves. Also, slaves may have been babies that were abandoned and claimed by anyone who wanted them. Another possible way in which one might have become a slave was that if a family needed money, they would sell one of their children into slavery. In America, after the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery became outlawed. Blacks were no longer considered inferior that they should be sold into slavery, but were free men, able to enjoy the rights of everyone else.

Slavery is considered mistreatment and a crime. Even prisoners of war can not be made into slaves as this is considered a crime against humanity. Regarding education, there were two forms of education in ancient Greece: formal and informal. Formal education was attained through attending a public school or was provided by a hired tutor. Informal education was provided by an unpaid teacher and occurred in a nonpublic setting. Formal Greek education was primarily for men and was, in general, not offered to slaves, manual laborers, or women.

As mentioned above, a young girl would receive an informal education from her mother and would be taught how to maintain a household, to serve her father, and later in life, her husband. In their early years, Greek children were taught at home. They were taught basic morals until they began elementary education at approximately seven years of age. They were taught how to read and write, as well as how to count and draw. An elementary education was the only education available to most people, especially the poor. Children belonging to the upper social classes would receive formal elementary education since their parents would e able to afford to hire a tutor or to send them to a public school. Children coming from poor families, however, would only be offered an informal education. In addition to not having the money to pay for a formal education, members of the lower class would most likely have required their childrens’ services at home just to be able to afford food and other basic necessities. Having a physically fit body was extremely important to the Greeks. Physical training was seen as necessary for improving one’s appearance, preparation for war, and maintaining good health at an old age.

After turning fourteen years old, boys from wealthy families had the option of attending secondary school. Secondary education included subjects such as natural science. biology, chemistry, rhetoric (the art of speaking or writing effectively), geometry, sophistry, astronomy, and meteorology. The teaching of these subjects became highly valued within Greek society because the Greeks believed that intellectual education was a key component of a person’s identity, making up a significant part of a person’s reputation. Boys could continue their education after secondary school by obtaining ephebic training.

Ephebic training included a military training in addition to more advanced academic schooling. In America, women have the same educational opportunities as men. As mentioned before, women are not second class citizens and therefore they enjoy all the rights and privileges as men do. America is a wealthy country, and therefore, education through secondary school is free. There is not a big emphasis on physical education in America. Emphasis is on gaining knowledge and intellectual achievement. However, we have borrowed the ideals of physical fitness and competition from the Greeks as we can see from the Olympic Games.

In most cases, it is necessary to have a college education in order to have a good reputation and make money. However, because we live in a capitalistic country, one can have a good reputation by making money even without an education. . According to Jewish philosophy, women have different but equal roles as men. The Rambam tells us that a husband is obligated to love his wife as himself and honor [emphasis mine] her more than himself. The Talmud tells us that one should honor one’s wife in order to become wealthy.

Also, one must be careful not to hurt one’s wife’s feelings because she cries easily. Furthermore, in Genesis it says that G-d saw that it was not good for man to be alone and so He created woman to be a helpmate for him. Children are raised in the orthodox tradition. They are taught from an early age about the Torah and its commandments. The home is where children learn good character traits and the importance of honoring one’s parents which is actually one of the Ten Commandments. Even after a child is completely grown, he or she is still enjoined to honor and respect his parents.

The family is the basic structure of Jewish life. This is where the Sabbath and Holidays are celebrated and where children receive their informal education. Having children is a Torah obligation and having large families is also praiseworthy. However, the main obligation upon parents is to raise their children to be observant G-d fearing individuals. Wealth is not a goal in and of itself. However, the wealthy are honored. Since this world is not considered to be the place of ultimate happiness, one should not waste his time amassing wealth.

Rather, he should utilize his time to acquire Torah knowledge and perform Mitzvos. These are the true wealth and the only things that will accompany a person to his eternal life in the next world. Jewish slaves had a good life. The Gemara tells us that if you buy a slave it’s like buying a master over yourself, because a slave had to be treated well. A slave could even opt to become a permanent slave if he loves his master. Torah education is the most important part of a child’s education. In fact, the majority of the school day is spent on learning Torah, specifically Gemara.

While secular studies are not looked down upon, nevertheless, they are subordinate to Torah study. This is true for boys who have a commandment to learn the Oral Law. Girls, however, are absolved from this obligation and so spend their school day learning Chumash, the Prophets, and ethics, in addition to their secular studies. Although many of the beliefs of the ancient Greeks are obsolete in modern American culture, there still remains fragments of Ancient Greek philosophy in our times. For example, we have seen that women share equal rights with men.

Nevertheless, there are some things that women just don’t do. We have never had a female president, and in many professions, men dominate. We have made many trips to the moon, yet not one woman has stepped foot on the moon. We don’t see women construction workers or firefighters. Perhaps it lies in our subconscious that women are by and large meant to bear children and raise families, while men are expected to be the bread winners. In addition, slavery still exists in parts of the world. Although slavery is outlawed in modern America, Blacks are often discriminated against.

The ancient Greeks probably held that the uneducated and/or the poor were inferior to the rest of society and could, therefore, be enslaved so as to be useful to society. This philosophy may have acted as a spring board to the concept that an entire race could be considered inferior; hence, slavery of the Blacks in America. Even though they were subsequently freed, the idea that they were once enslaved suggests, (in the subconscious American mind), that there is something inferior about Blacks. It may take centuries until this mindset is fully uprooted.


Education in Ancient Greece

Children of Ancient Greece

Sarah Mussio – on Slavery in Ancient Greece

Robert Guisepi – on A History of Ancient Greece

What Athenian Men Said About Women

Tim Lambert – on Everyday Life In Ancient Greece

Maggie Riechers – on Fragments of Childhood Growing Up in Ancient Greece

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