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Athens and Its Rise

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Essay title: Athens and Its Rise

Athenian Greece at its height created a wave of classic, time withstanding, poems and plays that has never been matched. This wave of creative writing brought about poems such as Oedipus Rex, Antigone, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. These poems are wrought with themes and characteristics that reflect the intellect and opulence of the Athenian culture. These themes include the intervention of gods, power of reasoning and science, and temptation, themes that were not always used in previous writing. New philosophies and an enriched culture allowed for the Athenians to believe that "Man is the measure of all things" and this belief was epitomized through their writing.

Ancient Athens valued a person's sense of self enough to inscribe it on their temple of Delphi. The inscriptions on the temple were "Know thyself" and "Nothing in excess". This was to remind the Athenians that self-moderation lead to prosperity while greed and temptation led them to act like the barbaric tribes that had conquered. Greek tragedies were written as reminders of what would happen if people were to forget these beliefs. In Homer's epic story of Troy, the Iliad, the young prince Paris fails to overcome the temptation of greed and takes Queen Helen, "the most beautiful maiden in all of Greece" away from the palace of King Menelaus. What befalls young Paris? He is eventually killed and the illustrious kingdom of Troy, his inheritance, is destroyed. Athenians were also warned not to think of themselves as greater than the Gods, but prosperity and realization of their own power gave the Greeks an arrogant confidence. Homer illustrates this in his equally famous poem, the Odyssey. Odysseus, king of Ithaca and creator of the famous and ingenious Trojan horse, thought his intellect allowed him to be free of the Gods. He proclaimed to the gods "I do not need you! I can think, no longer must I bow to the will of the gods". Angered by the victory spawned arrogance of Odysseus, Poseidon curses Odysseus and forces him to roam the seas for ten long years, away from Ithaca and all that he loves. Tragedies as these written by Homer were meant as reminders and warnings to the Athenian people of what would happen if they, as Odysseus, grew to bold and joyful of their success and prowess.

With this newfound knowledge and power of mind came a greater understand of the world and their surroundings. The Greeks were no longer content with explanations of magic; they sought to find reason in a problem or seemingly supernatural act. This questioning of age old beliefs, this rationality, was the beginning of science. Riddles became a pastime to test the knowledge of the citizens. Oedipus had to solve the riddle of the Sphinx to acquire his fame, illustrating the respect given to those who could think for themselves. Athenians were beginning to think and "see things clearly and seem them whole". This is evident in the outbreak of philosophers whose names are famous to this day. Who has not heard of Plato, Sophocles, Socrates, and Aristotle? These famous thinkers founded their basis in Athenian culture. Sophocles wrote the famous trilogy of Oedipus, including Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Oedipus at Colonus. In plays such as these, the plot is tightly wound that if one scene is deleted, the entire play becomes unclear. In Oedipus Rex, if Oedipus does not declare "Let no man in this land, whereof I hold the sovereign rule, harbor or speak to him", then his self banishment at the end of the play does not make sense. The Athenian playwrights such as Sophocles understood that if the three unties of place, time, and action were tied together, the greatest dramatic effect could be achieved.

In reflection of its culture and its desire for perfection, ancient Greece was in love with beauty. The Athenian depiction of the gods was of attractive, perfectly formed men and women. Zeus was a man of immense strength and good looks; Aphrodite was gifted with exceptional beauty and shape. However, Greek love of beauty was not confined to the gods. Heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey were powerful men with equally powerful and vibrant personalities. Achilles of the Iliad is portrayed as a mighty warrior and Paris is portrayed as a charming prince with entrancing looks. Helen is the "the most beautiful maiden in all of Greece". Hercules is the most powerful man in the world and completes twelve tasks that no other could accomplish. It is blatantly apparent that the Greeks treasured beauty and strength, as well as athletic prowess. The Olympic Games originating in Athens are a clear mark to the Greek love of sports.

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