European Humanities 2017

Essay on the Greek Ideal

The Greek Ideal Essay due Monday, October 16th


  • a clear and compelling thesis statement
  • a coherent and persuasive argument
  • excellent topic sentences
  • specific evidence
  • excellent quote choices
  • proper MLA formatting of citations 
  • your very best writing 

- revise awkward sentences
- eliminate punctuation and spelling mistakes


I. Thesis Statement

Describe how the Greek ideal emerged and then evolved:

- What was the Greek Ideal?

- How did philosophy emerge from mythology?
- What different forms of philosophy developed?
- How did Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle resolve the contradictions between contrasting branches of philosophy to realize the Greek Ideal?
- How did this Greek ideal influence the culture and political ideology of Athens during the 4th and 5th centuries BC?

- Why did the Greek Ideal ultimately fail?  

Hint: The best essays will explore the problems that emerged as the Greeks tried to apply their vision of the ideal life to the realities of existence. What IRONY is at the core of the Greek Ideal?

II. Greece in the Bronze Age: the Era of Mythology

- How did the ancient Greeks understand the natural world?
- What central irony did the ancient Greeks perceive in nature?
- How did the ancient Greeks seek to influence natural forces? 
- How did these myths change during the second millennium BC?

III. Homer and Herodotus

- What essential contribution did Homer make to the Greeks' understanding of man's relationship with Nature in the great epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey?
- What irony is at the core of Homer's perception of heroism?
- Show how Herodotus' characterization of Themistocles was influenced by his reading of

IV. Pre-Socratic Philosophy

- Why the Greeks?

- Why did philosophy emerge in Ionia during the late 7th century BCE? 
- What is the relationship between philosophy, economics and democracy?
- What contrasting cosmologies did the early philosophers develop?
- How did the materialists (empiricists) (see Heraclitus) and the idealists (rationalists) (see Parmenides and Pythagoras) differ in their understanding of the world?
- How did Empedocles and Democritus try to resolve the conflict between the materialists and the idealists?
- What place did morality and ethics have in their thinking?
- Use words like skeptic, moral relativism, rhetoric

V. The Greek Ideal

- Why are Socrates, Plato and Aristotle justly regarded as the most important thinkers in the history of Western civilization?
- What was Socrates' great accomplishment?
- How did Plato and Aristotle both apply Socrates' teaching to the natural world?
(ie. how did they resolve the conflict between empiricists and rationalists?)
- How did Plato and Aristotle's philosophies contrast?
- How did both Plato and Aristotle preserve the centrality of morality within a scientific understanding of nature?

VI. The Greek Ideal in Politics

- How were the characteristics of the Greek Ideal reflected in the principles of Athenian democracy? (see Pericles' Funeral Oration)
- What problems can be observed in the application of these ideals to the realities of Athenian society?
- How did Plato criticize Democracy?

VII. Greek Tragedy

- How did Sophocles question the foundation of the Greek ideal in his tragedy Oedipus Rex?
- What ancient understanding of our place in the natural world resurfaces in the ritual of tragedy?
- How might Socrates have responded to Sophocles' tragic vision in Oedipus Rex? (No doubt, he saw the play.)

VIII. Conclusion

- Why are the philosophers, artists and leaders of Periclean Athens considered the originators of Western Civilization?
- Was their experiment in democracy a failure?
- How can we in America, over two and a half millennia later, learn from the successes and failures of the Greeks in their efforts to grasp nature and thus create a better world?