Many students wonder why the study of history is so important in today’s curriculums. A simple answer to that is, one cannot proceed without knowledge of the past, or to say that one learns from others mistakes as well as their own. This being true, another reason to study history is to see, not only our mistakes so we may learn, but also to see the good influences that molded the world and culture we live in. The ancient civilizations of the Greeks, Hebrews and Romans contributed to our modern civilization, not just the eastern-European but western civilization as well.
Those cultures and civilizations shaped eastern-European culture which intern shaped our western culture, so for us to truly study our cultural history we must revert back to the values and ideals of these first civilizations. Our modern western culture is intellectual with a strong central government and mostly monotheistic in religion. How did we come to be like this? How can we learn about those ancient cultures? By their literature mostly. The literature of a culture directly reflects the society in which it is written.
By analyzation of ancient poems, stories, myths, and folklore we can decipher the basis of many cultures. The ancient Greek civilization suffered a period in which little to no learning took place called, “the dark age of Greece. ” Through this dark age came a body of oral epic poetry in which tales were told and passed down generation to generation. This oral epic poetry helped shape the later Greeks in that the heroes of this poetry became the emulation of Greek society. As seen in the work Oedipus the King.
Oedipus possessed all the characteristics that were sought after in their society such as being highly respected, knowledgeable and he was the king of the land. However, the Greeks didn’t overlook the fact that everybody was human and septable to failure. “From that day on we called you king we crowned you with honors, Oedipus, towering over all-mighty king of the seven gates of Thebes. Bu now to hear your storyis there a man more agonized? More wed to pain and frenzy? Not a man on earth, the joy of your life ground down to nothing”(631-632).
This quote summarizes the Greek tragedy, that a man so high in social standing can fall so low. The Greeks used stories such as this to portray to their society that nobody is above the struggle of life and to urge the people to lead good lives and to strive for the embodiments that they wish to posses. In this culture the Greeks were polytheistic with one god being more powerful than the others (Zeus). This polytheistic viewpoint was not adopted into our modern religions and has almost become comical among our society.
The Greek culture, for the most part, was unorganized and their concepts of multiple gods reflect the chaos in which they lived. The Hebrew concept of religion on the other hand, though revolutionary in its time, withstood the test of time and is seen throughout modern cultures. The Hebrew concept of monotheism, the belief in one god, shaped their culture as it does many modern cultures. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him”(80).
This quote from Job displays the monotheistic views of the Hebrews and the underlying faith in one god, which is a great microcosm of the Hebrew culture. Unlike the Greek concept of religion, monotheism reflected a world that was beautiful and kind, a concept that was better received in our desperately optimistic culture. Ancient Rome’s donation to western culture is seen everyday, and will continue to be seen for many years. Rome was the most powerful nation the world had ever seen, it ruled most of the known world and conquered nations at will.
One aspect of the Roman Empire that is most respected today is the fact that the Roman’s didn’t destroy any cultures, they built on them. Taking ideas and technology from each nation and shaping it all into one very diverse society made it possible for us to see the Roman influence everyday. What we now call a “Roman influence” is really an influence of every culture Rome conquered. From their roads, aqueducts, laws, government and religion the Roman society is very much like our modern western society.
Their values and ideals are reflected in their laws and government. They were a conservative culture in which “their highest words of commendation were manliness,’ industry,’ [and] discipline. ‘” (6). “the portals of Augustus’ house and keeps a close watch on the Roman crown of oak leaves”(902). This quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses refers to the Roman polytheistic religion by referring to the laurel tree which was sacred to Apollo, one of the many gods in the Roman religion.
We see all these characteristics of these nations directly through the literature that each nation left behind. We can read into a culture simply by reading their works. Now famous works are dissected and analyzed not just for their literary genius but also to gain incite into the culture which inspired them. By reading such works as Job, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Oedipus the King we gain knowledge and insight into the culture and times in which they were written, and with this insight we can decipher how their culture helped shape or own.