Read an Excerpt
Western Civilization from 1500
By Ahmed Ibrahim
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Ahmed Ibrahim
All right reserved.
The Ancient World: Foundation of the West
ca. 720 B.C.E. Homer, Iliad
ca. 680 B.C.E. Homer, Odyssey
ca. 470-399 B.C.E Socrates
ca. 450-420 B.C.E Herodotus, Histories
ca. 428-347 B.C.E Plato
ca. 420-400 B.C.E. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
ca. 384-322 B.C.E. Aristotle
264 B.C.E. All of Italy under Roman control
ca. 106-43 B.C.E. Cicero, the greatest Latin orator
27 B.C.E.-14 C.E. Cesar Augustus's rule
121 C.E.-180 C.E. Marcus Aurelius's rule
476 C.E. Fall of Western Roman Empire
The Modern Age begins around 1500 C.E. Historians generally date it from the year 1492 C.E. By then, Western civilization had undergone an evolution of more than five thousand years. Great empires and civilizations had arisen—and disappeared. Egyptians, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans had acted on the stage of Western history. All of them had flourished in the same comparatively small area, restricted to lands that surrounded the eastern Mediterranean basin and extended eastward to India and the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Geographiclinks connected the various peoples; their commercial enterprises, religious beliefs, artistic creations, and political fates were interwoven. The inventions and achievements of each civilization nourished the thought and the work of civilizations that came after it.
Time has annihilated most of what they produced. Our knowledge of the oldest precursors of Western civilization has increased, however, owing to the recent work of archaeologists. Yet any direct impact of the Egyptians and Babylonians, Persians and Phoenicians, or Hittites and Etruscans is hard to find because there are few surviving monuments. Only indirectly has their legacy been preserved. These older Cultures affected the Greeks and Romans and, through them, modern Western Civilization. Even the influence of the Hebrews can be seen only indirectly, chiefly in the ethical principles that have come down to through Christianity.
Greek Contributions to Modern Western Civilization
The influence of the ancient Greeks can be felt directly in almost all facets of modern life. Greek culture has had a major impact on Western civilization.
The first indication of Greece's significance is shown in the treasure trove of words that the modern world has embraced. Examples include such English words as philosophy, history, mathematics, aesthetics, mysticism, architecture, poetry, choir, monarchy, democracy, barbarism, theory, paper, and atom. Such words are not important simply for having entered our vocabulary. Rather, their importance lies in the fact that the concepts for which they stand have retained meaning for modern people. The thoughts behind them have enriched our thinking, and the ideas they represent have remained valid through the ages.
Greek thought ranged widely and freely, restrained by clear and logical minds, but unimpeded by a written set of values, an enforced creed, or a dogma. This was perhaps the most important factor that helped to make the concepts of ancient Greece permanent and usable tools. The Greeks loved wisdom and sought a path to wise living. They studied the reality that surrounded them and tried first to understand it, then to master it. To achieve such mastery, they looked to noble qualities in human nature, to self-control, fortitude, and temperance. They studied themselves, both as individuals with individual aspirations and as members of a community with a common destiny. They searched for a compromise between the ideal state of human beings and the limited status imposed upon them by nature. The Greeks initiated various philosophical schools, including the Sophists, the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Cynics. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (4th century B.C.E.) created systems of logic and concepts of ethics that still act as guides. They considered and developed various ways to direct people in their search for knowledge and drive to action. They recognized that the human mind cannot comprehend everything and that there are limits. Within these limits, philosophical investigations moved throughout the history of Western civilization.
With their rational procedures and their reliance upon logical deduction, the Greeks achieved remarkable insights into the works of nature. They arrived at these insights through speculation rather than observation and experimentation. This, to be sure, limited their achievement. Since they failed to evolve physical instruments that could have supplemented their methods and measured their results, they reached numerous erroneous conclusions. These, too, contributed to a lasting heritage: as the errors played an important role in the Greek view of the universe, so too, to a large extent, did they dominate Western thought well into the 19th century.
Simultaneously, however, the Greeks developed views that modern investigations have proved to be correct to an astounding degree. By means of logical deduction, they anticipated many findings acceptable to the modern world, and they prepared the way for fundamental procedures and discoveries. Among such significant achievements were those of Pythagoras, Archimedes, and Euclid in mathematics; of Democritus, who postulated an atomic theory; and of Thales, who taught that the Earth is a sphere.
In medicine, the works of Asclepiades, Hippocrates, and Galen have guided the medical profession into the present. They set forth fundamental concepts about the duties of a doctor (the Hippocratic Oath), and they recognized the value of sanitariums and healing springs, of hygiene and physical exercise. Moreover, recent psychological trends were anticipated by philosophers like Plato, who insisted on the interconnection of mind and body.
In zoology, data on the animal world were compiled by Aristotle. In geography, on the basis of philosophical speculation and travel accounts, a picture of the globe was drawn which, notwithstanding all its faults, determined the views of geographers well into the Modern Age and has given direction to almost 2,000 years of mapmaking. A special contribution was made by Greek philosophers in the field of education. The Socratic method of teaching by asking questions and demanding logical answers has become an integral part of modern pedagogy. Invariably, the modern world has gone back to Greek models in its search for a satisfactory path to learning.
Greek principles have survived even in military tactics. Though weapons have changed, wedge-like formations for attack and the oblique arrangement of battle forces, as used and described by the Greeks, have retained their usefulness.
Excerpted from Western Civilization from 1500 by Ahmed Ibrahim Copyright © 2007 by Ahmed Ibrahim. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.