Greek Awakening


The term Greek Awakening (or "Greek Miracle") denotes a body of extraordinary innovations realized by ancient Greek civilization. Some of these innovations were unique to ancient Greece; that is, they never emerged in any other place or time (and thus other cultures only acquired them via transmission from ancient Greece). The key prerequisite to these innovations was humanism (see Humanism).

Humanism is "an outlook that emphasizes human capabilities and concerns". Two key implications of this outlook are: that people should exercise critical thought (i.e. people should believe things based on their own rational analysis, as opposed to tradition or doctrine), and that secular subjects (non-religious subjects) should be given major scholarly attention. Humanism, which emerged much more fully in ancient Greece than anywhere else (eventually being inherited by modern Europe), was the overarching achievement of the Greek Awakening, and the engine that drove Greek innovation. Given that critical thought encouraged constant reexamination of the status quo, humanism allowed the Greeks to break free of the staunch conservatism that has characterized most societies throughout history.

Science and Mathematics

Ancient Greece was the sole innovator of theoretical science and theoretical mathematics (see History of Science). Of all the breakthroughs of the Greek Awakening, these would arguably shape the course of Western history most profoundly. All the towering achievements of modern science and mathematics ultimately stand upon an ancient Greek foundation.

Humanities and Social Science

Scholarship is often divided into three fields. The sciences (e.g. physics, chemistry, biology) seek to explain the underlying systems of the natural world, while the social sciences (e.g. political science, economics, sociology) seek to do the same for human society. The humanities, on the other hand, are concerned with the "human side" of humanity, as opposed to the scientific side (the functioning of our bodies) or social scientific side (the functioning of social interaction); one could define the humanities as "the study of human experience and expression".

Arguably, the two most prominent fields of the humanities (in terms of general appeal and importance in general education) are history and art. Other subjects typically classified as humanities include philosophy, languages, and law. (Note that the sciences, social sciences, and humanities often overlap; history, for instance, has been shaped by the forces of economics, while art can be partly explained in terms of physical theories.)

Greece was the birthplace of the Western humanities and social sciences, most famously philosophy (see History of Western Philosophy) and history. The study of history is considered to begin with Herodotus, whose account of the Persian Wars constitutes the first description of history based on critical analysis of sources. Herodotus was succeeded by the foremost ancient historian, Thucydides, who did the same for the Peloponnesian War (only more rigourously).


The most visually obvious feature of the Greek Awakening was physically realistic art, in the form of both painting and (especially) sculpture. The desire to represent human beings (and the material, human world) with physical accuracy is a logical consequence of humanism. Most of world's traditional art is quite stylized (see Realism vs. Stylization), and even the rare traditions that lean in the direction of realistic appearance (e.g. Hindu sculpture) do not pursue it nearly as rigorously as the ancient Greeks.

Physically realistic art flourished in Greece and Rome, then slumbered during the Middle Ages. Since being revived by the Renaissance, it has continued to thrive up to the present day. Thus, all works of art that feature strong physical realism (from the statues of Michelangelo to the paintings of Richard Estes) have their roots in ancient Greece.


Democracy is another extraordinary achievement of ancient Greece (see History of Democracy). Despite limited suffrage, one could arguably refer to Athens as the only true democracy of the pre-modern world.

Today, much of the world features liberal democracy, a form of government that features both democracy (election of representatives by the adult population) and liberalism (the pursuit of individual freedom). Though liberal democracy was not inherited from ancient Greece, the development of liberal democracy was propelled by humanism. Given that Europe inherited humanism from ancient Greece, the democracies of the modern world also stand upon an ancient Greek foundation.