Ancient Greek Dichotomy

Decent Essays
The ancient Greeks followed a set of values, collectively thought of as paideia, that shaped both their society and their legacy. However, this led to a dichotomy of whether the best preservation and propagation of Greek society and paideia originated with improving and being true to the self or in being consistent with the civic state. While these differing ideas could come into conflict, often both worked simultaneously to achieve the same end. In Greek society, athletics represented a way of expressing one’s own personal arête, as well as maintaining the strength of society. The Olympics was the embodiment of the value placed on athletics and the glory they bring to the individual along with the polis. Men were able to compete for their…show more content…
The Stoics thought that one should obey civic laws since they are equivalent to natural law, as seen in the writings of Cicero, “nothing is so comfortable to justice and to the condition of nature… as sovereign power” (Reader 36). He argues just as the universe is obedient to God and his law, “human life depends on the just administration of the laws of order”. Seneca also stated the natural state of man was to be ruled by another, however laws must be enacted to protect the natural rights of man as shown by his quote in Epistle, “But when vice stole in and kingdoms were transformed into tyrannies, a need arose for laws; and these very laws were in turn framed by the wise” (Reader 238). In contrast, Sophocles’ play Antigone portrays the consequences when man’s law is not congruent with god(s) law. When Antigone defies the king’s edict, she states, “Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man, could'st by a breath annul and override the immutable unwritten laws of Heaven” (453-455). Though she is executed for her actions, she is portrayed as heroic in the play for choosing to heed by her conscious and the laws of the gods rather than the transient edicts of man. By being true to herself, she preserves paideia by choosing to abide by immortal truths at the cost of destabilizing civic life. Though Greek thought establishes that natural law is meant to…show more content…
Sacrifice of the physical body in warfare was rewarded by bestowing great honor to the individual, as stated by Pericles in his funeral oration, “His merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual” (Reader 43). Despite any past actions, ceding one’s life for the good of the polis reflected such arête that it negated previous dishonorable behavior. Stoic thought on civic duty, however, postulated that through reason and self-reflection all men could arrive at an understanding of universal truth, and therefore through improving the mind of the individual, one is improving society. The Apology however reflects an instance where this idea comes into conflict with civil society. Socrates calls himself, “a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God” (Read 49), a statement stipulating his views on how self-reflection is a benefit rather than a hindrance to the state, though these views would have him executed. He further states, “If you think that by killing men you can prevent someone from censuring your civil lives you are mistaken” (Reader 49), arguing that civic duty entails and requires critique of the state. Cicero does not contend this outright, but does express his view that people are born into positions in life, and even if it is not suited to your nature one must perform it with honor and propriety. He asserts
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