It’s sad to see Greece make headlines for all the wrong reasons. We see its people suffering under financial turmoil and unwise political moves instead of being celebrated for their ancestors’ role in the development of democracy, erecting beautiful architecture, creating art and sculpture to last the ages, working out philosophy and math and drama still relevant today – and many other reasons we all studied Greece in school.
I’ve never been to Greece and will never get to see it. Just about everything I know about it is from the Hellenic and Hellenistic civilizations, up to the time it fell to the Roman Empire. Most of that, I learned from my ninth-grade world history teacher, Mrs. Dykes. She seemed to enjoy teaching it as much as we loved to learn from her.
We studied a line of famous names so hard to forget: Socrates taught Plato, who taught Aristotle, who taught Alexander the Great. Alexander died at 32, hardly much time to achieve greatness, and yet he did. His father, Philip of Macedon, awarded him a horse, Bucephalus, whose name means “ox head” because of his great size. Legend has it that Bucephalus had toes, but early horses had lost those long before the fourth century B.C. (See how much of high school we all carry around in our heads?)
Mrs. Dykes told us the story of Pheidippides, who was said to have run from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. – the first marathon. We learned about the Battle of Thermopylae later, when 300 Spartans (thus the motion picture 300) bravely defended a narrow pass for days before being wiped out – but not forgotten.
We learned the expression “city-state” in that class, and that Athens and Sparta were great enemies among those entities. We learned why we got the word “spartan” from Sparta.
She taught us about tragedians such as Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. About Greek choruses. About why deus ex machina is called that.
We read portions of the Iliad (whose author “is either Homer or, if not Homer, somebody else of the same name”) and the Odyssey, epics that culture has leaned on many times since to weave a tale. The Trojan War. The excavation of the buried city of Troy millennia later by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. (I told you Mrs. Dykes was a good teacher!)
We studied Greek architecture: the Parthenon, the Pantheon, the Acropolis. I earned extra points by drawing the three types of architectural columns on a white bedsheet and hanging it in the classroom, and at year’s end had a grade average of 105. Yes, I can still name the columns – Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Nerd, or well-taught student? You be the judge.
I hope the Greeks work out their crisis. As historical as it is, Greece doesn’t need to become history.
Reach Glynn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.