By: Stephanie Williams
The western world as it is familiar to us today would be completely different if the events of the Greco-Persian war had ended with Persian victory. Not only would the United States of America be more likely to not even exist today, but the impact of Greek government, philosophy, architecture, and art would also have never made its influence on the rest of the world if the Persian Monarchy had been victorious and taken root.
Herodotus explains the entirety of the Greco-Persian war in great detail in his
Histories. The first invasion of Greece by Persia was headed by King Darius, and under command of Datis and Artaphernes in 492 BC. The attempt failed and Darius was working on planning out the second conquest when he died. His son Xerxes was appointed to the throne in succession to his father, and led the second invasion of Greece. In the seventh book, Herodotus explains that Xerxes was advised by his uncle Artabanus to not go to war with the Greeks. To which, Xerxes says, “Thou shalt not come with me to fight these Greeks, but shalt tarry here with the women. Without thy aid I will accomplish all of which I spake.” According to Herodotus, Xerxes was troubled by his uncle’s advice and then had a dream where “a tall, beautiful man” was questioning his decision to forego the war. Xerxes woke, but shook off the dream and declared that they would in fact not be going to war. The next night, however, the same vision appeared, and when he woke, Xerxes told his uncle he had to go to war. He ordered the Persian men to prepare for the war, which would eventually lead to their demise.
All of the values, ideas, and historical importances of the Greek culture that spread around the world and have become a core component of the foundation and studies of the western world would not be known today if the Persians had in fact defeated the Greeks. The influence of Greek government in the western world is probably one of the biggest contributions in our country, and that would have been greatly affected had the Persians won the war. Instead of being the democratically influenced society that America is today, we would probably mirror the Monarchy of the Persian Empire. Democracy would have perished along with Greece if it had been overtaken by the Persians, and America would not be the land of opportunity that we know, let alone, perhaps, even be discovered yet.
Though government style is one of the major things we borrowed from the Greek
civilization, the political aspects are only one subject of many that helped form the western world. Greek Philosophers were responsible for the advancement in intellect, which was a breakthrough concept and whose ideas questioned humanity and life itself. There were three main philosophers from ancient Greek times that we still look up to today. Socrates (469-399 BC), the Athenian philosopher, was preoccupied with the “thoughts and opinions of people”, and was also the creator of the famous quote, “All I know is that I know nothing.” He was also one of the first to step out and promote the disbelief in the Greek city gods. He was more interested in rationality than superstitions or the like, and introduced the concept of rationalism to humanity. Plato (428-348 BC), was a follower of Socrates, but formed his own opinions on knowledge. He argued for the theory of forms, that everything we know in life is just a copy of the real and the good. These “copies” were ultimately derived “from a sense” and therefore we could never gain an accurate knowledge of “true being” from them. His philosophies were important because science and physics the way we know them today were shaped around his ideas. Aristotle (384-322 BC), was considered the “greatest philosopher of Greek antiquity.” He disagreed with Plato, saying that there was no separation between an object’s matter and true form. He was also an influence on many modern thinkers, including René Descartes, the father of the idea, “I think; therefore I am,” and many others that influenced the western world such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, and their theories were prominent in laying out the foundation for America.
Greek architecture is still a prominent part of society here in America. The Pantheon was a monumental structure created by the Greeks because of its function and beauty. The columns and geometrical shapes made it an ideal and sensible structure that could endure weather, and host many citizens all at once. The Pantheon is the model after which the American Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was constructed and stands as a reminder of the strength and legacy of the Greek civilization of which we looked up to when building our own society. It is even present in homes and offices today, and is a common part of the western world that was borrowed from the Greeks.
The Greeks were known as being an incredibly creative people. They had a great interest in the array of the arts, including literature, sculpture, theater, etc. Preclassical Greek literature brought the birth of the epic novel, created by Homer. The two works of literature that stand out are the Iliad and the Odyssey. These two novels are commonly studied in schools still today and are respected as some of the oldest works of literature we have today. Greek art was mostly concerned with depicting the many greek myths and portraying people as extremely beautiful, and was an early inspiration for later artists such as DaVinci and Michelangelo. Greek plays were put on in the amphitheatre and the Comedic/Tragic style later found its way into later works such as Shakespeare.
None of the aforementioned parts of the influential Greek culture would have ever made its way from the ancient times and been brought back during the Renaissance and modern day western world if the Persians had defeated them. These valued objects, ideals and philosophies would have been lost. Because the Persians were not as stable a society as the Greeks, and were diminished shortly after the war, we cannot say for sure what their reign would have been like or what kind of artifacts it might have produced, but we can recognize these Greek artifacts and values as parts of our every day lives in the western world; a world that may not have even existed if the Greco-Persian war hadn’t turned out the way it did.
Cunningham/Reich. “Cultures and Values.” Cultures and Values Vol. 1. Ed. Maureen Staudt. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning: 2009.