Armand d'Angour, University of Oxford - BBC
The culture and legends of ancient Greece have a long and valuable legacy in the modern language of education, politics, philosophy, art and science. Classic references from thousands of years ago keep popping up. But what was the origin of some of these ideas?
Did the Trojan Horse really exist?
The story of the Trojan Horse was first mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, an epic poem written 750 BC, describing the aftermath of the Trojan War.
After besieging Troy for 10 years without success, the Greek army set up camp outside the city walls and pretended to leave to return home. Behind them they left a giant wooden horse as a sign of the goddess Athena. The Trojans drove the horse into Troy, and when night fell, the Greek warriors came out of the horse and destroyed the city.
Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was burned, and that the Trojan Horse was a fictional fiction.
Homer is one of the greatest poets of Ancient Greece. Did it really exist?
The Trojan Horse is not the only fiction of Greek history, Homer's own existence has often been questioned. It is assumed that Homer's great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were composed orally, without the aid of writing.
While the ancients have no doubt that Homer was a true rhapsodist who composed these monumental songs. Only one thing is certain, that these songs were written in Greek.
Was there an inventor of the alphabet?
The date attributed to the writing of Homer's songs is related to the earliest evidence of the existence of Greek writings in the 8th century BC. The Greeks knew that their alphabet (later borrowed by the Romans to become the Western alphabet) was adapted from that of the Phoenicians, a nation to the east whose first letters were "alpha and bet". The adapter of the alphabet is thought to be Palamedes "a wise old man", who is said to have invented counting, currency, and some games. The shape of the Greek letters differed from that of the Phoenicians.
Did Pythagoras Invent the Pythagorean Theorem? Or did you copy it from someone else?
It is doubtful whether Pythagoras was really a mathematician. School children still learn the so-called theorem for finding the hypotenuse of a triangle. But this equation was known to the Babylonians centuries before, and there is no evidence that it is Pythagoras who discovered and proved this theorem. Later Pythagoreans say that Pythagoras believed that numbers were the basis of everything.
What prompted the Greeks to start using money?
It would be very clear to us if it were the commercial parties who would drive the invention of money. But human beings conducted trade without coins, and it is not certain whether the world's first monetary economy arose in Greece. Classicist Richard Seaford argued that the invention of money has deep roots in the Greek psyche. It is related to notions of reciprocal exchange. Financial instruments and institutions – banking contracts, loans and debts – developed in many Greek cities during the 5th century BC, with Athens at the forefront.
How many Spartans were actually Spartans?
The legendary Spartan commander Lycurgus decreed that the Spartans should use iron as their only currency. This story may be part of the idealism of the ancient Spartans as a warrior society devoted to the military. While classical Sparta did not have its own coins, it used foreign silver. However, laws prevented the process of importation to the Spartans.
What were the secrets of the Greek Mystery Cults?
"If I told you something, I would have to kill you." Secrets were closely guarded, and severe punishments were meted out to anyone who revealed the secrets. Numerous excavations that have been carried out since early times have revealed tombs containing passwords and instructions written on gold leaves in memory of the dead. The first Greek Mystery cults were that of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, and Dionysus, the God of wine, ecstasy—and the theater.
Who was the first to make a play? How did the theater start?
In 5th-century Athens, the theater was closely associated with the cult of Dionysus, in whose theater the tragedies and comedies of the Acropolis took place during the annual festival. But the origin of the theater is a matter for further discussion. Tradition points to the actor Thespis playing a dramatic role for the first time around 532 BC, while another claims that drama began with ritual choruses introduced by actors' parts. Aristotle claimed that the choruses of tragedy were original ritual songs sung and danced in honor of Dionysus. The comic drama devoted itself to the imitation of contemporary figures.
What prompted Socrates to become a philosopher?
Socrates may have had his head in the clouds, and was portrayed in Aristophanes' comedy for his absurd ideas and ideas about society. This painting contradicts the main sources of Socrates' biographical data, and the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon. Both of his students treated him with great respect as a worthy moral leader, however they did not reveal anything about Socrates' early activities. In fact, our first descriptions of Socrates, during his thirties, show him as a man of action. He served during a military campaign in northern Greece in 432 BC, and during a fierce battle, Socrates saved the life of his dear friend Alcibiades. After that he never left Athens, and spent his time studying the lives and thoughts of his Athenian friends. We can speculate that Socrates had played with science and politics in his youth, until he realized the importance of life during his experience in war. While he wrote nothing himself, the image of Socrates as a philosopher comes from dialogues with his student, Plato.
Was Alexander the Great really great?
Alexander was likely to become one of the greatest military generals the world had ever seen. According to ancient sources, it physically did not fill the mind. Short, stocky, he was a hard drinker with an impulsive temper that on one occasion led him to kill his friend Kleitus during a fight. Over the years he became a paranoid person. Within 10 years, since he was 20 years old, he created a huge empire that stretched from Egypt to India. Never defeated in a battle. He founded 20 cities named after him, including Alexandria in Egypt. His military success and numerous conquests earned him the title "The Great".