Will Durant

To the philosopher, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. -- Emerson

If Greek civilization seems more akin and "modem" to us now than that of any century before Voltaire, it is because the Hellene loved reason as much as form, and boldly sought to explain all nature in nature's terms.

The liberation of science from theology and the independent development of scientific research were parts of the heady adventure of the Greek mind. Greek mathematicians laid the foundations of trigonometry and calculus; they began and completed the study of conic sections, and they brought three-dimensional geometry to such relative perfection that it remained as they left it until Descartes and Pascal.

Democritus illuminated the whole area of physics and chemistry with his atomic theory. In a mere aside and holiday from abstract studies, Archimedes produced enough new mechanisms to place his name with the highest in the records of invention. Aristarchus anticipated and perhaps inspired Copernicus; and Hipparchus, through Claudius Ptolemy, constructed a system of astronomy which is one of the landmarks in cultural history.

Eratosthenes measured the earth and mapped it. Anaxagoras and Empedoeles drew the outlines of a theory of evolution. Aristotle and Theophrastus classified the animal and plant kingdoms and almost created the sciences of meteorology, zoology, embryology and botany. Hippocrates freed medicine from mysticism and philosophical theory, and ennobled it with an ethical code; Herophilus and Erasistratus raised anatomy and physiology to a point which -- except in Galen -- Europe would not reach again till the Renaissance.

In the work of these men we breathe the quiet air of reason, always uncertain and unsafe, but cleansed of passion and myth. Perhaps, if we had its masterpieces entire, we should rate Greek science as the most signal intellectual achievement of mankind.

But the lover of philosophy will only reluctantly yield to science and art the supreme places in our Grecian heritage. Greek science itself was a child of Greek philosophy -- of that reckless challenge to legend, that youthful love of inquiry, which for centuries united science and philosophy in one adventurous quest. Never had men examined nature so critically and yet so affectionately; the Greeks did no dishonor to the world in thinking that it was a cosmos of order and therefore amenable to understanding. They invented logic for the same reason that they made perfect statuary; harmony, unity, proportion, form, in their view, provided both the art of logic and the logic of art.

Curious of every fact and every theory, they not only established philosophy as a distinct enterprise of the European mind, but they conceived nearly every system and every hypothesis and left little to be said on any major problem of life. Realism and nominalism, idealism and materialism, monotheism, pantheism, and atheism, feminism and communism, the Kantian critique and the Schopenhaurian despair, the primitivism of Rousseau and the immoralism of Nietzsche, the synthesis of Spencer and the psychoanalysis of Freud -- all the dreams and wisdom of philosophy are here in the age and land of its birth. And in Greece men not only talked of philosophy, they lived it; the sage, rather than the warrior or the saint, was the pinnacle and ideal of Greek life.

Through all the centuries from Thales, that exhilarating philosophical bequest has come down to us, inspiring Roman emperors, Christian Fathers, Scholastic theologians, Renaissance heretics, Cambridge Platonists, the rebels of the Enlightenment and the devotees of philosophy today. At this moment, thousands of eager spirits are reading Plato -- perhaps in every country on the earth.

Civilization does not die, it migrates; it changes its habitat and its dress, but it lives on. The decay of one civilization, as of one individual, makes room for the growth of another; life sheds the old skin and surprises death with fresh youth. Greek civilization is alive; it moves in every breath of mind that we breathe; so much of it remains that none of us in one lifetime could absorb it all.

We know its defects -- its insane and pitiless wars, its stagnant slavery, its subjection of woman, its lack of moral restraint, its corrupt individualism, its tragic failure to unite liberty with order and peace. But those who cherish freedom, reason and beauty will not linger over these blemishes. They will hear behind the turmoil of political history the voices of Solon and Socrates, of Plato and Euripides, of Phidias and Praxiteles, of Epicurus and Archimedes; they will be grateful for the existence of such men and will seek their company across alien centuries.

They will think of Greece as the bright morning of that Western civilization which, with all its kindred faults, is our nourishment and our life.