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Polis: the Greek city

The notion of ‘architecture’ appeared in the ancient Greek philosophy. It was specifically outlined in the famous work ‘The ten books of architecture’ of Vitruvius. Both in the Vitruvius work and the ancient Greek philosophy, the term ‘architecture’ is not clearly defined but it results indirectly from various contexts. Thus, for example, Vitruvius emphasizes “The fundamental principles of architecture”: 1. The architecture depends on Order, Arrangement, and eurhythmy, Symmetry, Quality and Economy. 2.

The order is the selection of a standard mode and the entire construction starting from it; 3. The arrangement consists in placing the parts in the right place; 4. The eurhythmy is the beauty and the matching of parts one to another. 5. The symmetry is the ratio between the parties and between them and the whole; 6. The quality is represented by a uniform style; 7. The economy is the management of materials and construction. Note that: (a) the principles of Vitruvius are more characteristics of the outcome of architectural process (i. e. an artifact).

(b) The characteristics of a good and aesthetic artifact seem to remain the same until today although some of them have other meanings in the present. For example, “the symmetry” was understood by ancient Greeks (Pythagoras, Plato), including Vitruvius as an “analogy” that derives from certain equalities of the reports of various parts and whole. (c) Also, according to Vitruvius, certain reports are found both in nature and in an artifact (for example, the “golden number”, which is found in the human body but also in autistics and technical products such as the Parthenon).

The world of the ancient Greeks was characterized by competitiveness. As proof, we have the famous Olympic Games that were revived successfully in the nineteenth century by Baron de Coubertin. But the competitions manifested throw all the plans of their life, including the cultural side. A true Greek “polis”, a veritable city, was defined exactly throw these aspects of the civil life, stimulated by competitiveness, which couldn’t exist without specific places for musical, commercial, sport, educational or theater activities.

The Greek temple, imposing and rigorous is nothing more than an expression of democracy. The religion and art go hand in hand with politics, without being subordinated by politics. Moreover, the work of art was not meant to intrinsic aesthetic pleasures, as we perceive it today, but it was subordinated to a practical or religious purpose. Due to these reasons, with few exceptions, it is admired not only the work, but also the artist who created it. Perhaps therefore, Plato is so little lenient with the artist, in general.

The Greek sculpture does not symbolize an abstract body, but it is rather an attempt to find the ideal beauty, making a synthesis of living bodies, throw which manifests a psycho-physic beauty, designed to harmonize the body and soul, meaning the beauty of forms and the goodness of the soul; it is the ideal of Kalokagathia, whose highest expression can be found in the lyrics of Sapho and structures of Praxiteles. This type of Beauty finds the best expression in static forms.

Among philosophers, Plato, who didn’t agree with the artists too much, thought that their work reveals only a shadow of true beauty and that throw their work they affect the harmony and emphasize the excess, breaking the basic rules of the universal equilibrium, which are engraved even now on the walls of the temple Delphi: “Respect the limits”, “Hate the hybris”, “Nothing in excess”. For Plato, the beauty exists either as the beauty of geometric forms, a beauty characterized by harmony and proportion of parts, either as a brilliant beauty.

Plato’s involvement in politics was inevitable. Of course he was a philosopher, but felt more deeply a member of the city-state, polis, the Greek term that represents the origin of the words politics and policy. What was the polis? Although it was often led by hereditary kings or by self-proclaimed leaders and other foreign cities, the polis was a community inhabited by free citizens who had their own activities, taking care of their own defense.

The polis wasn’t a big area- Aristotle suggested that a polis should be covered by the sound of a trumpet, in order to allow to all citizens, who were warriors, judges in case of crime, public, judges of the foreign politics, to gather when it was needed and to accomplish their main mission- the defense of their freedom. Plato’s attempt to describe the paradigm of the ideal polis was exposed in the political dialogues: “The Political Man”, “Laws”,” The Republic”. The principles of an effective and legitimate administration are based on the classical idea of Plato’s philosophy- the harmony.

The agreement between the human actions and their accuracy is a sine qua non of the ideal. The laws determine the development of polis. The polis is the community of people who participate actively to the political life. Each individual has the obligation to participate to the political life, fact that will lead to the establishment of Athenian democracy. The virtue, the morality, the faith in gods, the good will, and the courage are features of a perfect leader. More importantly, in the ideal polis, the qualities are transmitted to people, because people form the government of the polis.

Athenian democracy is the best known of all democracies, because it will establish the first principles of a legitimate and harmonious society. The virtue is the principle that establishes the democratic nature of the citizens and the way of building the social behavior. The humanity is built on the educational principles that will guide individuals in community life. The universality of principles includes the laws and qualities of an ideal leader. The Greek polis must be led by a man who possesses all the qualities of a god.

The connection between the leader of the community and the god of the fortress is similar to Egyptians’ beliefs, which has a religious worship for the pharaohs. The pharaoh possesses all the virtues of a god, in the mentality of the people, to increase the political and religious power of the government. Thus, the leader of the polis is the perfect warrior, who knows the virtue and possesses the wisdom of a philosopher. The word “politics” comes from polis (city), this term referring first to the community of citizens and secondly, to the state’s territory on which the polis was built.

In Ancient Greece, the fortress was placed in the center of the polis, around which were grouped the rest of the buildings. In polis, agora, the market where people were gathering, was placed in the center of the city. The political decisions were not taken by a king, but by the public; they were supposed to be justified in front of the citizens, receiving their approval. Politeia represented all institutions of a polis. Patrios Politeia was expressing the customary law of the ancestors.

The Greeks were organized in tribes, families (genos), speaking different dialects. The political power evolved starting with the authority of kings to that of agricultural aristocracy, attaining the stage at which the fortune became more important than the social origin and religious and military prestige. The solid bases of European civilization have their origins in Greece. The Ancient Greeks have had the great capacity to develop new possibilities in economics, philosophy, science and art, contributing to civilization and ethno-cultural interferences.

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