“We think the way we do because Socrates thought the way he did”
Bettany Hughes, Historian
2500 years after the golden age of Athenian Democracy, the foundational aspects of Hellenic culture are still taught in Universities around the world. Hellenic Philosophy, political thought, and artistic expressions are valued for their profound applications and continuing relevance. But what happens outside the walls of the academic institutions? Is Hellenism and its tenets relevant for the ordinary person? Is Hellenism still relevant for modern day Hellenes here in the diaspora and in the modern Greek state?
Hellenism on the individual level focuses on the idea that every person is responsible for his or her own actions and that virtue can be taught. This radical shift in thought which brought responsibility for one’s lot in life from the divine realm down to the human level is uniquely Hellenic. It is up to us to improve ourselves through education. Not an education in the modern sense of acquiring money making skills, but with the fundamentally Hellenic idea of improving our character through constant questioning of our thoughts and actions. We must understand that philosophy is not a subject taught in some dusty classroom for the enjoyment of a few privileged individuals, it is rather the Art of Living and the only way to achieve happiness. It is also that part of our heritage which has been neglected more than any other and the cost is incalculable.
Hellenism on the political level focuses on the value of community above all individualistic tendencies. The cities of Athens and Sparta were not a conglomeration of buildings and Temples but the sum of their citizens. This radical idea can be of tremendous value for us today. Petty conflicts have plagued our communities and interest in activism has declined to the point of virtual inactivity. We must realize that no “charismatic” leader will arise to unite us in utopia, we as a community must mobilize and solve our problems and promote our own interests. That is what true Hellenism teaches. Unfortunately nobody teaches basic Hellenic writings like the “Epitaphios”. A speech Pericles gave to commemorate the Athenian soldiers that died in war and has been preserved by Thucydides. In it Pericles praises the citizens of Athens for their active participation in the affairs of their city and their upbringing that is the foundation for their success. If we want to see a change in the way our communities work and influence the larger world around us we better immerse ourselves in our cultural identity and re-adopt those ideals that made Hellenism the object of study of so many scholars through the centuries. Not because we are influenced by empty nationalistic feelings, or because we hold some romantic notions of that long gone age, but because Hellenism works!