What role did the Greek language have in the development of English?

The famous saying “It’s all Greek to me” might be the most wrongfully chosen expression there is. Because each of us speaks a little Greek every day. There are over 150.000 English words that originate from the Ancient Greek language. Architect, base, and chaos are just a few examples.

How has the Greek language influenced language?

The Greek language has had a profound and lasting impact on the development of many languages throughout history, including English. Here is an overview of how the ancient Greek language is secretly the most spoken in the world.  

The alphabet

The Greek language has contributed to the development of the English alphabet. The ancient Greeks were the first to establish a true alphabet, around the 8th century B.C.. Later, this alphabet was adopted by the Romans who, in turn, passed it on to Western Europe. The modern English alphabet is based on the Roman alphabet and contains many of the same letters as the ancient Greek alphabet did. Moreover, even the name alphabet shows the Greek influence, as the first two letters of the Greek alphabet are Alpha and Bet(a).

Greek words in English

One of the most obvious ways in which Greek has influenced English is through the many words that have been borrowed from the Greek language. These words (often passed on through Latin) have become an integral part of the English vocabulary. For example, words such as “philosophy,” “democracy,” “telephone,” and “typhoon” are all of Greek origin. Greek has also contributed to the technical vocabulary of English, with words such as “mathematics,” “biology,” “geography,” and “psychology” being derived from Greek roots.

Grammar

In addition to the borrowed words, Greek has also had a significant impact on the grammar and syntax of English. The Greek language has an inflected structure. This means that the grammatical function of a word is indicated by its ending rather than by its position in the sentence. This structure has influenced the way in which English forms its verb tenses and noun declensions.

Mythology

Furthermore, Greek mythology and literature have had a major influence on Western culture. Many words and phrases from Greek mythology have become part of the English language. For example, words such as “nemesis,” “hubris,” and “eureka” come from Greek mythology and are used in English to convey specific meanings. Also, the Greek epic poem “Iliad” and “Odyssey” were considered the foundation of Western literature, and many phrases and idioms from these works, such as “Achilles heel” and “Trojan horse,” have been passed down through the generations and are still in use today.

Science and medicine

Moreover, Greek has also played a crucial role in the field of science and medicine. Many scientific and medical terms in English have derived from Greek roots. For instance, words such as “anatomy,” “physiology,” and “pathology” come from Greek roots and are commonly used in the medical field. Additionally, the Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine,” has had a profound impact on the development of the medical field. His teachings are still widely studied today.

English words you probably didn’t think were Greek

Did you ever watch the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? In this movie, there are multiple scenes in which a Greek father explains how every English word derives from a Greek word. Although these scenes add to the level of comedy of the movie, there is actually some truth in it as well. Here is an overview of English words secretly derived from the Greek language.

  • Cemetery
    The word cemetery seems far from Greek. However, it originates from the Greek word koimitirion, which you pronounce as kee-mee-tee-rion. This Greek word describes the place you sleep, and as death is seen as an endless sleep, the cemetery is this place.
  • Dynasty
    The word dynasty comes from the Greek word dinami which means strength or power.
  • Enthusiasm
    In ancient Greece, there was a word made up of en, (in), heós (god), and usía (essence). Enthousiasmós meant something like possed by a god or inspired by the divine. This word then went through Latin and French until it entered the English language with the meaning of excitement.
  • Jealous
    The word jealous comes from the Greek word zêlos.
  • Dinosaur
    Dinosaur comes from a combination of two Greek words. The first is dinos, meaning terrible or fearful. Saûros means lizard. Put these two together and you have the fearful creatures that used to wander our world.

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How has ancient Greek philosophy influenced modern thought?

Philosophy, as we know it today, is often thought to have originated in ancient Greece. Although many ancient Greek philosophers may not be well known to the general public, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle still form the subject of education in many countries, all over the world. But does ancient Greek philosophy still influence modern thought today? 

What is the meaning of the word philosophy?

The term “philosophy” itself is of ancient Greek origin. In fact, the word “philosophy” comes from the Greek words “philo,” meaning “love,” and “sophia,” meaning “wisdom.” Philosophy is generally defined as the study of fundamental questions about knowledge, reality, and existence. Besides, it often involves critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation.

How did philosophy start?

First, there were only religions and myths. Difficult questions, like why the sun comes up, or what happens when you die, were answered by faith in a story people came up with. During this time, many people believed in multiple gods that worked together to create the features of our world. Everything that we now know as science, physics, or astrology.

Philosophy started when people stopped believing in these stories and wanted to know the real reason. Reasoning is the base of philosophy. As soon as people started to answer difficult whathow, and why questions about our world with rational, explainable answers, philosophy was born.

Did philosophy only start in Greece?

The word philosophy is of Greek origin. Nevertheless, the origins of philosophy can also be traced back to ancient civilizations in other parts of the world. India and Persia, for example, answered philosophical questions as early as 3.000 B.C.. However, in these cultures, philosophy was often closely tied to religion and spiritual practices. Many philosophical ideas were developed within the context of these traditions.

The ancient Greeks were the first to separate philosophy, or reasoning, from religion, starting around the 6th century B.C.. Ancient Greek philosophy was considered advanced for its time. The ancient Greek philosophers were known for their innovative and original ideas. They made significant contributions to a wide range of fields including politics, ethics, science, and metaphysics.

Ancient Greek philosophy today

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are considered to be some of the most influential philosophers in Western thought. Their ideas have had a lasting impact on the development of philosophy and other disciplines. The works of ancient Greek philosophers are often studied and discussed within the context of philosophy and Classics departments at universities.

Here is an overview of some ways in which ancient Greek philosophers have influenced modern thought and philosophy.

The concept of democracy

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all wrote about the importance of democracy and the role of the citizen in a democratic society. These ideas have had a lasting influence on modern democracy and political thought.

“The measure of a man is what he does with power.”

Socrates
The idea of natural rights

The ancient Greek philosopher Zeno is credited with developing the concept of natural rights. In other words, the idea that all people have certain inherent rights that cannot be taken away by the state or any other authority. This concept has had a significant influence on modern political and legal thought.

“Nature has given to man a tongue as a means of communication, hands for the purposes of labor, and reason for the discovery of truth and the conduct of life.”

Zeno
The pursuit of wisdom

The ancient Greek philosophers were known for their pursuit of wisdom. Especially their ideas about knowledge and truth. These have continued to be studied and debated in the modern world.

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

Plato
The concept of the good life

Many ancient Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, wrote about the concept of the good life and what it means to live a virtuous and fulfilling life. These ideas have had a lasting influence on modern philosophical thought about ethics and morality.

“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.”

Aristotle

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Enter ancient Greece at Mycenae

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Enter ancient Greece at Mycenae

Greece is famous for its rich amount of archeological sites. Building in the country is almost impossible due to the abundance of history hidden underneath Greek soil. As a result, even the smallest towns have archeological sites or museums. Most of these sites are fields, covered with ancient foundations and restored columns. The most famous sites might have a building that survived time, like the Parthenon in the Acropolis or the theatre at Epidaurus. At the ancient city of Mycenae, however, you can actually touch and enter the structures built thousands of years ago. This archeological site is a truly unique experience.

Location Overview

Argolis, Peloponnese

Archeological site

1.5 – 2 hours

€6,- to €12,-
seasonal

Be careful

Yes

Location

Mycenae lies in the North of the Peloponnese peninsula, in the Argolis region. The ancient site is just 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Athens Airport by car, and the first famous archeological site you find when entering the Peloponnese.

The location of the ancient city is impressive. On top of a hill, overlooking the sea in the south, and de fields and mountains all around.

Mythology

Mycenae is an ancient city on top of a hill built from giant rocks. It seems almost impossible that human hands constructed this city so long ago. So, Greek mythology came up with an explanation.

According to mythology, Zeus and Danae (the daughter of the king of Argos, a city close by) had a son, Perseus. He wandered around the area that is now Mycenae and either dropped his cap or found a mushroom. A cap, as well as a mushroom are myces in the ancient Greek language. So we can not know which of the two Perseus was about to pick up. But when Perseus picked up his myces, he found a water spring. He decided to settle right there and called his city Mycenae.

Perseus wanted to fortify the city he was now king of and called the cyclopes. These one-eyed giants were strong enough to pick up large and heavy stones with ease. They created fortification walls that mark the outline of Mycenae till today. The Cyclopean walls, named after their builders.

History

Mycenae is over nine thousand years old. The first signs of human life in the area date back to the Early Neolithic Age in the 7th century B.C. However, not much of the early Mycenae survived through time, and the archeological site mostly tells the story of the city’s prime time.

Between 1350 and 1200 B.C., Mycenae was a major center of Greek civilization. The city expanded rapidly to a population of 300,000. Many buildings in the citadel were rebuilt, and the fortification walls were constructed. The Lion Gate, the tholos tombs, and the palace, for example, all originate in this time in ancient Greece. Unfortunately, because of this, not much of Mycenae before this time survived. 

After 1200 B.C., Mycenae lost its status as the center of power. The site got destroyed for an unknown reason. The citadel was partly rebuilt later but caught fire and then was slowly abandoned. The ruins of ancient Mycenae have been a tourist attraction since Roman times and have remained popular till today. The site has been on the list of UNESCO world heritage since 1999.

The archeological site of Mycenae

The archeological site of ancient Mycenae is one of the oldest in Greece. Eight hundred years older than the Acropolis and constructed two thousand years before the close by site of Mystras. However, the site is well preserved. A visit to Mycenae is like a visit to ancient Greece.

I have never felt more connected with history than during my visit to Mykines. There are ancient streets you can walk on, structures you can enter, spaces you can experience, and walls you can touch. At the site, there is a concrete path you can follow. This path leads you to all the impressive structures of the old city. I would recommend first entering the citadel and visiting the tombs at the beginning of the site afterward.

The Lion Gate

The most famous and first structure at Mycenae is the Lion Gate. This gate marks the entrance to the city in an impressive 3-meter (10 feet) tall wall. 

The reason behind the gate’s name is above the passage. There is a large, triangular, limestone slab with the image of two confronted lionesses. Although the heads are missing, the image in the stone is still clear and detailed. But more impressively, the lionesses are not just there for ornamentation. The limestone’s triangular shape gives stability to the giant rocks in the wall above the entrance. Without this stone, the gate would collapse.

Nature and History

After passing through the Lion Gate, you have entered the citadel. From the gate, a concrete path marks the route around the city. Along grave circle A, the palace, temples, and many other buildings. 

Cyclopean walls, constructed for fortification, enclose the entire citadel. From these walls, the view of the surrounding landscape is breathtaking and reveals how well-positioned this ancient city used to be. At a both strategic and defensive location in the area. You will be continuously drawn between being amazed by the ancient structures, to being astonished by the magnificent views.

The underground cistern

At the most eastern point of the archeological site, you can find a rare experience, the underground cistern. Although its entrance looks like a cave in the fortification wall, it is actually the beginning of a spectacular piece of architecture.

The cave marks the entrance of a passage. This passage is a staircase that leads 18 meters deep and at the end of this staircase, there is an even deeper structure. A well, made of clay, collects water from a natural spring. This well used to provide a continuous supply of water to the citadel, and is one of the oldest underground aqueducts you can visit in Greece.

Unfortunately, only a part of the tunnel is open to the public. However, this is enough to reveal how advanced and intelligent the Mycenaen civilization used to be. You can enter the tunnel, descend part of the stairs and see how deep down the staircase reaches. However, even the giant stones that enclose the stairs in an arc-like shape, are an art piece by themselves.

The tholos tombs

After visiting the ancient city of Mycenae, you can enter grave circle B. Located just outside of the city’s wall, the tombs of Aegisthus and Clymentemnesta are worth the climb down the steep hillside.

The tombs are called the tholos tombs. Tholo in Greek means dome, which perfectly describes the shape of the tombs as they are large underground domes, or beehive tombs in English. But how were these impressive underground shapes created?

First, the Greeks make a large round opening into a hill. Inside this opening, they placed huge stones in circular rows, on top of each other. Each row sticks out slightly over the previous one, to decrease the diameter of the circle of stones gradually. They continue this process upward, until the circle’s diameter is as small as a singular stone. This is the top of the dome.

After the Greeks completed the dome shaped-structure, they restored the hill, by adding soil on top of the tomb. The dome shape of the structure made it survive underground. The tomb of Clymentemnesta proves the strength of the dome design. When a theatre was built on top of it at later times, the structure was able to hold the weight.

The entrance to the tombs is a wide path leading into the otherwise hidden dome. This path is called the dromos in Greek. This dromos leads to the tomb’s entrance, marked by a gate, constructed similar to the Lion Gate. 

The tomb of Aegisthus is destroyed at the top. However, the tomb of Clymentemnesta is fully preserved and impressive. The scale of the tombs at Mycenae is unbelievable, and the acoustics inside adds to their size. They are real masterpieces of ancient Greek architecture.

Tips:

  • The whole site, except for the tombs, is accessible by wheelchair. However, the concrete path is very steep at some points, so keep this in mind.
  • Visit the site in the order described above. You will go from being amazed to being more amazed, and being beyond amazed!
  • Bring plenty of water and sunscreen when you visit the archeological site of Mycenae during the summer months. The location, on top of a hill, requires quite a hike, and shading is scarce at the citadel. Therefore, it is better to visit off-season. This period will also show a clearer view of the landscape around.
  • Don’t forget to visit the museum and the tomb of Agamemnon. The museum is located slightly downhill, on the North of ancient Mycenea. You can find the tomb on the road down to the village of Mykines.
  • Combine a visit to Mycenae with Epidaurus, Nafplio, the Sunken City, the Dolines of Didyma, or any of the beaches close by.
  • You will have to pay entrance to enter Mycenae. A ticket costs €12,- from April to October. Off-season and for children, the price is €6,-. There is another ticket available that is valid for three days and combines Mycenae with other museums and ancient sites in the area. This ticket costs €20,-.
  • Mycenea is open from 8 AM to 8 PM during the summer months. When traveling outside this season, you should check the opening hours before your visit since they change each month.

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Building amongst archeological sites

Around 50 years ago, Thessaloniki decided to do something about the endless traffic jams in the city. The idea was a metro, connecting the rectangular-shaped city center underground. Today, however, not one station opened. Why? Because building amongst archeological sites is nearly impossible.

The tunnel for Thessaloniki’s metro resulted in the largest archeological dig in northern Greece. While construction of the metro quickly came to a stop, 300 archeologists had 20 square kilometers of Byzantine structures to be unearthed. With over 10 years of delay, the metro is still not functional today, but archeologists found a real treasure.

Although I fully agree that the archeological findings in Greece are valuable and do need to be preserved. I want to show you a different side of this story. Because while living in a country with ancient stones in every back garden might sound romantic to you. It is actually not as great as it seems. Building amongst archeological sites actually causes big problems all throughout Greece.

As soon as construction starts, it stops

Whenever someone wants to build something, somewhere in Greece, there is one main rule he or she has to follow. Stop when there is a sign of any kind of old object in the ground.

But imagine that you bought a piece of land in your favorite region in Greece. The plans for your dream house are ready, construction starts with digging for the foundation, and then… it stops. Either you will have months or even years of delay. Or archeologists will tell you after this time that you can forget all about your dream house. You instead bought yourself an archeological site. Yay..?

The same thing can happen even when you inherit the family house. Maybe the foundation needs to be strengthened or maybe you want to make an extension to fit the whole family. Well even if the house and garden have been in family for years, chances are big that you as well, will stumble upon some artifact that either leaves you with an unhabitable house or a big delay.

It is too expensive to build

During countless construction projects in Greece, both big and small, something valuable is found. Resulting in delays, higher costs, or loss of invested money. The Thessaloniki metro, for example, went from a budget of 1.1 billion euros to costing over 3.5 billion. With an additional 132 million euros spent on archeology, of which the budget was just 15 million. But where this project was able to continue because of funding, many Greeks are not able to pay 3x more as planned for a simple house.

Do they stop at every stone?

As a result, many building sites are left abandoned and unfinished. And although ancient ruins are not the main reason for the abandoned structures, it is one that seems so surreal to me.

I can imagine the frustration of developers when again an ancient wall is found by a bulldozer. I wonder if they would really stop at every single stone or just throw away a few to speed up the process. It is not easy, building amongst archeological sites when they are litteraly everywhere.

It reminds me of the projects I worked on in Germany, where it is very common to have either a bomb or a bunker underneath your plot. A different kind of history but one that prevents architectural growth as much as the ancient ruins in Greece do. Funny.

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