The ideas of humanism were presented in ancient Greece and Rome, and thanks to the humanistic ideas and beliefs of these two civilizations, now we have such a concept as “humanism”, and examples of humanistic literature and art. Both these civilizations put a great emphasis on the development of a personality and achievement of one’s goals. However, there is a difference between the idea of humanity in ancient Greece and in Rome. In Greece, gods were considered to be humans on the ground scale. Also, they were given human characteristics, and there was shown a great interaction of men with gods. On the contrary, in Roman culture, it was shown on a lower scale. Greek humanistic ideas are more vivid and there are more examples of them.
Ancient Greece is characterized by three philosophical and cultural principles: humanism, secularism and rationalism. In the ancient Middle East, people believed in the highest authority of gods, but Greeks have broken this belief. According to ancient Greek people, gods did not control and motivate someone’s life. Everything was in hands of a particular person, “The proper study of man is man” (Bradley University, n.d.).
Humanism was a popular belief in ancient Greece and Rome. According to it, humans are the most important creatures in the world. In previous civilizations, gods were depicted with heads of animals, but in ancient Greece, gods were humans. Gods had physical characteristics of humans and they also had humans’ emotions. Like humans they could be jealous, angry, they fell in love, they showed patriotic feelings, etc. Gods even participated in battles with humans, and they could also fall in love with humans. Gods were humanlike.
Roman Empire was also characterized by a vast number of gods, who were supposed to have human characteristics, and who were depicted as humans in sculptures. For example, Roman god of war Mars was depicted as a man with helmet standing in a very confident manner. This god was considered to be the strongest god and the most fearsome (Warrior, 2001, p. 16). As one can see, human characteristics, such as strength and courage, were attributed to ancient gods.
According to Greek beliefs, humans are rational beings; they are able to understand everything. It does not mean that people will understand everything, but they can do it. Ancient Greeks did not accept such beliefs that only gods can know the meaning of this or that event. Greeks have influenced the Roman system of beliefs, and Romans have also adopted this philosophical view.
Taking into account the other philosophical view, and exactly secularism, one can say that this was a very popular view among ancient Greeks. Greeks thought that there was afterlife, but they did not believe in heaven, as Christians did. Greeks were concerned with gods, but the main emphasis was put on real people and how they can influence them. A wise person should have made the most of his or her life. Humans were thought to be strong beings that are able to do anything they want.
Greeks also thought that individuality is the basis of their society. Such philosophers as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and Alcibiades stressed the importance of personal responsibility. Being a member of Greek’s society, one had to be honest, generous, courageous, and prudent. Greek people believed that people should lead ethical life and moral virtues were of a great importance. Ethical individualism as a way of a person’s behavior became popular among Greek thinkers and philosophers and then among common people (Machan, 2009).
Ancient Greeks also thought that people can be taught to become excellent, and that is why the concept “liberal education” was created by them. With the help of this education, ancient Greeks tried to bring out the best in every individual. This liberal education included a variety of subjects, which later were adopted by the Roman Empire (COHE, n.d.). As one can see, humanism originated in ancient Greece and Rome, and the modern term “humanism” derives from the study of humanity, which was founded in Rome and called the Latin Studia Humanities (COHE, n.d.). Humanistic ideas, which put humans on the first place, were both present in Greece and Rome, and gave start to the development of humanism in other parts of the world, “The origins of the Humanist outlook can be traced back to philosophers of ancient Greece like Epicurus and Democritus. Furthermore, there is a whole history of Humanism in the Arts” (Dawkins, 2007).
A Greek philosopher and writer, Plato, in his works, encouraged people to behave in a rational way, and to set really important goals. He wrote about his understanding of what the human should be, “Individuals who engage in “right thinking” will live virtuous lives and constitute a nation that is properly ordered, and, if everyone can be organized in such nations, the Cosmos will be properly ordered” (Bradley University, n.d.) to have a balance in the universe.
If we take into account Roman humanists, one of the great philosophers and humanists is Cicero. In one of his work, he expressed the thought that people should be able to show their art of a rhetoric speaking. Good actions were a very important part of ancient Romans’ lives and people were supposed to be good orators, be well-educated in a variety of subjects and show their excellence by persuading people to conduct only good actions (Bradley University, n.d.).
It is not surprising that the system of thought, which was present in lives of ancient Greeks and Romans, was called humanism. This concept presupposes that interests of mankind are put on the first place, and mankind will be a chief beneficiary in a social system of these two civilizations (DeWitt, 1933, p. 263).
Both Greek and Roman cultures put a great emphasis on the beauty of human body and the beauty of athletic men (Bradley University, n.d.). All sculptures of ancient gods were depicted in the form of athletic and strong men. If one reads Greek and Roman myths, one will find descriptions of ancient heroes and their heroic deeds (Bradley University, n.d.), which should inspire common people to perform the same heroic deeds. According to ancient Greeks and Romans, people should achieve their own humanity (Bradley University, n.d.).
In Greek and Roman cultures, human experience was put at the center of events in contrast to people of other religions, such as Christians and Hebrews. People of these religions and these beliefs have put God on the first place. Their religion was more important for them than the belief in humans’ powers, humans’ unique abilities, and a person’s opportunity to achieve everything he or she wants. In both Greek and Roman cultures, there were great philosophers and thinkers; for example, Cicero, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Alcibiades, etc. Through their works, these thinkers taught people the concept of a “human”, and explained them what does it mean to be a human, and what people should do to be considered as humans.
Greek and Roman cultures are great examples of humanism; these two civilizations had great values and morale. It was supposed that people behaved according to some norms and values, and they were taught to do so with the help of philosophers’ works and the art of rhetoric. The beauty of body was described, and on the whole, humans were put at the center of attention.