17 Facts About Ancient Greece That Can Surprise Even a History Teacher
The ancient Greeks seem to have invented everything that we use today: cards, theater, olive oil, Olympics, philosophy, yo-yos, robots and even professional pregnancy management.
We love digging into the secrets of the ancients, so we decided to share with you wow facts about Hellas – one of the greatest civilizations in the world.
- The Greek alphabet was developed at the beginning of the 8th century BC. And for the first time in the world, it had symbols for vowels.
- Yo-yo was invented in ancient Greece. The first mention of this toy was dated 440 BC. Yo-yos were made from wood, metal, or painted terracotta discs and were simply called discs. When a child came of age, they donated these toys to certain gods.
- By the way, about the gods. Zeus is considered the head of the ancient Greek pantheon, but this is not entirely correct. The fact is that Hellas was not a single state entity – it was a system of policies that did not depend on each other in any way. And each city had its own cult. For example, Zeus in Dodona and Olympia, Apollo in Delphi and Delos, Athena in Athens and Lindos, Hera in Argos and Samos, Asclepius in Epidaurus.
- In ancient mythology, there was no concept of good and evil. Revered gods and heroes have often done rather unsightly deeds. Hercules stole a jewel from a woman in love with him, and Achilles quarreled with the king over the girl and abandoned his comrades in the midst of the Trojan War. A terrible story happened to Medusa the Gorgon: Poseidon abused her in the temple of Athena, but the goddess was angry not with the “Olympic” relative, but with the unfortunate victim, turning her into a monster, which Perseus later fought with.
- One of the beloved Greek gods is Dionysus, the patron saint of fertility. In honor of him, people organized noisy festivities – Dionysius. Their participants staged parades with treats and disguised themselves in goat skins. From the latter custom the word tragedy appeared (“tragos” – “goat”, “ode” – “song”). And the word “comedy” comes from the word “komos”, which means “procession of hawkers.”
- The myth that sick boys were thrown from the cliffs in Sparta is one of the most widespread. The ancient Greek historian Plutarch wrote about this, however, according to the latest data, he distorted the information to please the political elites of that time. Archaeologists excavated in the same gorge where the babies were allegedly thrown, and did not find there evidence for Plutarch’s words. In fact, prisoners and criminals were executed at this place.
- At the same time, the Spartan upbringing was really very harsh. At the age of 7, the boys were sent to special military camps. Children slept on straw mats, and they were allowed to wear clothes only from the age of 12. Some boys put nettles on their beddings to warm them up by burning them. The boys were constantly engaged in physical exercises, learned to wield a sword and throw a spear. They had to look for food for themselves, for example, steal.
- One of the traditional dishes of Laconica was the so-called black soup. Its exact composition is unknown (presumably the main ingredients were bovine blood and lentils), but even ancient writers testified that its taste was disgusting. Jokes linking the legendary courage of the Spartans with black stew are found in many ancient authors. Their essence boils down to the fact that for those who constantly eat such an awful dish, there is no point in cherishing life.
- The ancient Greeks were generally very sensual and sensitive people. They had 4 types of love. Eros – passion, Philia – a word that is sometimes translated as “friendship”, meaning the disposition and attraction of people to each other. Storge is a kindred love that, for example, parents have for their children. Agape – sacrificial, selfless love for one’s neighbor.
- Love marriages were rare. In a good scenario, there could be a philia between the spouses, but for eros, the husband most often went to other women.
- Girls providing intimate services were easily identified by the red lipstick on their lips. If they appeared without such makeup, they could be punished for not identifying their social status, thereby misleading others.
- The Greeks were the first nations to abandon polygamy. Moreover, celibacy was severely punished. A man who did not marry before the age of 35 had to pay tax. In Sparta, the authorities forced bachelors to walk around the central square naked in winter, singing a scandalous song explaining why they did not want to get married.
- The position of a married woman in Hellas was dependent on her husband. They did not have the right to vote, could not own land and inherit property, and it was highly undesirable for them to appear on the street alone. Even the woman’s name should not have been publicly mentioned.
- It was easier for Spartans – they were allowed to own land and play sports. But they had to cook a terrible black stew and, most likely, eat it.
- The Hellenic women had a way to gain independence from men – to become a hetaera. Hetaeras are sometimes considered women of easy virtue, but this is a mistake. They, as a rule, were provided for and respected in society. But in order to become a hetaera, one had to undergo training in a special school, and the training went on from childhood. Girls mastered not only playing music, dancing and the art of dressing, but also political science, philosophy, public speaking, and the ability to conduct discussions. By the way, the famous poetess Sappho graduated from a school like that.
- The famous hetaera Rhodopis became the prototype of the world’s first fairy tale about Cinderella. According to the story of the historian Strabo, when the girl was swimming, an eagle took her sandal and brought it to Memphis, where he threw it on the knees of the Pharaoh. The ruler, amazed at the beauty of the shoes, ordered to find its owner. As a result, she became the queen of Egypt.
- Not only women, but also men could make money by entertaining rich people. The impoverished citizens often found themselves frequenting feasts. Their task was to tell the owner words that were flattering for him and to joke wittily. Such guests were called parasites, which translates as “companion”.