...Receiving and Responding

It has been a half century since I first heard someone quote Percy Shelley's assertion that "We are all Greeks." I heard that first said by Professor Louie Palmer at Muskingum College in the fall of 1963 while taking the 10-hour required class called The Arts.

Professor Louie Palmer

I was in my junior year at Muskingum. I could have taken that class of 5-hours each semester in my senior year. Many of my classmates waited until they were seniors, because it was a class that scared most of us. I could have waited until my senior year, but I didn't. And that decision has made all the difference in my life since the early 60s.

Professor Louie Palmer lecturing

I took that class and did better than average, but didn't ace the 10-hours. However, Louie must have seen something in me and offered to have me as his teaching assistant in my senior year. Therefore, I took the class again, taught a handful of subsections of the class each week, and wrote and graded the midterm and final each semester. Along with helping Louie teach the entire Western history of art from the caves at Altamira and Lascaux to the modern times, I repeated Shelley's assertion that "We are all Greeks" several times during the year as his teaching assistant.

Interestingly, in the half century since those days at Muskingum, I have used Shelley's quote many, many times. Actually, I just completed teaching DeVry's art history last week. This is my PowerPoint slide for the chapter on the Greeks...and there it is again.

Mask of Agamemnon

Actually, Shelley wrote a lyrical drama, Hellas, in the fall of 1821 nearly two centuries ago while in Pisa, Italy. That seems like a strange place to write about Greece. Nevertheless, Shelley adds to his observation that "We are all Greeks." He fleshes out his insightful truism with this additional sentence: "Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece."

The former president of France, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, said in a less poetic manner than Shelley, "Europe without Greece is like a child without a birth certificate." He is also correct. The naissance of the West was conceived in Greece 2½ millennia ago. We in the West have as our societal foundation the Greek mindset. The Greeks gave us the basis of all the arts like sculpture, painting, plays, and dance.

In addition to the arts, the Greeks were the basis of architecture. Medicine was born in Greece along with an understanding of democracy, education, and philosophy. Even the Greek mythology informed who are and how we functioned or didn't function well. This was done with the mythology that includes Apollo, Oedipus Rex, Prometheus, Athena, and Icarus to mention several from the Olympian host of characters.

The Golden Age of Greece was merely two centuries from 500 to 300 BCE. And yet in those very few years, they built the foundation of all Western thought, understanding, and Weltanschauung. And that birth and our lineage did not occur without two major traumatic events.

The first was the battle between the Greeks and the Persians at Thermopylae. This battle took place around August or September of 480 BC. The Persians had failed in their first invasion of Greece at Marathon in 490 BC. This time, the Greek's battle plan was to defend Greece by blocking the Persian advance by both land and sea. They planned to block the Persian land advance at Thermopylae and block the Persians sea advance at Artemisium.

The Battlefield of Thermopylae

The Battlefield of Thermopylae Note the road to the right of the photo. That was the coastline in 480 BCE.
The battlefield was only several hundred feet wide, which helped Leonidas in the battle against Xerxes.

The Battle of Thermopylae consisted of King Leonidas of Sparta and his 300 Spartans and about another 1000 Greeks. The Persian force was commanded by Xerxes I. He amassed an army ranging from as few as 100,000 to nearly 500,000 depending on which historian's estimate. Xerxes told Leonidas to surrender or die. Both knew that Leonidas could not stop the overwhelming force of Persians. Leonidas' reply was "Moλωυ λαβε (molon labe)," which means "Come and get them."

This is a video clip of the movie, 300, in which Leonidas gives his response to the surrender ultimatum of Xerxes. Leonidas fought against all odds, and he fought to the death along with all the other Greeks in his command.


Leonidas and the 300 Spartans along with a few hundrd others held the Persians from advancing for two days. It wasn't until the third day that the Greeks were overwhelmed. However, the delay of nearly three days, allowed the Greek navy time to get ready for the Persians and defeat them. The Battle at Thermopylae saved both Greece and their culture for the West.

The second traumatic event were the Crusades, which stretched from the 11th to the 13th century. These holy wars were one of the worst things that the Christian church has ever done. Interestingly, the First Crusade was the only holy war/crusade that was successful in a couple of centuries of Crusades. The Crusaders entered Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. Nevertheless, the Crusaders victory was short-lived. Within the next 50+ years, what had been captured by the European invading army began to be reseized by the Muslims. Over the next couple of centuries up to nine different Crusades were launched with almost no success.

Having said that, the only benefit of the mistaken holy wars was the spoils of war. The Crusaders rediscovered the Greek that had been lost in Europe. The Greek culture flourished in the Middle East. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the West went into the Dark Ages and the Early Middle Ages, which were from the 5th-10th century. The intellectual lights of all of Europe essentially went out as Europe returned to the barbaric days prior to the advent of the Roman Empire. Very little took place in Europe that had anything to do with learning and education for about a half millennia. The Greek culture became nonexistent in Europe and was almost totally lost.

The only positive thing that the Crusades did was to rediscover the Greek culture in the Middle East where it was still flourishing for over a millennium. There the Battle at Thermopylea and the Crusades saved the Greek culture for us and the entire Western world.

This brings us up to today...2½ millennia after Thermopylae. We are all Greeks like Shelley said. We need to study, read, and research our precious roots if we wish to maintain our intellectual inheritance given to us by the Greeks. Go to my Travels section of my webpage.

We need to travel to Greece. I have been at Thermopylae twice in my life. Excluding the statue of Leonidas, there isn't much there. There are no souvenir shops or fast-food outlets. There is nothing. However, as you stand there on that ground, you appreciate Leonidas' retort to Xerxes..."Moλωυ λαβε" or in English "Come and get them." We would not be who we are today had it not been for that place between the mountains and the sea.

We owe Greece a great deal over the past couple millennia. Today, Greece needs our help in return. We need to support governmental aid from countries throughout the world by our money and effort to in a small way thank them for the very birth of who we are, for we are all Greeks.

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.