Saturday, June 24, 2017

The spread of Hellenistic Culture

The spread of Hellenistic culture. After Alexander’s death, his generals murdered his family and divided his short-lived empire among themselves into a number of kingdoms, including Macedonia, Egypt, and Syria. Despite this political division, Hellenistic society continued to spread through trade and the exchange of ideas among scholars in many lands, who could-all communicate in Greek. Trade routes now connected the entire Mediterranean world and reached as far as India. The growth of trade in turn led to the growth of a middle class, a middle class that fostered a rise in education and levels of literacy. The decline of the old Greek ideals of the polis also led to new developments in religion and philosophy.

Some people adopted the practice of ruler-worship. Others sought to counter the feelings that they had lost control over their own destinies by turning to new mystery religions that promised immortality after death. Still others turned to philosophy.

Hellenistic philosophers were more concerned with ethics than with basic questions of reality and human existence. Four chief schools of philosophy emerged: Cynicism, Skepticism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism. Cynics believed that people should live according to nature, scorning pleasure, wealth, and social position. Skeptics philosophized that no definite knowledge is possible because everything is always changing. Stoics believed that divine reason directs the world, and that only by trying to follow the path laid down by the divine spark within every person could one find true happiness. Epicureans taught that the aim of life is to seek pleasure and avoid pain and that one of the ways to achieve this was by limiting one’s desires, rather than trying to fulfill all of them.

While people grappled with the problems brought on by living within a more complex and sophisticated world, Hellenistic scientists were also learning more and more about how the world around them functioned. Many advances were made in mathematics. The Greek mathematician Euclid further systematized geometry. Archimedes, considered the greatest scientist and inventor of the Hellenistic period, applied geometry to measure spheres, cones, and cylinders and to advance developments in mechanics. Other scientists used mathematics to calculate the daily positions of the planets and stars, and even to calculate the circumference of Earth with amazing accuracy. Hellenistic physicians learned much about the human body and greatly increased medical knowledge by dissecting human bodies.

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