The Greeks were the pioneers in so many fields – athletics, astronomy, biology, philosophy, theatre, geography, medicine among others – that it is easy to take them for granted, to see their achievements as simply part of the human make-up. But what makes us modern today frequently stems from the Greek experience. With the Greeks, Western literature began on an unparalleled high with Homer, still being translated anew today. With the Greeks Western medicine, with its Hippocratic oath, began, as did Western theatre (and so, by extension, cinema). With the Greeks formal mathematics, astronomy and geography emerged for the first time. Competitive sport, too, first sprang up in recognizable form in Ancient Greece.
The Greeks were not omniscient or infallible. In early years they borrowed what they needed from their older, often richer neighbours. They were certainly not the richest or most powerful people in the ancient world, but they influenced those who were, including the Romans later. Greek life, which centered on the polis, the often tiny city-state, was simple but lived with passionate vigour in a spirit of keenest competition. “Nothing in excess”, the god Apollo’s famous maxim, was needed in a turbulent world in which men often sought everything in excess. The Greek world had its dark sides. Women were excluded, at least in the classical period, from all public life. And male citizens’ frugal leisure depended on the labour of slaves, whose status was seldom questioned even by philosophers. But women and slaves were no freer in many comparable societies, at the time or later, that have never begun to rival the Greeks’ contribution to human achievements in so many spheres. extract taken from here