500-400 BCE

Home Up Euripides Gorgias Mo Tzu Socrates Democritus Thucydides Hippocrates Tamil Poets

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Euripides (485-408 BCE) is often regarded as the first modern dramatist in the West. In his plays, the heroes of the classic Greek legends about the Trojan War become ordinary men, with very human traits that give complexity and depth to the dramas. This was a revolutionary move towards portraying the human situation. Euripides shows great sympathy for the victims of society, particularly women and children, but also for immigrants, captives, and slaves. His highly successful dramas have survived for millennia because their popularity caused a large number of copies to be circulated.



Gorgias, a native of Leontini in Sicily, is thought to have lived between 483 and 375 BCE. In 427 he traveled to Athens as an ambassador to seek that city’s assistance against Syracuse. He subsequently settled in Athens, supporting himself by oratory and the teaching of rhetoric. He is credited with introducing the formal aspects of this skill into Greece. The summary of the defense he prepared for Palamedes is a fine example of the rhetorical skills that he taught. Gorgias gives emphasis to a careful analysis of the facts of the case, of possible motives, and of personal character.


Mo Tzu

Mo Tzu probably lived between 470 and 391 BCE. After a short period as a civil servant he became a traveling philosopher like Confucius, counseling feudal lords on government and personal conduct. Unlike Confucius, he laid stress on the need for universal love, rather than love restricted to the family. He was concerned with the plight of the poor, argued against offensive war, and urged promotion of the talented. He was noteworthy in his stress on the need for a proper methodology in setting up or accepting a doctrine, using this to refute the doctrine of fatalism. 



Socrates is said to have been born in 469 BCE and died in 399 BCE. Whether this information and his whole life are fictional creations or not is unclear. There are experts who argue for a historical Socrates; there are other experts who claim that he was a fictional character created independently by Plato, Aristophanes, and Xenophon—each of whom fashioned a different type of Socrates.  In Plato's account, Socrates demonstrated that by subjecting our moral beliefs to logical scrutiny we could gain a better understanding of ourselves and of the proper way of life. 



Democritus was born at Abdera, Thrace, sometime around 458 BCE. He was described as well traveled, probably visiting Babylon, Egypt, and Ethiopia, and perhaps India. He appears to have spent all of his time on scientific and philosophical studies, teaching, and writing. Some 60 of his works have been listed by other writers, but only a few fragments of his ethical theory remain. Nevertheless, these fragments and the descriptions by others of his atomic theory put him among the foremost thinkers of his time. The atomic theory resolved the question of how a world evidently in a state of flux could nevertheless have an underlying nature that was eternal and unchanging. In his ethical theory, Democritus set high standards of personal integrity and social responsibility, without invoking supernatural sanctions.



The Greeks were probably the first in the West to draw up histories by inquiring into such information as may lead to the facts concerning the past. It is a process that requires careful collection of information, judgment of sources, and the application of reason. That is, it attempts to develop history from a scientific rather than a mythical basis. From such a basis, Thucydides, born in 460 BCE, rejected the supernatural and composed a history that reveals underlying social pressures and political principles. He also provided us with insights into the Athenians' interest in public affairs and their respect for the law in his presentation of the funeral oration of Pericles, while conveying their philosophy of might is right in his report of the dialogue between the Athenians and Melians.



Hippocrates is believed to have lived between 460 and 380 BCE. He was born on the Island of Cos, which contained a famous health resort and medical academy. It is not clear how much of the large amount of medical writings attributed to him by Plato and Aristotle came actually from his hand. However, they show that the Greeks had learned to describe the details of a disease and to grasp its whole course, and also to be skeptical of supernatural explanations. Hippocrates also recognized the brain as the organ of the senses, knowledge, and wisdom.


Tamil Love Poems

These Tamil love poems may have been composed in southern India during the period 400-300 BCE. Like the Egyptian love poems they include praise and longing as their subjects, but also include poems of mutual joy. In these and other features, there is some similarity between the classic Tamil love poems and the Hebrew Song of Songs. However, there are more than 1000 Tamil love poems. These are usually divided into two genres: Akam, or personal and intimate poems, and Puram, or social and exterior poems. A few extracts of Akam poems are presented here.