Ancient Greece Shows Us Brilliance Lies Within Simplicity

Beauty with economy is a path for dealing with our complicated society

In mid-July of 2020, the US Naval amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard was destroyed by a fire. The inferno started as a small arson attempt. However, it turned into a five-day-long blaze which roared out of control, ravaging the 27,000-ton vessel.

Retired Army Watercraft Master Michael Carr in his article in the naval forum Gcaptain, explains it was totally avoidable. The former sailor taught thousands of courses on battling ship-borne fires. Most involved live fire-extinguishing exercises using manpower.

According to Carr modern naval ships now lean on technology, flow charts, and complex systems for battling fires — all of which failed in this instance. Carr states:

“Our military bureaucracy has become so complicated and filled with incomprehensible manuals and flowcharts that we are now disconnected from the critical need for mastering the basic skills needed to be an effective maritime professional.”

Likely that statement can be applied to many different disciplines nowadays. While complex technologies offer promises of an easier way, they can also turn simple fires into blazing infernos. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s an architectural reminder in most cities bringing us back to an old idea. Walk into many courthouses and public buildings and you’ll see it. Greek columns greet you as you enter.

They’re simple and plain but inspire an appreciation and strange sense of awe. The idea is also thousands of years old, however, it never goes out of style. Brilliance lies in its lack of intricacy.

The columns just hold up the ceiling and nothing more elaborate than that. In a way, that epitomizes Ancient Greece and their lesson for our modern complex world.

Beauty With Economy

The ancient Greeks were accomplished builders, artists, and creators of culture which expanded way past their demise. In fact, they even “Hellenized” their Roman conquerors. So, what is so special about this ancient Greek culture?

In educator Edith Hamilton’s book, The Greek Way, she notes a comment from the Athenian statesmen Pericles which hits it on the head. He explains the Greeks defeated the Persians because of their simplicity. Furthermore, the Greeks “love beauty with economy.”

So, they do less with more. You can see this in their architecture, writing, and art. Think of those stone columns again. They’re the ancient Greeks in a nutshell — beauty with economy. For instance, let’s compare an ancient Greek temple with a more modern lavish house of worship.

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris — Picture By Madhurantakam Via Wikimedia Commons (left) / The Temple of Hephaistos in Athens — Picture By Storeye Via Wikimedia Commons (right)

Hamilton reminds us Greek temples were simple structures. Only columns and stone welcomed worshipers as they approached. When they entered, most were open floorplans with little adornment, besides statues of the god who the building was dedicated to.

Now, compare that to a European style cathedral. Notre-Dame is beauty in a different way with its various buttresses and pinnacles. The inside is just as elaborate. Obviously, both structures are works of art and memorable. However, the Greeks did much more with less.

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