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[Source:] Save for the wild force of Nature, nothing moves in this world that is not Greek in its origin.

Would someone please explain the history behind Baron Acton's quote above? For instance, Greek belonged to only one of the many language families.

closed as off-topic by Semaphore, Kobunite, Pieter Geerkens, Steven Drennon Aug 7 '15 at 20:59

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  • I interpret it as a claim that all science (natural, mechanical, political, social, legal) started in Greece. So all things that move are either 1) products of nature or 2) products of Greek science and learning (or descendants of something that was a product of Greek learning). – two sheds Aug 6 '15 at 19:48
  • I think that it is not Acton, although it expresses sentiments he might have uttered. The quote is, I think, with insignificant modifications, from Sir Henry Maine, in his ‘Village Communities’ (3rd ed., 1876) p. 238. In this lecture, Maine’s proposition is that the idea of progress has been received by the British from the Greeks and passed on to the Indians. – Everard O'Donnell Aug 7 '15 at 6:53
  • This question has been nominated for re-opening; I'd like some information before I cast my vote for or against the re-opening. What has changed? THe question doesn't look like it has been edited. Is there an argument about whether this is a history question or a question about other social sciences? I just want to cast an educated vote. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 12 '15 at 8:01
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Baron Acton lived in a "world" completely dominated by what we'd now call "Western Culture". He wasn't trying to talk about linguistics or genetics here, but about culture: Literature, The Arts, Science, Math, etc. Moreoever, as a royalist, one would expect the man to be even more dismissive than the typical person of both non-european and popular culture.

Still, change "this world" with "Western Civilization", and perhaps insert the word "Culture" after "Greek", and you'd have a statement many people would be quite willing to defend today. All the things I listed above, while much more advanced today, came down to Western culture with at least a large influence from the Ancient Greeks.

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I think that it is not Acton, although it expresses sentiments he might have uttered. The quote is, I think, with insignificant modifications, from Sir Henry Maine, in his ‘Village Communities’ (3rd ed., 1876) p. 238. In this lecture, Maine’s proposition is that the idea of progress has been received by the British from the Greeks and passed on to the Indians.

Sir Henry Maine, ‘Village Communities’ (3rd ed., 1876) p. 238.

“Whatever be the nature and value of that bundle of influences which we call Progress, nothing can be more certain than that, when a society is once touched by it, it spreads like a contagion. Yet, so far as our knowledge extends, there was only one society in which it was endemic; and putting that aside, no race or nationality, left entirely to itself, appears to have developed any very great intellectual result, except perhaps Poetry. Not one of those intellectual excellencies which we regard as characteristic of the great progressive races of the world — not the law of the Romans, not the philosophy and sagacity of the Germans, not the luminous order of the French, not the political aptitude of the English, not that insight into physical nature to which all races have contributed — would apparently have come into existence if those races had been left to themselves. To one small people, covering in its original seat no more than a handsbreadth of territory, it was given to create the principle of Progress, of movement onwards and not backwards or downwards, of destruction tending to construction. That people was the Greek. Except the blind forces of Nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin. A ferment spreading from that source has vitalised all the great progressive races of mankind, penetrating from one to another, and producing results accordant with its hidden and latent genius, and results of course often far greater than any exhibited in Greece itself. It is this principle of progress which we Englishmen are communicating to India. We did not create it. We deserve no special credit for it. It came to us filtered through many different media. But we have received it; and as we have received it, so we pass it on. There is no reason why, if it has time to work, it should not develop in India effects as wonderful as in any other of the societies of mankind."

(emphasis added)

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    I'd like to see some kind of text explaining why you included this quote, and how it addresses the question. (Some of the stuff in your comment would be a great start). – T.E.D. Aug 7 '15 at 14:24
  • @T.E.D. I must be very obtuse. I determined the origin and the contextual words give the meaning. It has nothing to do with Acton. Is there anything else I should have done? Forgive my failure. – Everard O'Donnell Aug 7 '15 at 15:11
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    I've edited your answer to show what I mean. I just tacked your comment to the top of the answer. Feel free to remove the edit if you don't like it. Voters here don't tend to favor answers that are all someone else's words. (unformatted "Walls of Text" can be problematic too). Short exerpts of quotes (or even just links) with a shorter distillation in your own words and an explanation as to how it applies to the question tend to go over much better. Please note that I'm not trying to be hostile here. I think this has the potential to be a far better answer than mine. – T.E.D. Aug 7 '15 at 20:35

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