Communications in Ancient Greece

Something happened a long time ago that has affected how writing is taught today and therefore how you learn (or learned) the subject.

To understand that, we need to go back to the Ancient world – that is, to Greece and Rome.

Ancient Greece produced three philosophers who changed the history of the world.



Socrates (Soc-ra-tees) began as a talented sculptor and a famous warrior, but eventually he turned to philosophy.

He did not trust writing. He thought it would lead to miscommunication because writers and readers would not see each other. He also believed that all real truth is within us.

Socrates created a very important school. It was free for everyone.  His most famous student was Plato.



Plato (Play – toe) grew up during a 27-year war between Athens, where he lived, and Sparta, Athens’s enemy. During the war, Athens’s great leader, Pericles, died in a plague. Plato was desperate to find another leader. Therefore he wrote a series of books called “Dialogues.”

Plato said communications is a talent. You either have it or you don’t. He was looking for a new leader to help Athens fight Sparta. Leaders are natural at communicating. Otherwise, no one would follow them.

Like Socrates, Plato also believed that all truth is within us. We simply know, for instance, what is right and wrong.

Like Socrates, Plato started a school. His most famous pupil was Aristotle.


Aristotle (Air – is – tot – el) is most known for developing the “scientific method.” Today, it is the main way to approach science. We will look at his method in another chapter.

Aristotle felt that communications is a skill and a talent. Some people are talented at it, but anyone can learn it as a skill.

He also said that truth is within us or around us. We simply know what is right and wrong, for example, but we can also learn such things by looking at the world around us, such as from nature.   

Like Plato, Aristotle started a school. After he became famous, he was hired to be the teacher for Alexander, who became known as Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great

The son of a king, Alexander became king when he was 20. He set off on a series of military conquests. By the time he died, at age 30, he had conquered all the Mideast. He was never defeated in battle.

Everywhere he went he also built cities. And he also spread Aristotle’s ideas.


Alexander spread ideas throughout the known world. One idea was Aristotle’s ideas about communication.

Those ideas were among many the next major civilization, Rome, borrowed from the Greeks.

The greatest Roman orator (speaker) was Cicero.  We know he used Aristotle’s ideas because he wrote two books about them.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. For the time being, think of “communications” as writing. If Plato was right, what kind of people can write well? If Aristotle was right, was kind of people can write well?
  1. If Plato was right, where do we get our ideas for writing? Do you believe that? Why or why not?
  1. If Aristotle was right, where do we get our ideas for writing? Do you believe that? Why or why not?
  1. Who was the greatest leader of Rome? Would he have used Cicero’s (Aristotle’s) ideas for communication?
  1. Advanced question: Who was the greatest religious leader of LATE Rome? He lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.  Which would he have liked better regarding communications – Plato’s ideas or Aristotle’s ideas?  Why?