Famous Greeks

Theseus
1: Theseus

Theseus, legendary founder of Athens, traveled to the far corners of the Greek world doing great deeds, and at home he created the prototypes of Athens's key institutions. Athenians' beliefs about Theseus, like Americans about George Washington, set a standard for judging leaders.

32 min
Achilles and Agamemnon
2: Achilles and Agamemnon

No book on leadership could offer a better example than the conflict before the walls of Troy between Achilles and Agamemnon (c. 1250 B.C.). As Greek commander-in-chief, Agamemnon is in over his head. Excelling in the virtues he lacks is Achilles, "best of the Achaeans." Homer's genius will transform their power struggle into a timeless lesson in the moral dimension of politics.

31 min
Hector
3: Hector

It is part of the genius of Homer to make the Trojan prince Hector, the Greeks' chief foe, into the noblest hero of The Iliad. Patriot, soldier, devoted husband and father, Hector embodies the virtues most admired by the Greeks and their tragic vision of life....

31 min
Odysseus
4: Odysseus

Unlike the doomed Hector, Agamemnon, and Achilles, the wily Odysseus is the consummate survivor. For 10 years after the fall of Troy, angry gods make him wander the Mediterranean. In the end, his prudence and courage restore him to his home. Homer makes Odysseus's story into a metaphor for the human experience, and gives us a look at the late Bronze Age.

31 min
Lycurgus
5: Lycurgus

The legendary Spartan Lycurgus (c. 776 B.C.) represents a characteristic early Greek figure: the lawgiver who saves his country from civil war and establishes its characteristic political, social, and religious institutions. No such institutions in antiquity were as famous or significant as those of Sparta.

30 min
Solon
6: Solon

Athenian democracy owes much to Solon (638-559 B.C.), a truly wise man who used his mind to serve his country. Many figures of archaic Greek history are hardly more than names to us, but this is not true of Solon. His poetry survives and offers us unique insights into the values and motives of this statesman whom our own Founders so admired.

31 min
Croesus
7: Croesus

Why do great nations rise and fall? So asks the first true historian, Herodotus. A profound moral teacher concerned with the pitfalls of hybris (arrogance) and moral blindness, he begins his work on the Greek-Persian wars with the story of a monarch who belonged to neither people. How does the tale of King Croesus of Lydia (r. c. 560-546 B.C.) lead us to reflect on enduring issues of public morali...

31 min
Xerxes
8: Xerxes

Both Plutarch and Herodotus would agree that Persia's King Xerxes (519-465 B.C.) belongs in any course on famous Greeks. Xerxes is central to Herodotus's Histories: He was responsible for the fall of his country. By studying the folly of Xerxes, Herodotus hopes the Greeks can avoid the same errors....

31 min
Leonidas
9: Leonidas

It is a hot August morning in 480 B.C. Xerxes is closing in on Greece with 500,000 men. Facing him is Leonidas, king of the Spartans, with a small force of 7,000 built around a band of 300 Spartans. The stand they are preparing to make at the narrow pass called Thermopylae will become one of the most stirring in the annals of war. It will change world history and secure the place of Leonidas among...

30 min
Themistocles
10: Themistocles

The aftermath of Thermopylae was as critical for Athens-and for freedom in the ancient world-as May and June 1940 were for Britain and the cause of freedom in the modern world. In that dark hour, the British found a leader to rally them for the great test. In the same way, the Athenian democracy would find in Themistocles (527-460 B.C.) a man equal to the moment.

31 min
Pausanias
11: Pausanias

Thucydides sees Sparta's King Pausanias (510-476 B.C.) as equal to Themistocles in intrepidity. By leading his allied force to an epic victory over a vastly larger Persian army at Plataea (479 B.C.), Pausanias ends the threat of Persian invasion and proves himself one of history's great captains. How do the Greeks manage to achieve this unlikely triumph?

30 min
Pericles
12: Pericles

Along with Lincoln and Churchill, Pericles (490-429 B.C.) is one of history's three greatest democratic statesmen. Why does he decide to lead his country into the great war with Sparta? This lecture and the three that follow paint a portrait of Pericles and his age that is quite different from the one found in most histories.

30 min
Anaxagoras, Phidias, and Aspasia
13: Anaxagoras, Phidias, and Aspasia

Pericles is an intellectual as well as a political leader. His Athens is a place of unprecedented creativity, resulting in works of art, philosophy, and literature that are still admired, debated, and studied today. The names of Anaxagoras, Phidias, and Aspasia (5th century B.C.) represent the leading intellectual, artistic, and cultural currents of this golden age.

30 min
Sophocles
14: Sophocles

Tragedy is the definitive cultural statement of the Athenian democracy. Aristotle calls Sophocles (495-406 B.C.) the supreme tragedian. Active in politics and as a general, Sophocles leaves us three plays, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus, that can be read as parables about Pericles's rule, the mysteries of wisdom and suffering, and the moral dimensions of politics....

30 min
Thucydides
15: Thucydides

Pursuing history as a field of study begins in 5th-century B.C. Athens with the idea that learning from the past is the best way to guide present decisions. Herodotus comes first, but Thucydides (471-400 B.C.) is the greater historian. His powerful and pathbreaking History of the Peloponnesian War is "the eternal manual of statesmen," as timely and vivid today as when it was written....

31 min
Alcibiades
16: Alcibiades

Brilliant, willful, dynamic, and fatally seductive, Alcibiades (450-404 B.C.), the nephew of Pericles, is one of the most fascinating and disturbing characters in all of Greek history. Gifted like his uncle but without his integrity, he is a product of Athenian democracy whose career highlights some of its worst failings and excesses.

31 min
Nicias
17: Nicias

A dogged foe of Alcibiades, the conservative aristocrat Nicias (465-414 B.C.) becomes one of three commanders of the Sicilian expedition, along with his hated rival. Ultimately, supreme command devolves on Nicias. Despite his reputation for virtue, he is lazy, inept, and fears responsibility. But he is worth studying; examples of bad leadership are often the most instructive.

31 min
Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War
18: Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War

Even after the disaster in Sicily, the Athenians refuse to give up, resorting to bold military and political strategies. They even bring back Alcibiades, who had worn out his welcome in Sparta, and whose military genius and political skill restores Athens to a commanding position. But Sparta, too, has a formidable leader in Lysander.

30 min
Lysander and Socrates
19: Lysander and Socrates

The exile of Alcibiades by the Athenians gives Lysander his chance to prove himself. He brings victory to Sparta, but smaller men pull him down. The destruction of the great by the mediocre is also the story behind the trial of Socrates. His closeness to Alcibiades is the real reason that his fellow Athenians hate him.

30 min
The Trial of Socrates
20: The Trial of Socrates

In his funeral oration, Pericles celebrates the Athenian democracy for its tolerance. The Athenians treasure freedom of speech as essential to true democracy. Yet this same Athenian democracy puts to death its greatest thinker and teacher, Socrates. Why?

30 min
Xenophon, Plato and Philip
21: Xenophon, Plato and Philip

After Socrates' death, his pupils Xenophon and Plato come to believe that Athens has a perverse form of government. But a polis such as Athens is no longer the center of action, for to the north a new power is rising that will change the world. Macedonia and its superbly capable and ambitious king, Philip II, are the cutting edge of history....

31 min
Alexander the Great
22: Alexander the Great

Plutarch makes Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) and Julius Caesar the centerpieces of his Lives. Alexander's generalship and political vision transform the world. Not only one of the greatest military leaders in history, he outlines a vision of brotherhood that remains an inspiring ideal today....

31 min
Pyrrhus
23: Pyrrhus

The Romans are Alexander's true heirs. The life of King Pyrrhus of Epirus (318-272 B.C.) shows why Rome rather than Greece wins world mastery. His proverbially costly "victories" over the Romans offer an object lesson in how even a gifted leader may fail if he does not "pick his battles" well.

31 min
Cleopatra
24: Cleopatra

The last and most serious challenge of Greece to Rome comes from Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.). Charming in turn with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, she nearly defeats Octavian. This lecture goes behind Roman propaganda to reveal her as one of the supreme figures of ancient history, a stateswoman whose vision of a Hellenic eastern empire foreshadows Byzantium.

32 min
J. Rufus Fears

We are no wiser than the Athenians of the 5th century B.C., no wiser than Sophocles for our science of today has shown us the overwhelming power of genes, of DNA.

ALMA MATER

Harvard University

INSTITUTION

University of Oklahoma

About J. Rufus Fears

Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and Distinguished Faculty Research Lecturer at Indiana University, and Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. An acclaimed teacher and scholar with more than 25 awards for teaching excellence, Professor Fears was chosen Professor of the Year on three occasions by students at the University of Oklahoma. His other accolades included the Medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, the University Continuing Education Association (UCEA) Great Plains Region Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the UCEA's National Award for Teaching Excellence. Professor Fears's books and monographs include The Cult of Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology and The Theology of Victory at Rome. He edited a three-volume edition of Selected Writings of Lord Acton. His discussions of the Great Books have appeared in newspapers across the country and have aired on national television and radio programs. Professor Fears passed away in October 2012.

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