Famous Greeks

Rated 5 out of 5 by from exceptional Professor Fears must've surely been channeling Homer, not to mention the other three great Greek historians he references, in telling the story of the rise and fall of the Great Age of Greece through several of its most eminent personalities, his lectures are not only riveting, but also, everyone of them, inspiring - one of The Great Courses best
Date published: 2021-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Revel in history with Professor Fears! We have watched The Great Courses lectures since they were sold as CDs and mailed with a booklet. In all those years, few professors were so captivating as Professor Fears. Some may interpret his style as flippant storytelling . . .o ye of little rhetoric! He surely rivals the greatest bards of the ancient world in his passion and delivery. He lifts you up right through your screen and transports you through time and place. Prepare to love these scholarly lectures as you would your favorite movie.
Date published: 2020-09-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Storytelling—Good; History—Not So Much This is the second course I’ve taken from Professor Fears (the other being “Famous Romans") and this time I knew what to expect. I still appreciate his lecture style, where he sets a scene and brings us all into the time and place in history. But I dislike more than ever his almost casual attitude in separating what is fanciful and what is either factual or grounded in rigorous research and analysis. It is certainly easy enough for the listener to discount as implausible, conversations that no one could have overheard or recorded,but not so easy to distinguish which of the many moral observations that he puts into the minds and mouths of the players are factual and which are his views. To be sure, at times this is enlightening, as when he gives an interruption of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata that is very much at odds as to what I thought. But I found his continual comparisons of those ancient Greeks to modern persons to be suspect at best and often wildly off the mark. For example, to cite Pericles, along with Lincoln and Churchill as the three greatest politicians of all time, seems to be questionable, although interesting, while his comparison of an ancient commander to Patton made me think that while he might know a lot about Greece, his understanding of Patton was deficient. For me, this second set of lectures made me realize that even his storytelling had some serious deficiencies. For example, Professor Vandiver’s lectures made me much more aware of the culture of ancient Greece, than did Professor Fears approach. Plus, she always presented differing academic views and did not discount the ones that differed from hers. Often Dr. Fears does not acknowledge other views and when he does, gives them little credence. More significantly, he often ignores important points about his subjects if they conflict with the points that he is attempting to make. For example, Dr. Fears is a major Alexander fanboy. We never get told about his sexuality or the murder of one of his close friends while in a drunken frenzy, to cite only two instances. I recommend this course for anyone who wishes a fun, though surface view of classical Greece and many of the major players of the day (both real and mythical). Just be aware that, at least in my opinion it has little depth and is at times misleading. In short the storytelling is good and the stories are just that.
Date published: 2020-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful storyteller This 2001 release consists of telling the story of Ancient Greece by focusing on its most famous individuals, Plutarch-like. Professor Fears is a storyteller, more like Herodotus than Thucydides, but he stays within what is broadly agreed upon by scholars. Don’t be fooled by his seemingly off-the-cuff presentation; he’s got his facts straight, even if paraphrasing historical texts and occasionally adding a humorous elaboration, trying to show how that conversation might have played out in modern times. After a couple of lectures, I was hooked and started looking forward to the next segment. I have already seen several TGC video on ancient Greece, so know the history pretty well, but he brought some fresh insights, and was able to take the larger view than professors who are focussing on just one figure or single event. He gives the best explanation I have heard to date of why the Greeks felt it necessary to sentence Socrates to death, for example. This is a survey course, and would be a good first course to take before some of the other Greek courses. This falls very close to the top of my all-time favorite TGC courses. Looking forward to Famous Romans.
Date published: 2020-06-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A relic, not a historian. Honestly, the Instructor is a arrogant opinionated past-his-prime old man who far too often teaches his opinions instead of history and seems unwilling to acknowledge basic historical facts he does not like, AND to sometimes teach things that simply arent true. For example, he clearly worships Alexander, and justifies Alexanders more genocidal actions as "needing to set an example" (30,000 Thebans sold into slavery?) while referring to the Theban Sacred Band as "close friends" instead of "lovers" because Fears is so clearly uncomfortable with the fact that sex between men was common and accepted in Ancient Greece. "Close friends" seems to be as far as he seems to be able to go in referring to male lovers in the Ancient World .Also he closes his presentation on Alexander by DIRECTLY LINKING ALEXANDER TO OUR FOUNDING FATHERS IN THE US--saying that "all men are created equal" is based on Alexander!!!!! No other (sober) historian would claim this with a straight face. My point is Fears is an old, rigid thinker who is clearly past his prime as an educator and who values his opinions and overt biases over history... and who then presents these opinions/biases as fact.
Date published: 2020-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am enjoying this course, it is engaging. Lots of information in a narrative style that promotes remembering it. The professor is really good.
Date published: 2020-04-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good not great While I feel that Professor Fears is a gifted storyteller and lecturer, I do not think I have learned anything new about the important figures of Greek history. But I will say this of him. He makes me realize just how important it is to study the past. The ancients believed that in studying the great heroes and statement of the past gave them a way to better inform how they should act and behave. “Know Thyself” was a famous saying among the Greeks. And many of these figures teach me the powers and limits of what it means to be a human being.
Date published: 2020-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Substance and style I am so glad I trusted the positive reviews and bought this course. Rufus Fears is absolutely one of my favorite professors of The Great Courses. Listening to Famous Greeks was a great restorative, an antidote to the "non-personal" view of history which, taken all by itself, is wearying. I love Prof Fears's style of delivery, his accent, his diction, his approach, his knowledge of and comfort with his subject matter -- some of the things which the negative reviewers complained mightily about. But I think maybe Rufus Fears is for adults -- not young adults, either. But who knows? Maybe the newer generations coming up will get back into human character and intentions as also being important to history past, present, and future again -- and will be better able to tolerate the idea of individual persons mattering, and delivery styles that have style. (I just bought his Churchill and Famous Romans courses in the fullest confidence I will be adding both to my favorites list.)
Date published: 2019-12-12
  • y_2021, m_1, d_26, h_17
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.13
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_6, tr_120
  • loc_en_CA, sid_337, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 5.77ms
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.


Harvard University


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.

Also By This Professor