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Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World

Explore the continuing influence of the classical Greek achievement on contemporary life.
Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 55.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course I love Dr. Robinson's lectures. He had a rare combination of erudition and eloquence. I've listened to this course several times and am sure I'll listen to them again. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2024-02-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dr. Robinson Is Extremely Intelligent This is a short (12 lectures) course on a variety of topics relating to Greek foundations of Western Civilization. It largely duplicates other Western Civilization courses in The Great Courses (TGC) repertoire. Dr. Robinson is an extremely learned scholar. However, his stream-of-consciousness lecture style is not nearly as clear as most lecturers in the TGC stable. On a personal note, I am interested in a variety of topics including philosophy, psychology, and Western Civilization and Dr. Robinson teaches a TGC offering in each of these three areas. Unfortunately, I come away with the impression that the purpose of each course is to showcase how intelligent Dr. Robinson is. I guess I’ll give up listening to him. The course guide is below average by TGC standards. It is in outline format as opposed to paragraph or bullet format. There are only about four pages per lecture, which is well below average by TGC standards. There are no graphics. There is a timeline and a one-page bibliography. I had expected a more extensive bibliography for such a scholarly topic. There are no biographical notes, which, again, one would expect given the topic. The course is available only in audio streaming. The course was published in 1998. Yes, that was in the last millennium. In Lecture 3, Dr. Robinson predicts that someday, in the future, society will be able to load the entire Encyclopedia Britannica onto a chip the size of a pinkie finger. Ah, the innocence of the 90’s…
Date published: 2023-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course One of the best Teaching Company courses, or any course from any source I’ve heard. Great material; great presentation.
Date published: 2022-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Marvelous I love this. The lecturer's perspective is refreshing, as he does not lose site of the values that are verily important in life, by getting caught in popular values.
Date published: 2022-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended I am only up to lecture four but already I am very happy with this course. It has taken my knowledge and understanding of this very important civilization to another level.
Date published: 2021-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Erudite, Illuminating and Quite Snobbish This is a well-organized tour of 12 aspects of ancient Greek life, thought, institutions and art. The professor highlights big yet focused themes and discusses them from an anthropological, philosophical and historical perspective. Professor Robinson obviously has vast knowledge of the ancient Greeks, and he greatly admires them. It's too bad that he let himself make some disparaging, elitist, mean-spirited and completely unnecessary comments about today's society and culture. With that said, I learned a lot, despite already having a moderate familiarity with Plato and ancient Greek drama. For me, the especially valuable lectures were those on Hippocrates and ancient Greek medicine; the tensions between freedom and democracy; the down-to-earth humanism of the Greeks; the concept of citizenship; why Greek supernatural beliefs don't neatly fit under the heading of religion; and the moral relevance of character. Two substantive quibbles: 1)In his lecture on scholarship, I feel the word "scholarship" was poorly chosen, because what the professor was really describing was a process of inquiry and the search for wisdom. Not knowledge. 2)In his last lecture, he opines that nowhere else in the world was there a culture worthy of the name Civilization. Well, that's completely ridiculous. Ancient China had institutions, philosophy, medicine and art every bit as sophisticated and worthy of study as ancient Greece.
Date published: 2020-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course! Prof. Robinson is one of the most engaging, interesting, and articulate lecturers in the Great Courses's stable of instructors, and he is in good form in this short course concerning Greek Legacy. The course material is well-chosen, and Prof. Robinson's insights and perspective make each lecture a delight. The audio version is entirely adequate. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2020-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delightful introduction to Hellenic world I had a very basic understanding of Classical history and purchased this course as an entry point into this world. I had read reviews here that recommended some prior knowledge of Greek history to appreciate the course, but I decided to take the risk (and the price was right!). I'm so glad that I did choose this course as an introduction. Professor Robinson is one of a kind. He is brimming over with love of this topic, and without understanding some of the references to specific individuals, gods, and places, I still found myself swept up in the stories and captivated by the connections he makes between the Hellenic world and the modern world (which he argues is so steeped Hellenic influences that it is quite impossible to objectively observe them). The course was recorded over 20 years ago, and so there are some parts that seem a bit dated and some concepts that perhaps would be presented differently today (he gives rather short shrift to multiculturalism, which feels a bit out of sync with the current public discourse). But I viewed these lectures as an artifact of the time in which they were recorded and accepted them as that. I listened to the audio download on my commute. At the conclusion of a few of the lectures, I sat in my car and let the lesson soak in a bit longer. Professor Robinson has a singular way of threading together facts, stories, his own (admittedly biased) opinions, and a little poetry to weave a beautiful 30-minute lecture that deserves to be savored. I think my next course will be a more factual, chronological Greek history, but I am so glad the foundation of my learning started with this sweeping survey of the Hellenic world and its profound impact on the world today.
Date published: 2019-02-17
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In the 12 lectures of Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World, explore the continuing influence of the classical Greek achievement on contemporary life. Your guide to the rise, fall, and return of Greek influence on Western culture is acclaimed Professor Daniel N. Robinson. He explores this rich legacy in specific aspects of our 21st-century lives, including: literature, art and architecture, learning, science and medicine, and government.


Daniel N. Robinson

Developments in philosophy are chiefly in the form of greater clarity, an ever more refined sense of just what makes the problem problematic. If ignorance is not thereby totally overcome, at least it is exposed.


Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University

Dr. Daniel N. Robinson (1937–2018) was a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, where he lectured annually since 1991. He was also Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at Georgetown University, on whose faculty he served for 30 years. He was formerly Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, and he also held positions at Amherst College and at Princeton University.

Professor Robinson earned his PhD in Neuropsychology from City University of New York. He was president of two divisions of the American Psychological Association: the Division of History of Psychology, from which he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Division of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, from which he received the Distinguished Contribution Award.

Professor Robinson was the author or editor of more than 40 books, including Wild Beasts & Idle Humours: The Insanity Defense from Antiquity to the Present, An Intellectual History of Psychology, The Mind: An Oxford Reader, and Aristotle's Psychology. He was the editor of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. He also published widely on the constitutional history of the US and its philosophical foundations, with original research appearing in the International Journal of Constitutional Law and The American Journal of Jurisprudence. He was coeditor of The American Founding: Its Intellectual and Moral Framework (London: Continuum, 2012).

By This Professor

01: "Depth Psychology" From the Dance to the Drama

Perhaps the most important legacy of the Greeks is their foundational injunction to "know thyself." The Greeks conceived a deeply introspective and humanistic perspective on human life and the human dilemma. Greek literature generated a philosophy of perfectionism. Its constant theme is the impulse to set things right, to restore balance and proportion, to return to one's natural and proper state.

33 min
The Aesthetics of Harmony

02: The Aesthetics of Harmony

At the end of his illustrious life, Leonard da Vinci complained that in all of his efforts he had failed to achieve "that one thing necessary": the "symmetria prisca" of the ancient Greek world of art and architecture. What was this "pure symmetry," and what was its source?

31 min
The Invention of Scholarship

03: The Invention of Scholarship

Plato's Academy was the school that first established the essential character of scholarly inquiry. Socrates and his students, Plato among them, were not content with perfecting clever argumentative devices, nor did they rely on any "sacred text" whose deeper meaning summoned the assembly. Rather, it was the examined life that provided the subject matter for those who committed themselves to following the light of reason.

31 min
Science and the Nature of Things

04: Science and the Nature of Things

Although earlier civilizations had made considerable advances in technology, it was chiefly Greek scientists and thinkers from the late 6th century BCE who established the foundation of scientific inquiry. Aristotle, in particular, moved toward an objectification of the natural world, rendering it fit for a disinterested inquiry into the nature of things.

31 min
The Hippocratics

05: The Hippocratics

Ancient Greek medicine featured two dominant and competing schools of thought: the Empiricists (including leading members of the Hippocratic school) who tied treatment to findings, and the Theorists, who based remedies on a "hypothetical-deductive" mode of reasoning. Ultimately, it was the Hippocratics who prefigured modern medical science in giving medicine a more naturalistic and practical orientation.

30 min
The Rule of Law

06: The Rule of Law

"The Shield of Achilles" offers Homer's rendition of the means by which disputes were settled in the pre-Classical (Mycenaean) world of the Greek people. Two centuries later, the Athenian magistrate Solon was sought as the ideal lawgiver because his judgment was regarded as "straight" by a people already exercising the power and duties of self-government. The jury system, the end of phratric (clan) justice, and the discovery of human rights are but three of the great contributions of the ancient Greek world to the rule of law.

31 min

07: Statecraft

The ancient Greeks invented both the state—the "polis"—and statecraft. Indeed, contemporary notions of freedom, self-government, virtuous leadership, and a decent and flourishing civic life have their origins in the Athens of Pericles, Plato, and Aristotle. These men shaped the problems and possibilities of governance into a political science—the terms of which have been remarkably well preserved from their original understanding in ancient Athens.

31 min
Ancient Greek Religion

08: Ancient Greek Religion

Although the ancient Greek world had no official religion, the "polis" was never entirely secular. A diffuse but unmistakably religious cast of mind is evident in ancient Greek life and literary works.

30 min
Character and Personality

09: Character and Personality

From the time of Homer, Greek thought focused on character (the vanity of Helen and the anger of Achilles, for example) and the fact that character is destiny. Later, Plato and Aristotle both examined human personality in depth, and their ideas laid the foundations for later psychological theories and the broad framework that continues to influence research and theory.

30 min
The Moral Point of View

10: The Moral Point of View

What are the grounds on which actions are classified as good or evil, right or wrong? In addressing such questions the ancient Greek philosophers not only founded the subject of moral philosophy, but provided the conceptual resources that today remain central to moral discourse.

30 min
The City and the Civic Life

11: The City and the Civic Life

The strong sense of individual identity assumed by the ancient Greeks was grounded in civic life. One's loyalty was to the "polis." The most tragic figure in Homer is the "stateless" man—one without a civic grounding, a civic identity.

29 min
Perfectionism and the Greek Ideal

12: Perfectionism and the Greek Ideal

A persistent theme is found in Greek art and architecture, in Greek drama and moral philosophy, in Greek games and festivals, and in Greek religion: perfection. The perfectionist ideal was applied to body and mind, to art and science, to life in both its personal and civic dimensions. Perfection was at the foundation of the classical achievement and, to some extent, was also the cause of the collapse of that extraordinary civilization.

31 min