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Greek Tragedy

Gain a full overview of Greek tragedy, both in its original setting and as a lasting contribution to the artistic exploration of the human condition.
Greek Tragedy is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 76.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Professor races thru material Professor is very knowledgeable but talks too fast, crams too much into each sentence and loses me along the way. Rather another professor and one who slows down. Don't recommend it.
Date published: 2024-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course ! In all her courses E. Vandiver is a delight to listen to. She has a great structure in the material that makes it pleasant to follow, a very high degree of engagement with the student, but most of all deep analytical skills, to the point where she takes a play and creates a philosophical debate out of the deceivingly simple and obvious story. How did she go from Antigone and a burial to anarchy, social contract and the legal system, is really admirable.. Thank you for another great course.
Date published: 2023-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from terrific overview of greek tragedies Professor Vandiver is an incredible lecturer-highly organized, enthusiastic and very clear. She provides an overview of Greek tragedy and how few of the plays have come down to us. She focuses on the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides since these are very good and have some overlap in subject matter. She also describes the competitions for which the plays were written and the physical layout of the Greek theaters where the plays were produced ~2,500 years ago. We highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2023-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from do yourself a favor as with her other courses...the information is all there presented with energy and skill. Didn't want it to end
Date published: 2023-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bringing clarity to tragedy These impeccably prepared lectures make Greek tragedies fathomable by familiarizing us with the historical and social background. I had assumed that we'd read the plays as part of the course, and the course does cover some major plot lines, but really the course's purpose is to prepare us to read the plays on our own by acquainting us with the situation in Greece at the time these plays were presented. Thanks to Prof. Vandiver's complete knowledge and obvious prior experience teaching this topic, her lectures were always fascinating and clear as day.
Date published: 2022-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative This is both enjoyable and informative for fans of Greek tragedies and tragedians. A must for the collection.
Date published: 2022-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lectures I am learning a lot and the I fee like I am back in the university
Date published: 2022-03-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from important information giving a general idea YES WAS VERY GOOD AND INFORMATIVE. expanding about comedy and tragety
Date published: 2021-12-06
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The Greek tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides produced a group of plays whose grandeur and uncanny power are undiminished despite the passage of 2,500 years. Professor Elizabeth Vandiver's 24 engrossing lectures shed revealing light on both the context and the content of these stunning dramas from Athens's Golden Age.


Elizabeth Vandiver

I think many of the stories that we tell ourselves as a society–the stories that encode our hopes, aspirations, and fears–preserve the traces of classical culture and myth and are part of our classical legacy.


Whitman College

Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her MA and PhD from The University of Texas at Austin.

Prior to taking her position at Maryland, she held visiting professorships at Northwestern University, the University of Georgia, the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, Loyola University of New Orleans, and Utah State University.

In 1998, The American Philological Association recognized her achievements as a lecturer with its Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching prize given to American classicists. In 2013 she received Whitman College's G. Thomas Edwards Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship. Her other awards include the Northwestern University Department of Classics Excellence in Teaching Award and two University of Georgia Outstanding Honors Professor Awards.

Professor Vandiver is the author of Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War and Heroes in Herodotus: The Interaction of Myth and History. She has also written numerous articles and has delivered many papers at national and international conferences.

By This Professor

Classical Mythology
Tragedy Defined

01: Tragedy Defined

What is tragedy? What are the issues to grapple with if we are to understand it? What was it like to live in 5th-century B.C. Athens, the time and place that saw tragedy's birth? How and why, precisely, did tragedy originate?

32 min
Democracy, Culture, and Tragedy

02: Democracy, Culture, and Tragedy

What cultural developments are reflected on the tragic stage? Is tragedy imaginable apart from Athenian democracy? What was the character of the festivals at which tragedy was performed? Can the handling of female characters in tragedy teach us anything about women's place in Athens?

31 min
Roots of a Genre

03: Roots of a Genre

Dionysus is the god at whose festivals tragedies were performed. Did tragedy grow out of rituals in his honor, other types of rituals, or from some other source? Are there other reasons for the link between Dionysus and theater?

31 min
Production and Stagecraft

04: Production and Stagecraft

If you could go back to 5th-century Athens to attend a tragic performance, what would you see and hear?

32 min
Aeschylus—Creator of an Art Form

05: Aeschylus—Creator of an Art Form

Aeschylus made huge contributions to the artistic development of tragedy. How have his seven surviving plays come down to us? How can we study his three earliest surviving plays to grasp not only his awesome gifts, but the staging and theatrical traditions he was building?

31 min

06: "The Oresteia"—Mythic Background

In this lecture, you examine the two stories that lie behind Aeschylus's trilogy. The tales of the Trojan War and the accursed House of Atreus were part of the cultural coin of 5th-century Athens, and are essential to understanding "The Oresteia" and other extant tragedies.

30 min

07: "The Oresteia"—"Agamemnon"

Can guilt be inherited? How does Aeschylus use the characters of Cassandra and Clytaemestra to set up images and themes that will recur throughout the trilogy?

31 min

08: "The Oresteia"—"Libation Bearers" and "Eumenides"

How does Aeschylus carry the major themes of justice, blood-guilt, vengeance, and conflicting moral duties through "Libation Bearers," and how does he finally resolve them in "Eumenides"? What seems to be Aeschylus's final word on the gender issues raised by these plays?

32 min
A Master of Spectacle

09: A Master of Spectacle

Aeschylus's stagecraft in the "Oresteia" included the "skene" building, chariots, royal purple tapestries, a remarkable device known as an "ekkyklema," and the actors playing the Furies to create theatrical effects that left his audiences powerfully moved.

31 min
The Three

10: The Three "Electras"

Each of the two younger tragedians wrote a play called "Electra," and Aeschylus treated the same material in "Libation Bearers." The way is open for a fascinating three-sided comparison.

31 min
The Sophoclean Hero

11: The Sophoclean Hero

Sophocles is famous for creating isolated heroes. What is known of his life and contributions to stage art? What can we learn from a close examination of "Ajax," perhaps his earliest surviving play?

31 min
Antigone and Creon

12: Antigone and Creon

Why is Sophocles's "Antigone," like so many other surviving Greek tragedies, set not in Athens but in Thebes? What does Sophocles reveal about conflicts between family and city, divine and human law, human greatness and human finitude?

31 min

13: "Oedipus the King" I

How does Sophocles handle the well-known story of Oedipus, king of Thebes? How is the work patterned to enhance the sense of inevitability? Can we apply "realistic" standards of plausibility to the actions of Oedipus and Jocasta?

31 min

14: "Oedipus the King" II

"Oedipus the King" has inspired influential and distinct readings by Aristotle, Freud, and others. Is this drama about fate versus free will? Is it about the human search for knowledge—a theme perhaps suggested to Sophocles by the Sophists? Here's a chance to weigh the several views.

31 min
Two Tragedians, One Hero

15: Two Tragedians, One Hero

Both "Women of Trachis" by Sophocles and "Heracles" by Euripides take the greatest of all Greek heroes as a subject. How does each depart from the "usual" version of the Heraclean story? Is Heracles a "likely" candidate for tragic treatment?

31 min
Greek Husband, Foreign Wife

16: Greek Husband, Foreign Wife

One of Euripides's most famous tragedies is "Medea." Is it significant that "Medea" is not a Hellene? What does her story, in the hands of Euripides, imply about Athenian views of sexuality and reproduction?

31 min
Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Aphrodite's Wrath

17: Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Aphrodite's Wrath

In "Hippolytus," why does Euripides invert the story of the household of Theseus? What does this say about Athenian attitudes toward sexuality, and about the role of the gods in human life?

31 min
Euripides on War and Women

18: Euripides on War and Women

In "Hecuba and Trojan Women," Euripides paints harrowing portraits of war's awful toll. The Peloponnesian War was in full swing when these plays were performed. How does Euripides treat the conquered women of Troy? Why did he take the experience of the Trojans as his subject?

31 min
Euripides the Anti-Tragedian

19: Euripides the Anti-Tragedian

Written late in both the Peloponnesian War and the life of their author, "Iphigenia in Tauris" and "Orestes" differ in tone, but resemble one another in their reversal of many standard aspects of tragedy. What should we make of these "anti-tragic" tragedies?

30 min
The Last Plays of Euripides

20: The Last Plays of Euripides

In the late "Iphigenia at Aulis," how does Euripides modify his earlier treatments of the old Trojan War narrative? "Bacchae," his final play, is the only Greek tragedy to feature Dionysus. It emphasizes the terrible price one man must pay for resisting the power of this latecomer among Hellenic gods.

31 min
Euripides and the Gods

21: Euripides and the Gods

This final lecture on Euripides turns to one of the most vexing critical questions about him: What was his attitude toward the traditional gods?

30 min
The Last Plays of Sophocles

22: The Last Plays of Sophocles

In this lecture we return to Sophocles, who died a few months after Euripides. "Philoctetes" is especially remarkable for its portrayal of Odysseus and its "happy" ending. "Oedipus at Colonus" casts Oedipus in the role of tutelary hero and also paints a portrait of Athens in 406, the year Sophocles wrote the play.

31 min
Other Tragedians and a Comedian

23: Other Tragedians and a Comedian

"Prometheus Bound" is a famous tragedy often attributed to Aeschylus. "Rhesus," far more obscure, is sometimes said to be by Euripides. Both are worth learning about, whoever wrote them. Also worthy of consideration as a source on tragedy are the comedies of Aristophanes.

30 min
The Tragic Legacy

24: The Tragic Legacy

The product of a very specific time and place, tragedy has had an extraordinary history. Highlights include the Roman plays of Seneca; tragedy's influence on Italian opera, Shakespeare, and Racine; and the amazing modern revival of classical Greek tragedy since the 19th century, which continues into our own day.

29 min