1: Why Study the Greek World?
Examine the many compelling reasons to study the ancient Greeks, from their phenomenal art and architecture to their philosophy, religion, and inventions of drama and democracy. Consider how we identify the Greeks, in cultural, historical and linguistic terms. Finally, note the influence of Greece’s landscape and physical environment on the development and character of Greek civilization.
2: Bronze Age Greece: Minoans and Myceneans
Trace the origins of human habitation on the mainland and islands of Greece. Study the Bronze Age cultures of the Cycladic islands; the famed Minoan civilization centered on Crete, with its palaces and religious ritual; and the Mycenaean civilization, with its monumental architecture and cultural artifacts. Learn about Mycenae’s connection with the Trojan War, and what may have led to its collapse.
3: Dark Age and Archaic Greece
Grasp the contours of Greece’s Dark Age (1100-750 B.C.E.), an era of restricted trade and a breakdown of centralized power. Take note of the achievements of this epoch, such as iron technology, the Greek alphabet, and the advent of the Olympic Games. In the following Archaic Period, chart Greece’s geographical expansion, creation of city-states, invention of coinage, and movement toward democracy.
4: Classical Greece: The Age of Pericles
Take an overview of Greece’s Classical Age, an astonishing period of human accomplishment, which the course will treat in detail. Explore defining events of the period, from the 479 B.C.E. defeat of the Persians, through the period of the Peloponnesian War, to the emergence of Macedonia as a great power and the exploits of Alexander. Learn about major innovations of the era, and discover the unique nature of Spartan society.
5: Alexander the Great: Greek Culture Spreads
The conquests of Alexander the Great gave birth to the world we call Hellenistic. Observe how Alexander’s military expansionism brought a vast geographical area under the influence of Greek civilization. Note how the conquered peoples embraced Hellenistic culture, how Alexander’s empire fragmented after his death, and how the majestic city of Alexandria became a major center of learning.
6: Greece, Rome, Byzantium, and Baghdad
Explore the fascinating and conflicted relationship between the Greeks and their Roman conquerors. Take account of the profound impact of Greek culture on Rome, and how the Romans both despised and admired the Greeks. Witness the founding of the Byzantine Empire, its flourishing of scholarship and theology, and the major role of Islamic scholars in preserving and disseminating Greek learning.
7: Modern Ideas of Ancient Greece
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, learn how the Greeks fared under Ottoman rule. Then trace the processes through which Europe rediscovered classical antiquity. Grasp the philosophical spirit of the Renaissance, which brought a sudden interest in the ancient Greeks. Chart the huge influence of Greek mythology on Western art, and how Greek literature was widely disseminated in the West.
8: The Birth of the Greek Nation-State
Here, follow the struggle of the Greeks under the Ottomans, which became a bloody political movement for Greek independence. See how European intellectuals, artists, and Europe’s major powers supported the movement, leading to the founding of the nation-state of Greece in 1830. Track Greece’s territorial expansion through the ensuing century, and its tumultuous modern history up to the present.
9: Greek Mythology: Monsters and Misfits
Delve into the nature and roles of mythology in Greek civilization. Explore the subject matter of Greek myths, as they figure in literature and art. Contemplate the function of mythology, as it helped the Greeks interpret the world and come to terms with the dark side of human experience. In particular, study the figure of the hero, and the features and meaning of the hero’s journey.
10: Greek Religion: Dangerous Gods, Tricky Heroes
For the ancient Greeks, every human activity contained a religious dimension. Examine the underlying worldview of the Greeks’ polytheistic religious beliefs, and where we find it represented in literature. Look at each of the major Greek gods, and their characteristic roles and qualities. Grasp the very human moral and psychological attributes of the gods, and what constituted piety and impiety.
11: The Sensuality of Greek Sculpture
The sublime sculpture of the ancient Greeks is among their most enduring cultural artifacts. Study the six periods of Greek sculpture, from the Archaic through the Classical and Hellenistic. In each, look at masterful examples, noting how the practice of sculpture constantly evolved. Take account of sculptural techniques, and how the sculptors achieved such sensual appeal and expressive power.
12: The Perfection of Greek Architecture
Study the primary forms of Greek architecture, which emblemize Greek civilization and have profoundly impacted architecture in the West. Visit the Acropolis of Athens as the ancient Greeks would have seen it; take in the magnificent features of the Parthenon, as well as those of other temples and civic structures. Learn also about Greek domestic architecture, house plans, and town planning.
13: The Monumentality of Greek Painting
Encounter the major styles of Greek vase painting, in examples by master painters such as the Dipylon Master and Exekias, noting their remarkable iconography portraying social ritual, war, and mythological scenes. Learn about black and red figure technique, the use of incised decoration and brushwork, and the superlative qualities of Greek painting in both conception and realization.
14: Homer’s Humanity: The Epic Experience
In exploring the genius of Homer, learn first about the features and tradition of epic poetry. In key excerpts from the Iliad, grasp Homer’s great humanity and insight into the human condition. See how the Iliad functions as a meditation on mortality, war, idealism, and loss, and how the Odyssey comprises a journey of self-realization. Witness Homer’s enduring influence in the modern world.
15: Greek Theater: Producing and Staging Plays
Uncover the origins of Greek drama, and how it evolved into the form of a chorus and masked actors. Learn about early theater festivals; the elements of a Greek theater; and how plays were selected, financed, and performed. Finally, study the rituals of theater going, the use of key theatrical devices and stage machinery, and the story of how the Greeks’ iconic plays survived into the modern era.
16: Greek Drama: Laughter and Tears
In this second look at Greek drama, examine individual plays that epitomize the genre of tragedy, such as Aeschylus’s Oresteia and Prometheus Bound, Sophocles’s Antigone and Oedipus the King, and Euripides’s Trojan Women and Medea. Explore the nature of tragedy, its meaning for audiences and existential function in the Greek world. Then investigate the sublime comic plays of Aristophanes.
17: Greek Politics, Law, and Public Speaking
Radical, participatory democracy was established in Athens in the 5th century B.C.E. Study the mindset and features of Athenian democracy, as it empowered every citizen to speak and vote, and required citizens to participate in civic affairs. Assess ancient and modern critiques of Greek democracy. Then study ancient Athenian legal practice, highlighting the system of trial by jury.
18: Greek Historians: The Birth of History
Take the measure of two of ancient Greece’s greatest historians. Begin with the work of Herodotus, often called the “father of history”; grasp the qualities of his history writing, and how he established the first principle of historiography: impartiality. Continue with Thucydides, credited with establishing the discipline of scientific history and the political theory of Realpolitik.
19: Greek Philosophy: Man and Nature
Look into the origins of the great philosophical tradition within ancient Greece, and the contributions of the early, pre-Socratic philosophers. Then examine the work of the philosophical giants Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, taking account of the core ideas, the teaching methods, and the influence of each. Conclude by exploring two major Greek philosophical traditions: Stoicism and Epicureanism.
20: Greek Science: Discovery and Controversy
Investigate the many contributions to science of the ancient Greeks, as well as the great obstacles to free inquiry that early scientists faced. Study Greek achievements in astronomy, followed by medicine, highlighting the methods and doctrines of the Hippocratic school. Also learn about the cult of the healing god Asclepius, in which rational inquiry and faith healing existed side by side.
21: The Greek Way of Waging War
The art of war was integral to ancient Greek culture. Delve into warfare as portrayed in the Iliad, observing the highly ritualistic nature of Homeric combat. Continue with the classical warfare of the hoplites; phalanxes of heavily armed soldiers; and learn about hoplite tactics, strategy, and weaponry. Study Athens’s mighty naval forces, and assess the changing rules of battlefield conduct.
22: Greek Language, Literacy, and Writing
Examine the structure of the ancient Greek language, how it embodies and expresses thought, and how common linguistic devices express the Greek mindset. Learn about the evolution of writing in Greece, and the wealth of information available to us from ancient papyri. Finally, take account of literacy in ancient Greece, and our indebtedness to literate slaves who were copyists and transcribers.
23: Eating and Drinking among the Greeks
As a final perspective on Greek culture, take a spirited look at Greek food and drink across the ages. Observe how the ancient Greeks ate, considering their diet, meal rituals, staple foods, and a signature Spartan dish. Learn about Greek food today, sampling a spectrum of standout dishes and traditional foods and wines. Then, visualize an ancient “symposium,” or traditional drinking party.
24: What Does Greece Mean to Us Today?
Begin this final lecture by reviewing criticisms leveled against the ancient Greeks, and aspects of Greek society which are “hot button” issues for the modern world, such as the repression of women and the elitist nature of their society. Conclude with five compelling reasons for studying the Greeks, from their areas of unsurpassed excellence to the beauty and wonder of their civilization.
Working for the Great Courses enables me to reach people who prize learning for learning's sake. It's they who inspire me to close the gap between past and present, by demonstrating what it meant then, and what it means now, to be human.
About Robert Garland
Dr. Robert S.J. Garland is the Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics at Colgate University. He earned his B.A. in Classics from Manchester University, his M.A. in Classics from McMaster University, and his Ph.D. in Ancient History from University College London. A former Fulbright Scholar and recipient of the George Grote Ancient History Prize, Professor Garland has educated students and audiences at a variety of levels. In addition to teaching classics at Colgate University, he has taught English and Drama to secondary school students and lectured at universities throughout Britain as well as the British School of Archaeology in Athens. Professor Garland is the author of numerous articles in both academic and popular journals and books capturing details of all aspects of ancient Greek and Roman life, including The Greek Way of Life: From Conception to Old Age; Introducing New Gods: The Politics of Athenian Religion; and Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks. His expertise has been featured in The History Channel's Last Stand of the 300, and he has repeatedly served as a consultant for educational film companies.