The Greek World: A Study of History and Culture

Course No. 3189
Professor Robert Garland, Ph.D.
Colgate University
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Course No. 3189
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Delve into the great Classical and Hellenistic eras.
  • numbers Discover the ways in which Greek culture deeply impacted the larger world.
  • numbers Reflect deeply on a seminal civilization which continues to captivate, inspire, and enthrall us.

Course Overview

The ancient Greeks, more than any other early people or culture, have given us the template for Western civilization. An amazing number of the cultural, civic, and intellectual institutions that we take for granted in today’s world were first fleshed out by the Greeks, including phenomenal achievements in the fields of political theory, law, philosophy, science, and art. ancient Greece was the birthplace of drama, as well as democracy.

A look at the range of innovations of the ancient Greeks reveals a list of historical contributions that is nothing short of astonishing. Within the sciences alone, the Greeks invented the fields of anatomy, astronomy, biology, botany, optics, physics, pharmacology, physiology, and zoology. To this already impressive list, we can also add mathematics as we know it, anthropology, ethnography, political science, and the discipline of scientific history.

Reflecting on this incredible legacy, Professor Robert Garland of Colgate University returns with The Greek World: A Study of History and Culture, guiding you in an enthralling and richly illuminating exploration of what the ancient Greeks have given us, and why they’re still important to us today. This wide-ranging inquiry into the history and contours of Greek civilization offers you far-reaching perspectives on our own origins and the development of Western thought and culture, as well as a deepened appreciation for the spectrum of Greek contributions in and of themselves.

This fabulous civilization, also replete with stunning architecture, sculpture, painting, and literature, has fascinated and deeply resonated with humanity, not only in the modern era, but also down through the ages:

  • During Greece’s era under Roman rule, the Roman Empire fell inextricably under the spell of Hellenism, which influenced every aspect of Roman life;
  • In medieval Islam’s golden age, Islamic scholarship and learning were deeply influenced by Greek thought;
  • In the rediscovery of classical Greece during the Renaissance, Greek thought, Greek philosophy, and Greek knowledge became essential to the developing West; and
  • In the centuries following the Renaissance, Greek mythology became integral to Western art and literature, and Greek architectural forms were adopted across the Western world.

Explore the Greatness of an Unparalleled Civilization

Beginning with the earliest human traces on the Greek landscape, The Greek World: A Study of History and Culture charts the origins of Greek civilization, acquainting you with the early cultures of the Cycladic islands, the Minoans, and the Mycenaeans, as well as the important developments of the Greek Dark Age, before delving into the Classical and Hellenistic periods of Greek history, when so many iconic features of Greek culture flourished.

As a distinguishing element of this course, the lectures take you well beyond Greece’s ancient history, leading you through the succeeding epochs and examining the Roman period, the Byzantine period, and the world-changing rediscovery of Greek literature, philosophy, and art in the Renaissance. You’ll also learn about the Greek experience under Ottoman rule, the Greek struggle for independence, and the history of the nation-state of Greece through the 19th and 20th centuries.

From there, the course digs deeply and thoroughly into all of the major elements of Greek culture that have resonated and continue to echo down through the centuries to the present day, from mythology and religion to architecture and art, theater, politics, philosophy, science, and more.

In these 24 thought-provoking lectures, you’ll stand before what Professor Garland calls the “maze of wonder” that the Greeks have given us, exploring the intersection of Greek history and Western culture as well as the Greeks’ conception of themselves. Casting a discerning eye on both the Greeks’ accomplishments and on what we may consider to be their failings, the course provides a remarkable opportunity to assess and come to terms with the Greeks’ contributions and the fascination and influence they have exercised over humanity for more than 2,000 years.

Look Deeply into the Ethos of Greek Culture and Thought

At the heart of the inquiry, Professor Garland’s richly detailed knowledge of the Greek world and his ability to bring diverse perspectives to bear allow you to discover the deeper motives, perceptions, and mindsets that drove the Greeks. In shedding light on what he calls “the complex bond between antiquity and modernity,” he goes to great lengths to provide glimpses of Greek culture as the Greeks themselves saw it.

As a case in point, in the lecture discussing the Acropolis and the Parthenon, you’ll get the chance to see the site as Greek eyes saw it in the 5th century B.C.E., featuring the legendary gold and ivory adorned statue of Athena, symbol of Athens for over 1,000 years. Here, you’ll take account of the sublime structural features and sculptural reliefs that made the Parthenon the supreme example of Classical Greek architecture and art.

You’ll discover the forces underlying the development of Greek civilization in examples such as:

  • The Greek Worldview—In Lecture 1, examine key features of the Greek sensibility, from their intelligence and curiosity to their competitiveness, self-criticism, and egalitarian spirit; in Lecture 9, observe how their rich mythology allowed the Greeks to reckon with the dark side of human experience; and in Lecture 22, grasp how a look at the ancient Greek language, and their use of it, shows us something distinctive about the Greek view of reality.
  • The Phenomenon of Hellenism—Discover how Greek culture flowered during the Classical Age, then spread through Alexander’s conquests across the Mediterranean world, the whole of the former Persian empire, and extensive territories beyond; and how it later left no aspect of Roman life untouched, from art, architecture, and education to medicine, science, philosophy, religion, and political theory.
  • Athenian Democracy—Grasp the features and scope of democracy as it arose in Athens in the 5th century B.C.E. as a bold political experiment; observe the differences between the Greeks’ radical, participatory democracy and our system of representative democracy; also assess its flaws, including exclusion of women and acceptance of slavery, and the ways in which Athenian legal practice bolstered the democratic system.
  • Religion and the Olympians—Explore the nature of Greek religious belief, and encounter the panoply of gods and goddesses, from Zeus, Apollo, and Dionysus to Athena, Aphrodite, and Persephone. Witness how the gods embodied very human traits, and were largely indifferent to human struggles. Take account of the kinds of human experience where the gods would intervene, and the ways in which the Greeks worshipped their gods.
  • Greek Drama, Literature, and Philosophy—In individual lectures, study the forms and rituals of Greek theater going, and the cultural functions of tragedy and comedy in the plays of Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and Aristophanes. Dig into the essence of Homer’s great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. And consider the seminal ideas of philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and those of other Greek philosophical traditions.
  • Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture—Savor the splendor and magnificence of Hellenic art. Survey the periods, techniques, and aesthetics of Greek sculpture, highlighting a range of standout masterpieces. Discover the superlative qualities of Greek vase painting, and its fascinating iconography. Study the key elements and forms of Greek architecture that have so deeply impacted Western architecture and art.

Beautifully and amply illustrated, and with additional lectures focusing on mythology, history writing, science, law, language, and even food and drink, The Greek World: A Study of History and Culture offers you a multilevel immersion in Greek civilization, and an unforgettable view of the extraordinary power ancient Greece exerts over the Western imagination.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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." x

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Your professor

Robert Garland

About Your Professor

Robert Garland, Ph.D.
Colgate University
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...
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The Greek World: A Study of History and Culture is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 16.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to the Ancient Greeks This is a wonderful introduction for anyone interested in the ancient Greeks. No previous background is needed to appreciate the course. Though I have taken many other TC courses on ancient Greek history, literature, and philosophy, this is the one I wish I could have taken first. It covers just about anything you might want or need to know before going deeper with the other TC courses. Included are treatments of not only the usual subjects one would expect, but also such matters as food and drink, science, and painting and sculpture. Professor Garland is an exciting, energetic presenter who strives to draw us in, making an effective case for why the ancient Greeks are worth studying and why they are unique. The 2020 course is filled with comparisons to current or recent events to explain the ancient Greeks. For instance, in discussing the mythical hero Heracles, Professor Garland references Harvey Weinstein and the Me-Too Movement. Though good for the classroom now, this comparison may, however, be too current to be understood in five or more years. The course is also studded with politically correct observations. This may disturb some, but I found many observations to be spot-on and useful in my rethinking the subject under discussion. Anyone with a soft spot for the Spartans will find Professor Garland a harsh critic, conceding only near the end that Spartan women enjoyed much more freedom than elsewhere in Greece, even in freedom-loving Athens. It should also be noted here that Professor Garland’s course focus is Athens. Not only do I like the content and delivery of the course, but must mention the exceptional photos and other illustrative matter in the video. The only criticism I have is a minor one. Professor Garland wore the same buttoned-up suit and open neck shirt for the first seventeen lectures. It seemed to be more and more rumpled as the course proceeded, but I may have just imagined that. In any event, this added another element of anticipation, wondering when/if he would change his outfit! The 241-page course guidebook is excellent, with many images from the video course, good lecture summaries, a fun T/F quiz, and fine annotated bibliography. Though I greatly enjoyed the video format, this will work well in audio.
Date published: 2020-09-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from No New News While this course is interesting on its own, it adds little beyond the many courses that The Great Courses (TGC) already offers. The course is essentially divided into two parts contained between an introduction and a summary. Lectures 2-8 recount the history of Greece from pre-history up to the 21st century. This is a necessary foundation for Lectures 9-23, each of which focuses on one aspect of Greek culture. While there are some topics not addressed in other TGC courses, topics such as modern Greek history and Greek food, most of the information is repeated elsewhere. Dr. Garland is obviously both enamored of his subject and also an expert in it. His presentations are easy to follow. He does not gloss over critiques of Greek culture, devoting considerable attention to them in Lecture 24. For some lectures, notably the lectures on sculpture, architecture, and painting, the video presentation is of the essence. For most lectures, audio is sufficient.
Date published: 2020-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and entertaining I have always been interested in Greece and history and this course was perfect. Professor Garland is a great speaker and he packs in a lot of information and keeps it flowing. I also enjoyed all the photographs that made it easy to see what all the artifacts looked like. It's my goal to see them in person and this class made that inevitable.
Date published: 2020-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining! I have completed several of Robert Garland's Great Courses lecture series and enjoyed them all. I especially love his wit and his inclusion of social issues and examination of the material from a multitude of perspectives. He shares his personal point of view along the way, which I love. While the material is very accessible to a newcomer to this subject, it also provides a nice overview and refresher for those more familiar with it. This course in particular is richly illustrated and the display of key words as the lecture goes along adds to comprehension and enjoyment.
Date published: 2020-07-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Journey I have to admit at the outset of this review that classical studies are not my greatest area of interest. However, when I saw this course advertised I thought it might be worthwhile to see and hear what Doctor Garland had to offer. All in all I was glad that I took the time to learn a little about the history and people of Ancient Greece. Much has been said that Athens is the cradle of western civilization and it is in large part true. Professor Garland is obviously enamored with the subject and his enthusiasm is evident. I especially was interested in the foundations of Greek Civilization and the philosophy of the citizens of Athens who created some of the worlds greatest wonders. I have to admit I got a little bogged down in Greek Mythology and Religion, but that was overshadowed by the advances in architecture, medicine, and politics. The chapter on Alexander the Great was excellent. To sum up my review, I considered the course well worth watching if you are in anyway interested in this period of world history.
Date published: 2020-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Greek World A Study of History and Culture I greatly enjoy reading the studying this subject. Ancient history is a favorite subject and this course is a perfect fit for me. The lectures on the Greek poets, leaders and philosophers were very interesting. The lectures on mythology and religion were excellent and informative. Going through the course a few times, I wrote several questions I'll send to Dr. Garland. The professor presented the material in a very coherent and intelligent manner and made the course more interesting.
Date published: 2020-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, Enjoyable and Meaningful I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this series. The content is fascinating and Robert is a personable and enjoyable presenter. I'll be viewing the entire course again soon. For me, it has really helped me appreciate the Greek world more by providing context for how to think about and begin to understand so many things that are so interesting but so ancient and foreign. For example, now I feel I can begin to understand and appreciate the polytheism as more that just a collection of fanciful tales as I read Homer. I developed an interest in ancient Greece relatively recently and relatively late. This course has helped make that interest something much more meaningful than a temporary interest in the people who gave us the Olympic games. I highly recommend this course. Thank you Professor Garland!
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and carefully crafted overview. The professor obviously knows his subject! My 95-year-old father and I have been watching together, and he is reaching both of us. Once we got to the more theoretical sessions such as historiography, it became a bit dense for Dad but continued to impress me. I have enjoyed the range of topics and the well crafted lectures. I'd love even more pictures, however. Overall a great buy!
Date published: 2020-06-21
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