The Athenian historian Thucydides observed and chronicled the greatest military conflict of his day: the epic contest between Athens and Sparta known as the Peloponnesian War (431-404BC). Much more than just a straightforward history, his work is a study of the struggle between democracy and oligarchy, as well as a meditation on the dangers of populism and political polarization. Perhaps for this reason, Thucydides' work has experienced a surge in popularity over recent years as polarization and civil strife have spread throughout the developed world.
In this episode we are joined by Emily Greenwood, professor of classics at Yale University and author of Thucydides and the Shaping of History. Our conversation covers Thucydides' historical context, his ambition and purpose in writing his history, his insights and blindspots, and his relevance to our world.
Stick around at the end of the episode for a chance to win an autographed edition of Thucydides and the Shaping of History.
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Scholarly works mentioned during the conversation:
The Blinded Eye: Thucydides and the New Written Word, by Greg Crane (particularly Chapter 4: “Thucydidean Exclusions and the Language of Polis II: Oikos, Genos, and Polis”)
The intro to this episode was provided by Dr. Greenfield and Dr. Radford of The Partial Historians podcast. Dr. G and Dr. Rad both hold PhD's in Roman history and they offer a unique take on the Roman world that combines humor, storytelling, and scholarly rigor. Check out their pod at partialhistorians.com
What methods and institutions do oligarchic regimes use to maintain their power? How do they fend off the threat of democratic revolution? What happened to the many oligarchies of the ancient Mediterranean?
All of these questions and more are explored in this second part of our conversation with historian Matt Simonton, author of Classical Greek Oligarchy.
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Scholarly works mentioned during the conversation:
Democracy: A Life, by Paul Cartledge
How do ancient oligarchies compare with modern authoritarian regimes? How did civil war in oligarchies differ from civil war in democracies? What does the age-old ideological struggle between democracy and oligarchy imply about our future? These are just a few of the questions we discuss on this and the next episode.
This episode covers: what oligarchy actually is, and how this political form arose in the first place. The next episode – Oligarchy, Part 2: Nemesis – is going to be about the institutions of oligarchic regimes, how they maintained their power, and how they tended to break down in the end.
Joining us is ancient historian Matt Simonton of Arizona State University, author of the book Classical Greek Oligarchy, which won the Runciman Award in 2018. Stay tuned at the end of the episode for a chance to win an autographed, hard-cover edition of Classical Greek Oligarchy.
The intro to this episode was provided by host Kate Armstrong of The Exploress Podcast, which time-travels through women’s history, era by era, to explore their lives and their world. Check it out on your favorite app or at: theexploresspodcast.com
Support us on Patreon: patreon.com/greecepodcast
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Scholarly works mentioned during the conversation:
The First Democracies: Early Popular Government Outside Athens, by Eric W. Robinson
Democracy Beyond Athens: Popular Government in the Greek Classical Age, by Eric W. Robinson
According to the historical evidence, the first stirrings of philosophical inquiry began 2600 years ago in ancient Greece with a group of thinkers known as the Presocratics (or pre-Socratics). In this episode we try to shed light on these early pioneers of philosophy.
Our guest is André Laks, professor of ancient philosophy at Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City. Laks is the co-editor of the recent 9-volume Harvard Loeb edition of the early Greek philosophical fragments – the first comprehensive edition to be made in over a hundred years.
Stay tuned at the end of the episode for a chance to win an autographed, hard-cover edition of Laks' book The Concept of Presocratic Philosophy.
The intro to this episode was provided by host Drew Vahrencamp of Wonders of the World, a podcast that explores the most amazing historical sites around the world and the stories behind them (plus travel & food tips for visiting them). Check it out on your favorite app or at: wonderspodcast.com
We live at a time of increasing economic inequality worldwide. What is driving this trend? And what are the factors that can stabilize or even reduce levels of inequality? Answering this question empirically would require a deep dive into the archives of history. One would have to sift through millennia of economic data across continents and civilizations.
Our guest today took on this gargantuan task of writing a “global survey that covers the broad sweep of observable history” regarding inequality (as he puts it). Walter Scheidel is professor of Classics and History at Stanford University. He is a prolific author, and one of the most cited historians of Rome alive today. In 2017 he rekindled the debate about the history of inequality with the publication of his book The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the 21st Century.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Jeff Wright's long-awaited serial reimagining of Homer's Odyssey has finally launched! Check out "Odyssey: The Podcast" on your favorite app or listen at: odysseythepodcast.com
A big thank you to listener Hein Roehrig for your generous support through Patreon.
How did the ancient Greek religion evolve? What was the meaning of sacrifice and other rituals? Did atheism exist back then? How about alternative religions?
We explore all these topics and more in conversation with Barbara Graziosi, professor of classics at Princeton University and author of the book The Gods of Olympus. Stay tuned at the end of the episode to learn how you can win an autographed hard copy of The Gods of Olympus.
The intro to this episode was provided by Elizabeth from the Footnoting History podcast. On Footnoting History, Elizabeth and a team of academic historians share their favorite stories from across history. With 200 episodes to date, you can pretty much find any historical topic you're interested in. Check them out on your podcast app or at www.footnotinghistory.com
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The oldest Roman epics we have were produced during the Roman Empire. But before becoming an empire, Rome was a powerful republic for hundreds of years. What happened to the Roman epics from the republican period?
In this episode, we examine the evidence from this fascinating yet elusive early period, when Rome was a powerful Republic, but there were still other powerful states around, all competing for cultural prestige. Our guest on the show is someone who has spent years studying the early fragments as well as the later complete epics of the empire.
Rhiannon Evans lectures in Classics and Ancient History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is also a veteran podcaster, being one of the lead voices on the Emperors of Rome podcast, and has published several of her lecture series as free podcasts as well.
The intro to this episode was provided by Brandon Huebner of the Maritime History Podcast, a show exploring the major naval powers of history and how their destinies were shaped by the sea. Check out the Maritime History Podcast on your podcast app of click here.
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Hesiod's didactic epic Works and Days is probably most famous for containing the stories of Prometheus and Pandora. But these tales are part of a greater mission of explaining how one can live justly and succeed in a harsh world.
Our guest today is widely recognized as having produced the best translation of the Works and Days into English. Alicia Stallings is an acclaimed poet, author, McArthur fellow, and translator of Hesiod and of Lucretius. If you would like to read the Works and Days, get yourself a copy of her translation.
The intro to this episode was provided by Derek of The Hellenistic Age Podcast, a show exploring the vast arena of cultures impacted by the conquests of Alexander the Great. Check out The Hellenistic Age Podcast on your podcast app or click here.
Hundreds of city-states in the ancient world experimented with democracy. Most of them experienced some kind of civil strife at some point. What caused these breakdowns of social order, and are we headed towards a similar fate?
In this episode we explore the phenomenon of political polarization (stasis in Greek), its causes, and the solutions that ancient thinkers offered to prevent it from happing. Our guest is Melissa Lane, Professor of Politics and associated faculty of Philosophy and Classics at Princeton University, where she is also the director of the University Center for Human Values. Her most recent book is The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why they Matter.
BOOK GIVEAWAY: To win a copy of The Birth of Politics, autographed by Melissa Lane, go to our Facebook page and share our latest post announcing this episode. Then, from our page, send us a message with the word "shared." On March 10 we will randomly select a winner.
The intro to this episode was provided by Nitin Sil of the Flash Point History podcast, a show that has done epic series on Attila the Hun and the Punic Wars. Check out Flash Point History on your podcast app or click here.
At a time when kings and emperors ruled the world, the Founding Fathers of the US were striving to resurrect a millennia-old dream: that of a free republic. Drawing inspiration from ancient Athens, the Roman Republic, and Carthage, they helped craft a society that was at once radically new and rooted in antiquity.
Joining us to explore the influence of classical models on early American history is Caroline Winterer, professor of American History and of Classics at Stanford University and director of Stanford's Center for Humanities. Winterer is the author of American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason and of The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750–1900 among many other books and articles exploring the connections between antiquity and the early American experience.
What can anthropology tell us about the origins of humanity's oldest epic stories? And what can these epics, in turn, tell us about our undying fascination with heroes? Joining us to explore these topics and more are Gregory Nagy, professor of classics at Harvard University and director of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC, as well as Leonard Muellner, professor emeritus at Brandeis University and director for publications at the Center for Hellenic Studies.
If you would like to learn more about ancient epics and heroes, Gregory Nagy has an online course you can take from Harvard, called “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours.” It may just be the best online classics course available right now. And it is completely free to audit. Check it out at: https://www.edx.org/course/
For those of you looking for more podcasts on ancient Greece, History in the Making is a show that is definitely worth checking out. The first season covers the Classical Athens and the Peloponnesian War.
'Platonic love' is one of the most fascinating (and misunderstood) concepts to have come down to us from the ancient Greeks. Classicist Zina Giannopoulou joins us to set the record straight about the origins of the concept and what Plato's radical theory of love was all about.
In this episode we discuss the book that first introduced this concept of Platonic love – the Symposium by Plato. The Symposium is a philosophical dialogue featuring a cast of characters who try to answer the elusive question, what is love?
Zina Giannopoulou teaches classics at the University of California Irvine. She has written extensively on Plato and recently co-edited the Cambridge Critical Guide to Plato's Symposium, which presents the latest scholarship on Plato's dialogue.
If you are inclined to read the Symposium, we recommend the English translation by Nehamas and Woodruff.
This episode is introduced by Noah Tetzner, host of the “History of Vikings” podcast. Check out his amazing show on your podcast app or visit http://thehistoryofvikings.com/
Philosopher MM McCabe joins us to discuss the art of the philosophical dialogue, both as a literary form and as a practice between people in real-time conversation. What makes Plato's dialogues, for example, worth reading? And is there anything we can still learn today from the ancient art of dialectic?
MM McCabe is emerita professor of ancient philosophy at King's College London. She has spent much of her career writing about the philosophy of Plato. Her books include Plato's Individuals (1999), Plato and his Predecessors: The Dramatization of Reason (2007), and Platonic Conversations (2015).
For more information, visit the webpage for this episode at http://greecepodcast.com/episode16.html
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Mythology expert Richard Martin joins us to discuss why the Odyssey has been considered great story-telling by audiences across millennia.
As we talked about in episode 2 (on the Iliad), the Homeric epics came out of a long tradition of oral storytelling that stretched back hundreds of years into the Bronze Age. If there was a Homer, he did not just make up all these monsters and adventures up the top of his head. He inherited most of the individual episodes from the oral tradition. If we want to understand what makes the Odyssey great story-telling, we should look not for originality in the story per se, but at how the author weaves all the episodes together, puts them in a certain order to achieve maximum effect, and plays around with different tropes and formulas in order to tell a familiar type of narrative in an exciting way.
To find out more about the Odyssey (including our recommended translations) and about Richard Martin's books on mythology, visit the webpage for this episode at greecepodcast.com/episode15.html
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Did you know that Aristotle is to blame for the sad state of science during the Dark Ages in Western Europe? We could have colonized Mars by now if it weren't for Aristotle's disastrously wrong scientific ideas holding back the progress of science for thousands of years. At least, that's the impression you might get from a host of popular books, blog-posts, and click-bait articles online. For example, here is how one such book, called 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know, argues that Aristotle held science back for millennia:
“The Problem is that from the time he was alive (the 4th century BC) until the Enlightenment, when Aristotle said something, that was the end of the argument.... Like most Greeks, Aristotle championed the view that the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth. Copernicus (in the early 1500's) and Galileo (100 years later) had to risk their reputations and their LIVES to put the kibosh on that nonsense.”
Once can find plenty of similar arguments online. While it's safe to say that none of the people who make these kinds of claims have a degree in the history of philosophy, some of them are really smart in other fields. Take Steven Weinberg, the nobel-prize winning physicist and celebrated author. The guy is undeniably a genius. And he has a similarly unenthusiastic view of the role Aristotle played in the development of science. Of course, he acknowledges the tremendous influence that Aristotle had throughout history. And he goes over a lot things that Aristotle got right. He just thinks that neither Aristotle nor Plato knew what science is, and that in later periods an over-reliance on Aristotle plagued both Islamic Science and later Medieval European Science.
Meanwhile, over at the ivory tower the people who study philosophy and its history professionally have a very different view on Aristotle. Earlier this year, a blog that is popular among professional philosophers, called Leiter Reports, conducted a poll to determine who the most important western philosopher of all time was. Guess who won? Aristotle.
So what's going on here? Can it be that Aristotle held science back for two thousand years and yet he's also the greatest western philosopher of all time? Or is one of these positions incorrect?
With us today to try to answer that question is Peter Adamson. You may know him as the host of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast, which aims to tell the entire history of philosophy not just of the west, but also of the Arabic world, India and China. It may be the most ambitious podcast ever created. Adamson is professor of philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. He joins us to discuss Aristotle's contributions to philosophy, and the role that his works have played in shaping the course of human knowledge.
No other story from ancient Greece has fueled so many controversies, theories, investigations, novels, movies, and documentaries as the story of Atlantis – that grand civilization that supposedly flourished thousands of years before the pyramids were built, and was completely wiped off the face of the earth by a major cataclysm. Interestingly, all of the written “evidence” for Atlantis from ancient times is contained in the work of a single author – the philosopher Plato (who we talked about in episode 8). Plato wrote about Atlantis towards the end of his life in two philosophical works called the Timaeus and the Critias, which are meant to be sequels of his earlier philosophical blockbuster the Republic.
With us today to talk about the various theories that have been proposed on the meaning of the Atlantis tale and whether there’s any grain of truth to it, is someone who has traveled to all the major sites that people have suggested for Atlantis and has met with the most hardcore atlantologists in the world. Mark Adams is author of the book Meet Me In Atlantis. He is probably best known for his New York Times best seller Turn Right at Machu Pichu.
For more information on Atlantis, visit the webpage for this episode at greecepodcast.com/13
BOOK GIVEAWAY info: If you'd like to enter to win a copy of Mark Adams' book Meet Me In Atlantis here's what to do. Go to our Facebook page at facebook.com/greecepodcast The first post you'll see will be a post about this episode. Share the post with your friends by clicking the share button. Then, once you've shared it, go back to our Facebook page, click the “message” button, and send us the word “shared” so we know you shared it. On November 10, we will randomly pick two winners and send you guys each a copy of Adams' book.
World-renowned classicist Edith Hall joins us to discuss the relation between entertainment and politics in ancient Athens, particularly on the comic stage. Theatrical comedy, which was invented in Athens after the city's democratic revolution, was at first highly political. Comedy plays, put on publicly in the huge outdoor theater of Dionysus, often directly attacked prominent individuals in the city (who were usually in the audience). As mentioned in episode 8, Socrates was often parodied in the theater. Politicians like Pericles and Cleon were also periodically humiliated on the comic stage. No one was safe from ridicule. Moreover, playwrights did not hesitate to use scatological humor, sexual profanity, and lots of fart jokes in their satires of anyone and everything.
Joining us to help give us a clearer view of the Athenian comic stage is Edith Hall, prolific author and professor of classics at King's College, London. We explore what it was like to see comedies in the Athenian theater and what the surviving plays can tell us about the role of political satire in a democratic society. For additional information on Greek comedy as well as our guest, visit the webpage for this episode at greecepodcast.com/12
Today marks the one year anniversary of this podcast. Thank you all so much for listening! In the spirit of Athenian comedy, we conclude today's episode on a festive note, ending with a very funny song from our friend Doug Metzger over at the Literature and History podcast. If you aren't already listening to that show, you should check it out! There's nothing else like it in the podcast world for ancient Greek literature.
Papyrologist Raffaella Cribiore on education in the ancient Greco-Roman world----
Much of our modern educational system – from the names of our institutions to the books we consider the “classics” – derive from Greco-Roman antiquity. But what was it like to go to school in ancient times?
This question is surprisingly difficult to answer because little direct evidence remains. Raffaella Cribiore, professor of Classics at New York University and award-winning author of “Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt,” is perhaps the world's foremost authority on education in the ancient Mediterranean. She joins us to talk about what the archaeological evidence from Egypt can tell us about schools, students, and teachers throughout the Greco-Roman world.
Archaeologist Patrick Hunt joins us to discuss Hannibal - the infamous Carthaginian general and one of the greatest military strategists of all time. Having witnessed Carthage's defeat by the Romans as a child, Hannibal dedicated his life to thwarting Rome's imperialist ambitions and restoring power to his native Carthage. In 218 BC he famously led an army with war-elephants across the Alps into Italy, where he campaigned undefeated for over 15 years against the Romans. He came tantalizingly close to toppling the power of Rome several times, but ultimately Rome was able to endure. Hannibal finally met his match in the Roman general Publius Scipio, who defeated him at the Battle of Zama, near Carthage, in 202 BC.
Patrick Hunt has lead expeditions across over 25 Alpine passes in search of the route that Hannibal took. He directed the Stanford Alpine Archaeology project for 18 years and also works for National Geographic. His new book is: Hannibal.
Xenophon Moussas, physicist and member of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, sheds light on the mysterious device that has been described as an “ancient computer,” an “astronomical calculator,” and a “mechanical cosmos.”
For more information on the mechanism – including images, reconstructions, and other resources – visit our website at greecepodcast.com/9
Also check out the YouTube channel “Clickspring” to see a clockmaker build a replica of the mechanism piece by piece.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein joins us for a discussion about Plato, Socrates, and the legacy of Greek philosophy. Goldstein is one of the most acclaimed and widely-read philosophers today. Her most recent book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, imagines Plato transported through time to the modern world having philosophical debates with scientists, celebrities, and technology pioneers about important life questions. More than just a series of fascinating dialogues, the book also offers a gripping account of the development of ancient Greek philosophy, tackling some of the big questions and mysteries along the way: Why was Socrates killed? What was Plato's relationship to Socrates? Why did philosophy emerge in Greece to begin with? Profound, witty, and entertaining, the book is also a defense of the enduring value of philosophy in the modern world.
Ian Morris, archaeologist and professor of Classics at Stanford University, joins us for a discussion on the Persian expeditions against Greece in 490-479 BC. How did the Greeks pull off a totally unexpected victory against the biggest invasion force that had ever been launched? Morris explains what the latest research and archaeology tell us about the economies, technologies, and demographics of these civilizations, as well as how these factors may have affected the result of the conflict.
Morris' most recent book is "War: What is it good for?" - a fast-paced history of the world from the Stone Age to the present that focuses on warfare, geography, and technology. In it, he makes a counter-intuitive claim: that warfare, if we look at it over many thousands of years, has actually made human societies progressively less violent.This episode focuses on the Persian wars but touches on some of the main ideas from Morris' book.
Rush Rehm, professor of classics and of theater and performing studies at Stanford University, joins us for a discussion about Greek tragedy. The origins of tragedy (and theater in general) can be traced back in time to one city in the late 6th century BC: Athens. Theater in Athens seems to emerge at the same time that democracy is born. Is that a coincidence? Or is there some deeper connection between the invention of theater and democracy? Scholars have been debating this for a long time.
Furthermore, Greek tragedies are famous for their depiction of human suffering. What are we to make of these wrenching stories? Is this just horror for the sake of horror? Is it just shock-value? Is it extreme pessimism? Or, as some philosophers have argued, is there something cathartic, or even elevating, about these plays?
Our discussion today will take us back to the dawn of theater in 5th century BC Athens. We're going to talk about what going to the theater was like for the ancient Athenians, and then we're going to get into some of the deeper issues these plays bring up.
If you would like to learn more about the individual Greek tragedies mentioned in this episode (like Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Medea etc), check out the awesome podcast called “Literature and History.” Not only will you hear these classic stories told in a witty, dramatic way, but you'll also find an exploration of the deeper meanings and historical background of these plays.
Historian Josiah Ober of Stanford University joins us for a discussion on classical Athens and how the Athenian system compared to our own democracy. As Ober writes in his recent book The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece,
“Democracy and growth define the normal...conditions of modernity: Autocracy, while still prevalent, is regarded as aberrant, so that most autocrats pretend to be democrats.... These conditions were not normal, or even imaginable, for most people through most of human history. But, for several centuries in the first millennium BCE, democracy and growth were normal for citizens in ancient Greece."
Ober's book brings together archaeological data, economic theory, and historical and demographic models in order to explain the political developments of the classical Greek world. In it, he suggests that the Ancient Greek world was historically exceptional in many of the same ways that our modern world is. If that's true, what lessons, if any, can we take away from the Athenian experience?
Don't forget to check out the web page for this episode at greecepodcast.com/5 where you can join the conversation and vote in a poll we've set up about the future of democracy.
Sappho is one of the first song-writers we know of in history, partly because she was one of the first singers to write down her songs, in around 600BC. We still know about her because she was considered the best song-writer for about a thousand years after her death. While best known as a singer of female desire, her lyrics were so powerfully felt by men and women across the centuries that she became known as the tenth muse, joining the ranks of the 9 divine muses – the goddesses of art and inspiration. But after a millennium of celebrity status, Sappho's works were almost completely lost. Of the nine volumes of her songs that once graced the shelves of libraries at Alexandria and elsewhere, only a few pages survive today – most of it scattered bits and fragments of different songs.
Andromache Karanika, professor of classics at the University of California Irvine has written extensively on Sappho and early Greek poetry. She joins us to talk about the tenth muse, her life, and works, and why they were lost.