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.