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.
Andrew Ford of Princeton University joins us for a conversation about the Iliad. What makes it so...epic? And what kind of vision of the world does Homer provide his audiences?
Archaeologist Eric Cline on what caused the simultaneous collapse of the Mycenaeans, Hittites, and most other major civilizations at the end of the second millennium BC, thus ushering in the world's first dark ages. Hint: it wasn't just the Sea Peoples.
Four astonishing archaeological discoveries that extended our knowledge of history back into the mythical past: Champollion and the Rosetta Stone, Grotefend's cuneiform breakthrough, Schliemann digging for Troy, and Michael Ventris' deciphering of Linear B.