Humanities 102: Ancient Greece II

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In Humanities 102: Ancient Greece II classic accounts of two great wars dominate this second course on the Greeks. In Herodotus’ fascinating, semi-mythological account of the rise of the Persian Empire under Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes, students see how the Greek opponents of Persia, especially Sparta and Athens, successfully defend their country’s liberty (490-480 B.C.) against a tyranny with overwhelming odds in its favor. Thucydides shows the aftermath of Greek victory, when the Athenians and Spartans turn against each other as rivals for the mastery of Greece. His account of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) is not simply about a conflict between one city’s interest and another’s but an anatomy of perennial tensions between the oligarchs and the democrats, the few rich and the many poor. Set during the same war, the Dionysian comedies of Aristophanes present absurd but insightful proposals for peace between Athens and Sparta. Plato’s Symposium and Euripides’ Bacchae explore Dionysus as the symbolic figure of renewal and harmony as well as cruel destruction. At the end of the semester, students turn to the question implicit in the context of endless war: what justice is and whether it is possible to achieve it. The year culminates in a careful reading of Plato’s Republic, with its considerations of the soul of the tyrant, the nature of the best city, the education necessary for it, and the hope offered by philosophy.

Course Materials

  • Aristophanes, Clouds
  • Aeschylus, Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides
  • Herodotus, Histories
  • Plato, "Apology", "Crito", Republic
  • Plutarch, "Lycurgus", "Solon"
  • Thucydides, Peloponnesian War

Usually Taught By

Poems Memorized

  • “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Frost
  • “What a piece of work is a man,” Shakespeare
  • Sonnet 116, Shakespeare
  • “Spring and Fall,” Hopkins