This experience is optimized for Internet Explorer version 9 and above.

Please upgrade your browser

Video title

Priority Code

Cancel
Age of Pericles

Age of Pericles

Professor Jeremy McInerney Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Course No.  3317
Course No.  3317
Share:
Sale
Video or Audio?
While this set works well in both audio and video format, one or more of the courses in this set feature graphics to enhance your learning experience, including illustrations, images of people and event, and on-screen text.
Which Format Should I Choose? Video Download Audio Download DVD CD
Watch or listen immediately with FREE streaming
Available on most courses
Stream using apps on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or Kindle Fire
Available on most courses
Stream to your internet connected PC or laptop
Available on most courses
Download files for offline viewing or listening
Receive DVDs or CDs for your library
Play as many times as you want
Audio formats include Free Streaming
Audio formats include Free Streaming

Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

We call it the "Golden Age"—the period during the 5th century B.C. when the Greek city-state of Athens experienced a cultural flowering of extraordinary power and importance for Western culture. It is a period that still calls to us, still echoes, as we read the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides; gaze at architectural wonders like the Parthenon; consider the wisdom passed down from Socrates and Plato; or, perhaps most of all, consider the origins of our own democracy.

The Age of Pericles uses the career of the leading Athenian politician and general from c. 450–429 B.C. as a prism through which to view this brief but remarkable era, and to ask why that echo has persisted for so long.

View More

We call it the "Golden Age"—the period during the 5th century B.C. when the Greek city-state of Athens experienced a cultural flowering of extraordinary power and importance for Western culture. It is a period that still calls to us, still echoes, as we read the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides; gaze at architectural wonders like the Parthenon; consider the wisdom passed down from Socrates and Plato; or, perhaps most of all, consider the origins of our own democracy.

The Age of Pericles uses the career of the leading Athenian politician and general from c. 450–429 B.C. as a prism through which to view this brief but remarkable era, and to ask why that echo has persisted for so long.

In the generation that followed Pericles's appearance on the public stage shortly after the Persian wars, Athens rapidly transformed the alliance of Greek states—an alliance first created as a defense against the Persians—into a true Aegean empire, dominated by the Athenians and their mighty navy.

But this dramatic increase in military power, cultural influence, and prestige was also accompanied by something unique: the growth of full participatory democracy.

This course examines the daily workings of that democracy and the whole of Athenian culture, including:

  • how Athenians were trained for citizenship
  • what Athenian democracy actually meant in practice
  • the profound role of religion in Athenian life.

Were there Stains on the "Golden Age"?

But in examining the lives of Athenian men and women, this course also confronts aspects of the "Golden Age" whose echoes are far less glorious. It asks, fo example, what freedom and autonomy really meant to a society that relied on slaves and was ruthless in its treatment of its subjects.

To answer this and other questions, the course constantly juxtaposes the striking accomplishments of Athenian culture in such fields as philosophy, tragedy, comedy, sculpture, and architecture with its equally striking flaws, including:

  • the exclusion of women from public life
  • Athenian reliance on slavery, including the abuse of those slaves
  • the cruel treatment of other Greek populations.

In following Athens from the height of its power to its defeat at the hands of the far different Greek city-state of Sparta, these lectures produce a portrait of a complex people and a complicated culture whose ties to our own civilization are not casual, but deeply meaningful.

The Living Dialogue that is History

Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization, notes Professor Jeremy McInerney. He replied that he thought it would be a ‘good idea.'

"In the world after September 11, we have come to realize that there are those who loathe and despise everything Western," says Professor McInerney. "If that is so, then it is worth asking, ‘What is valuable in Western culture?'

"The Greeks demand that we learn about our own history, the roots that connect us to the past, the avenues by which the past has become the present. If our culture has real meaning, and if notions of justice, freedom, and equality are to be a reality, then we cannot live in a vacuum in which history is forgotten. We have to be aware of the past and engage with the living dialogue that is history."

The "Right" of Freedom?

As he leads you through daily life in Athens, Professor McInerney not only weaves in the underlying beliefs that drove those daily events, but also draws analogies with contemporary ideas and events to reveal how we are both like and unlike those ancient Athenians.

He reveals, for example, the origins of British common law in the archives of Athens as he explores some of the legal testimony left behind by the Athenians.

He also compares our conception of the term freedom with what the Greeks understood it to be, including the role of their stunning victory over the Persians in helping to amplify that understanding.

And if you are surprised to learn that the ancient Athenians—whom so many of us idealize as the spotless source of our ideas about democracy—considered freedom to be simply a status, and not a right at all, you'll likely be even more surprised to learn what comes next, for one of the Athenians' most important philosophical justifications for slavery was penned by, of all people, Aristotle.

Equally troubling to our contemporary ears, though hardly unexpected in the ancient world, was the position occupied by women, no matter how high on the social ladder.

Much of that becomes clear in Professor McInerney's argument that Aspasia, the long-term mistress of Pericles—what we would consider his common-law wife—and mother of his son, was never a prostitute, as her origins are commonly portrayed.

Dr. McInerney uses the famous case of a woman named Neaera to show how many different forces (particularly the concerns of property and citizenship, including Pericles's own role in redefining the latter) combined to sharply limit the role of women in ancient Athens. One of the most striking examples of that came in the famous funeral oration given by Pericles to honor the fallen of the first year of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta.

In an address otherwise remembered as an expression of the ideal of moderation—and perhaps the closest thing we have to a statement of the ideology of classical Athens—Pericles also reveals that for Athenian men, a public image was a source of pride, while for women such an image was cause for shame, as it went against the idea that women should be only in the background.

A Window on Ancient Athens

This well-rounded portrait of almost every aspect of Athenian life during the Golden Age includes:

  • The different ways Athens and Sparta raised their children. Including the Spartan practice of giving girls only the lightest of garments, the idea being to inure them to the cold to make them healthy and vigorous enough to raise the next generation of Spartans.
  • The fate of Athenian girls as mothers and managers of the household. Their figures on pottery have lighter skin—evidence of a life properly spent indoors—while Athenian boys received an intensely rich education.
  • Young Pericles's role in bringing Aeschylus's masterpiece, The Persians,to the stage, what it meant to his own career, and what it said about the obligations of the very rich in Athens
  • Why did Spartans reject the aid of Athens in putting down a slave revolt? The public humiliation over the rejection later led to the 10-year banishment of Cimon, the leading politician in Athens.
  • Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, introduced reforms including an important shift to wealth—which could be acquired—rather than birth as the determining factor of one's place in Athenian society.
  • Examining Thucydides's terrifying description of the Plague's physical and social impact on Athens—including the death of Pericles—and its possible role in the ultimate defeat of Athens by Sparta.
  • Athenians organized their busy lives around two distinct calendars, secular and religious; discover the Panathenaea, an extraordinary festival and procession that honored Athena. As one scholar has described that special day, "The city would have been resounding to the bellowing of cattle being dragged off to their slaughter. The acropolis, by the end of the day, would have been drenched in blood, flowing all over the rock, from the animals that had had their throats cut."

An Obsession with Property

The Athenians were obsessed with protecting the value of a family's property, and laws about marriage and inheritance created constant legal maneuvering.

Professor McInerney outlines the detailed record of a legal case that gives us a glimpse of the actual property and real goods of a well-to-do Athenian family, and the role of slavery in sustaining those families in their wealth.

He also describes Greek ideas about death and the way to honor both ordinary citizens and fallen heroes, including mourning processions that became so overwhelming that laws had to be passed to limit their size and cost; terracotta tubes leading into a burial mound to permit blood libations to be offered to the spirits; and the possibility that the bones brought back to Athens by Cimon—which he claimed to be those of Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur—might have been those of a dinosaur.

Art in the Age of Pericles

You examine the details of how some of the greatest plays of the Athenian stage were brought to life, such as:

  • Prometheus hurling defiance at the gods after giving fire to mankind in Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound
  • the surprising interpretation Professor McInerney gives to Euripides's Medea, revealing deeper meanings than those of the traditional reading of "Hell hath no fury"
  • the vigor and openness of Athenian comedy, in which no subject and no person, no matter how powerful, was above criticism and the most pointed satire imaginable.

A "Complex, Complicated Civilization"

The Age of Pericles tells the story of a time and people to whom we are inextricably bound. As Professor McInerney notes, "the Greeks established democracy, valued the rule of law, and articulated definitions of freedom and virtue. At the same time they owned slaves, denied women a public voice, and asserted their racial superiority.

"They were a complex, complicated civilization, and we are their descendants. These lectures examine that relationship, exploring much that was good and bad in the Golden Age of Pericles. By engaging with the Greeks, we may come to understand our own world more fully."

View Less
24 Lectures
  • 1
    The Agora—An Ancient Marketplace
    This lecture introduces Athens's ancient marketplace, and focuses on its role as the center of Athenian commercial, religious, and political life. x
  • 2
    Athens and the Persian Wars
    We examine the two invasions by the Persians—the beginning of a split between east and west that still overshadows the modern world—that stimulated the fabulous growth of Athens in the 5th century B.C. x
  • 3
    The Athenian Empire
    Guided by both the writings of Thucydides and key Greek inscriptions, we tackle the difficult questions of how and when Athens was transformed from the victor of the Persian Wars into the imperial power of the Aegean. x
  • 4
    The Career of Pericles
    This lecture emphasizes the contradictions of a well-born man who flourished in a democratic system; achieved long-term power in a system designed to prevent it; and constantly advised caution even as he prepared Athens for war with Sparta. x
  • 5
    Aspasia
    In examining the life of the woman who was Pericles's mistress and the mother of his son, this lecture separates myth from fact and reveals the peculiar intersections of gender, marriage and citizenship in Athenian society. x
  • 6
    Parthenon and Acropolis
    This lecture concentrates on the glorious building program associated with Pericles, who transformed what had been a motley assortment of shrines, temples, treasure houses, statues, and altars into an artistically integrated sanctuary. x
  • 7
    Panathenaea—The Festivals of Athena
    This examination of the great religious procession that dominated Athenian religious life every four years looks at the question of Athena's position as guardian of the city and the importance Athenians placed on celebrating that role. x
  • 8
    Paideia—Education in Ancient Athens
    How did a childhood in antiquity differ from one lived today? How were young Athenians educated in the age of Pericles? This lecture recreates the experience of childhood among the Greeks, and how children were prepared for their lives as citizens. x
  • 9
    Marriage in Pericles’s Athens
    One of the most dramatic legal cases to survive from the classical age comes down to us in the speech, Against Nearia, which illuminates both the position of women in Pericles's day and the extraordinary anxiety surrounding marriage. x
  • 10
    Family and Property
    This lecture draws on the large number of surviving legal speeches to investigate the complex web of family ties and property ownership—and resulting legal disputes—that dominated Athenian courts. x
  • 11
    Coins, Trade, and Business
    Coinage enters the Greek world in the 6th century B.C., making possible rapid development in trade and commerce that ultimately both reflects and reinforces Athens's supremacy under Pericles. x
  • 12
    Death and Burial
    This lecture examines not only Athenian attitudes towards death but also the practices associated with commemorating the dead—practices that periodically became so elaborate that laws had to be passed regulating them. x
  • 13
    Aeschylus and Early Tragedy
    We remember the Greeks for the searing dramas first written and performed in the age of Pericles by its three geniuses of tragedy: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. This lecture begins an examination of their most famous works with a look at Aeschylus's great masterpiece, Prometheus Bound. x
  • 14
    Sophoclean Tragedy
    This lecture turns the spotlight on Sophocles's Antigone, and the agony of a young woman who must choose between obedience to the state or the dictates of family honor. x
  • 15
    Euripides
    Euripides's Medea explores the questions of blood, community membership, and the desire for revenge in a play that is powerful precisely because it is not only universal, but very much the product of Athenian power in the 5th century B.C. x
  • 16
    Comedy in the Age of Aristophanes
    Athenian drama was far from just tragedy. The Athenians of Pericles's time were remarkable for the pleasures they took in comedies that, by our standards, might seem crude, vulgar, and sexually explicit—yet testified to the vigor and openness of their society. x
  • 17
    Athenian Courts and Justice
    The Athenians were justifiably proud of their legal system and saw it as the basis of their democracy. This lecture examines the history of their law and how it differed from modern codes and practices. x
  • 18
    Democracy and Government
    Because the Athenians of Pericles's day lived in a democracy, it is easy to assume that their political life was like our own. It was, in fact, very different. x
  • 19
    The Age of Moderation
    What did the Athenians mean by "moderation," and why was this virtue so highly regarded? We examine a concept whose origins extend back to a Delphic maxim, but which had a broad application to the political life and culture of Pericles's Athens. x
  • 20
    Freedom, Equality, and the Rights of Man
    Though we associate the Greeks with concepts like freedom and equality, and often assume that our understanding of these ideas derives from them, Athenian understanding of these terms was far different from ours. x
  • 21
    Athens after Pericles
    As Athens's inevitable war with Sparta erupts, Athens is rocked by both the arrival of plague and the death of Pericles. This lecture examines whether victory would have been possible anyway, and whether Pericles, for all his brilliance, may have doomed Athens to an unwinnable war. x
  • 22
    Socrates and the Sophists
    The defeat of Athens had enormous repercussions beyond the political life of Athens. We observe those repercussions as events at the end of the 5th century B.C. transform Socrates from a harmless professor to a political scapegoat. x
  • 23
    Plato
    The same events that brought about the death of Socrates also molded the career of his star student, Plato. Together, the two provided Western thought with a moral compass and metaphysical outlook that still sustain and define us. x
  • 24
    An Elegy to Athens
    At a time when cultures appear to be moving towards more open conflict, this lecture examines our connections with the Athenians, and asks whether or not there is a balance sheet that can help us evaluate the Athenians and calculate our debt to them. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

Your professor

Jeremy McInerney
Ph.D. Jeremy McInerney
University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Jeremy McInerney is Davidson Kennedy Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. McInerney earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He was the Wheeler Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and has excavated in Israel, at Corinth, and on Crete. He serves on the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. Professor McInerney's research interests include topography, epigraphy and historiography. He is the author of The Folds of Parnassos: Land and Ethnicity in Ancient Pholis, and has published articles in a variety of academic journals including Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, the American Journal of Archaeology, Hesperia, and California Studies in Classical Antiquity. In 1997, he was an invited participant at a colloquium on ethnicity in the ancient world, hosted by the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington.

View More information About This Professor
Also By This Professor
View All Courses By This Professor

Reviews

Rated 4.8 out of 5 by 34 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Athenian democracy and culture The course focuses on democratic Athens in its days: from the Persian wars (490 BC) to the end of the Peloponnesian wars at the end of the 5th century BC. The difference from other TGC courses that cover this era, such as "Ancient Greek Civilization", and "Greek and Persian Wars" for example, is that this course does not strictly follow a chronological events. Instead, it describes in some detail different aspects of ancient Athenian culture, such as education, the political system, business and economy, the role of women, the role of slaves, and the judicial system to name only a few. Professor McInerney does a great job in presenting the course, as he does in all of his other courses. His insights are often quite profound and inspiring, and once he gets going in the lecture, after the introduction, he loosens up a bit and adds a subtle tinge if ironic humor that makes the lectures fun to listen to. Certainly, another winner for McInerney. January 22, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by “Greatness in Human Life Brings Doom” In the middle of this course, the lecturer quotes a passage spoken by the chorus of Sophocles’ play “Antigone.” After proclaiming the wondrous accomplishments of human beings in their capacity to control nature, the chorus completely undercuts the praise by asserting that “any greatness in human life brings doom.” Such a concept is disturbing to us. After all, we have come to revere the brilliance of the glorious “Golden Age” of Athens. But the words had to have been even more unsettling to the spectators gathered in the Theater of Dionysus in 442 BCE, at a time when Athens was at the very height of its power. The vision of the inevitable failure of the human enterprise, as noted by one of the greatest Athenian poets, is an essential reference point for this lecture series on ancient Athens. Professor Jeremy McInerney offers twenty-four lectures filled with insights into Athenian culture in the age of Pericles. The term Periclean Athens is often used to denote the efflorescence of Greek civilization in the fifth century BCE. The focus of the course is on the cultural life of Athens that developed in the aftermath of the Persian Wars, in which the Greeks repelled the invading forces of Darius and his son Xerxes. A striking analogy is the emergence of the United States as an international powerhouse after World War II. The prewar years were defined by an isolationist nation in the throes of the Great Depression. Through the extraordinary collective efforts of millions of Americans, the country emerged as a superpower in 1945. The euphoria felt by Americans following World War II had to have been a similar feeling for the Athenians. In assessing the meteoric rise to power of Athens, Professor McInerney explores a series of contrasting values. The operative word is “balance,” as the lecturer assesses both the positive and negative legacies of ancient Athens. For nearly every great achievement, there was an adverse consequence. Thus, Pericles himself was a brilliant leader in some respects, but was nonetheless labeled a “tyrant” by no less a figure than Aristotle. Almost immediately after the glorious victory over Persia, the Athenians began to take over neighboring Greek islands as client states, in effect, copying the Persians in their model of imperialism. The great building projects of the Acropolis were financed by funds skimmed off the top of the contributions of the member states of the Delian League, who believed the monies were allotted for defense. Phidias, the most brilliant of Greek sculptors, who conceived the Parthenon frieze and the colossal statue of Athena, was convicted of embezzlement and imprisoned. It was Pericles’ initiative to start the fateful war against Sparta that led to a panhellenic conflict culminating in the defeat of Athens and the waning of the brilliant culture at the end of the fifth century. As this course unfolds, it becomes clear that Periclean Athens is complex topic with many layers to penetrate. In extremely detailed discussions, Professor McInerney probes the dual nature of Athenian civilization. The Greek ideal of excellence ("arete") was often achieved by outright cunning ("metis"). The concept of “schole,” wherein Athenian citizens enjoyed the opportunity to partake in politics, poetry, theater, art, and philosophy, was made possible by the abhorrent practice of slavery, which afforded citizens their leisure time. The description of the workers mining silver at Laurium was both heart-wrenching and sickening. Athenian patriarchal culture relegated women to the back rooms in the homes of its male citizens; in Greek vase painting, women were stereotypically depicted in pure white because they rarely were permitted to venture outside the home. The Assembly of Athenian citizens voted in favor of an act of genocide against the rebels on the island of Mytilene and sent a ship to kill all of the males and enslave all of the women and children; the people of Mytilene were Greeks, not Persians. Fortunately, the order was reversed, and a swifter ship arrived to prevent the carnage. The wisest of the Athenians, the jovial gadfly Socrates, was not as lucky. He was tried on vague charges of impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens and sentenced to death in one of the great moral events of antiquity. One of the strengths of this course is that it teaches us that a study ancient Greek culture is not one-dimensional and that we can appreciate the contributions of the Greeks while critically examining their shortcomings. In perhaps the most memorable lecture in the course, Professor McInerney discusses the topic of “moderation” in Athenian culture. That concept was foremost in the minds of all Greeks, as the inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi proclaimed, “Nothing in Excess.” As apparent especially in the tragic poets and writers of comedy of Athens, it was necessary to constantly remind the Athenians of this dictum. The tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides) especially recognized that the complex and multidimensional nature of the achievements of the Athenians came at a price. The search for excellence in politics, the early notions of democracy, the athletic games, art, ideas, and poetry left us a great legacy from the Athenians. But our understanding of those positive contributions is more complete when we acknowledge the cost in human terms of those achievements. This course is successful in probing beneath the surface of Greek culture to tell the complete story of the ideal and the reality of life in this “Golden Age.” COURSE GRADE: A January 5, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent Prof. McInerney does an excellent job reviewing many aspects of the Golden Age of Athens in this course. I found Prof. McInerney to be very organized in his discussion. He choose his subjects well to provide a well-rounded discussion of ancient Athens. I enjoyed his course guide and bibliography. I particularly enjoyed how his course covered the more common topics of ancient Athens such as the Greek wars with Persia and Sparta as well as the Greek plays. However, I am glad that he focused on topics more applicable to Athenian society in general such as trade or death and burial or any number of topics that can be seen in TTC's course synopsis. Prof. McInerney did a good job of unifying his course by focusing on major themes in Athenian society such as the importance of family or the meaning of Athenian democracy. Overall, I enjoyed this course and would recommend it to those who are interested in learning about Athenian culture or antiquity in general. October 3, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by Good course to compliment others on ancient Greece When I purchased this course it was available in DVD and now it is apparently only available in audio. I would not let this discourage anyone interested in exploring the Golden Age of Greece which was the Age of Pericles. There are very few illustrations compared to other courses in the Great Courses series but this should not be viewed as a negative since this is more of an intellectual discussion of history, culture and the interplay of these aspects of the Greek life with the concepts of democracy, freedom, justice, poetry and philosophy. His discussions of Greek literature and philosophy blends these with the culture that was ancient Greece and puts it in a political context. No more so does he do this than in discussing Socrates and Plato. I have visited Greece numerous times and have read and watched numerous of the Great Courses dealing with Greece so I was unsure if this course would add much to my knowledge. I am pleased to say that I did find it enlightening and useful. The title is a bit misleading and perhaps unfortunate in that the lecture series deals with the Golden Age of Greece using Pericles as a vehicle. But actually very little is devoted to Pericles himself and far more to the cultural, political and influences of war and trade on Greece. Ancient Greece is perhaps fascinating because of its ties to our intellectual heritage and because it has relevance in our lives today. But the fog of time has also made it difficult to interpret. For those who have a love of ancient Greek history this lecture series cannot be recommended more highly. April 23, 2012
2 next>>

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought

Some courses include Free digital streaming.

Enjoy instantly on your computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.