Famous Greeks

Course No. 337
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course Overview

One of the most instructive and intriguing ways to learn history is through biography. By pondering the lives of great individuals—people who leave deep marks on both their own times and distant posterity—you can chart broad currents of events while also studying virtue and vice, folly and wisdom, success and failure. Moreover, you can appreciate them in the real circumstances of their times.

In a companion course to Famous Romans, classics scholar and master storyteller J. Rufus Fears examines a gallery of fascinating characters who shaped the story of Greece from the Trojan War through the rise of Rome.

Inspired by Monumental Works, Taught by a Great Teacher

These lectures—inspired and informed by the monumental works of Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch—allow you to do exactly that, guided by a truly great teacher.

Professor Fears is Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma—a 15-time award winner for outstanding teaching and three-time University "Professor of the Year."

From the heroes of the Trojan War to Alexander the Great and Cleopatra, he ushers you into the lives, achievements, and influence of many of the figures who made Greek history:

  • Great warriors: Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Odysseus, and Alexander the Great
  • Masterful statesmen: Lycurgus, Solon, and Philip of Macedonia
  • Profound thinkers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle
  • Enduring artists and writers: Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Thucydides, and Plutarch.

His eye for character and his shrewd judgments are informed by a fine moral awareness and a deep familiarity with the times these famous lives were lived.

Gain a New Perspective on Familiar Classics

By attending to that context, Professor Fears offers you new ways of reading familiar classics by Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato.

Plutarch, a Greek writing during the heyday of the Roman Empire, composed his Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans out of a conviction that the study of such lives can make us better as individuals and as citizens.

For 19 centuries, readers—and great writers—have agreed:

  • Plutarch fed the imagination of William Shakespeare, who based Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra on the Lives.
  • The American Founders, including both the Harvard graduate John Adams and the self-taught Benjamin Franklin, regarded Plutarch as a treasure trove of wisdom and wanted to see a copy in every schoolhouse.
  • Harry Truman was an avid reader of Plutarch, and spoke of the practical insights he gained from time spent with the Lives.

In keeping with that spirit, Professor Fears draws lessons from each life studied in this course, charting with you the intellectual and artistic currents of one of the most creative civilizations in world history.

The Center of Human Existence

For the Greeks, politics was the center of human existence. "Man," Aristotle said, "is a political animal."

This truth determines the selection of the lives covered and the course’s approach to them. The leading thinkers, artists, and writers of classical Greece can be understood only in the context of the political events of their day.

The most important single lesson we learn from Greece is that a free nation can survive only if its citizens care, at the deepest level, about politics.

The lectures focus on the five major periods of Greek history:

  • The Trojan War
  • Archaic Greece of the 8th through the 6th centuries B.C.
  • The Persian Wars
  • The golden age of Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.
  • The age of Alexander the Great.
To the Walls of Troy: Homer’s Age of Heroes

For the ancient Greeks, the Trojan War was as real as yesterday’s headlines are to us, with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey holding near-scriptural status.

  • Alexander the Great slept with his copies.
  • Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, and Odysseus were role models and cultural heroes.
  • The influence of Homer resonated throughout Greek history.

Professor Fears argues that no modern work on leadership can rival the depth and power of Homer as the great poet dramatically explores what it takes to guide people and nations through the crises and hardships of life.

A Stand for Freedom and against the Odds: Greeks versus Persians

The decade of the Persian Wars (490–479 B.C.) was one of the most decisive in world history. It determined that Greece would remain free and bequeath to later ages the legacy of political liberty.

Professor Fears leads you in an examination of the lives of five of the most important actors in this momentous conflict.

Your path to understanding wends through the pages of Herodotus, as King Croesus of Lydia and the Persian emperor Xerxes serve as examples of all those who would abuse their power, and whom free peoples must resist.

And you look, as well, at three of the crucial Greek leaders—Leonidas, Themistocles, Pausanias—as you follow the stirring events of this epoch-making war for liberty.

Glory and Misery: Periclean Athens and the Peloponnesian War

The 5th-century golden age of Athenian democracy is the centerpiece of the course.

Although remembered as an age of glory, the 5th century was also a time of widespread misery. For it closed with the three-decade-long cataclysm of the Peloponnesian War.

That war—its causes, its course, and its consequences—forms the prism through which Professor Fears reads the lives who populate this part of the course.

  • Why did Pericles lead Athens into war with Sparta and her allies?
  • What lessons about morality, power, and leadership can we draw from Thucydides’s great account of it?
  • Can the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides be read as comments on the war and the attitudes that lay behind it?

In addressing these and other questions, Professor Fears introduces you to new ways to read such familiar classics as the Oedipus plays of Sophocles.

From Socrates to Alexander the Great and Beyond

The trial of Socrates was the test case of the ideals of the Athenian democracy. Professor Fears discusses that trial in the context of its impact on the Peloponnesian War and its aftermath of recrimination among the Athenians.

The death of Socrates at the hands of that Athenian democracy convinced his influential followers, Xenophon and Plato, that the best form of government would be the rule of one outstanding individual.

Thus you will be introduced to the figures of Philip of Macedonia and his son Alexander the Great.

These monarchs, conquerors, and statesmen would expand and transform the Greek world and outline a vision of transnational brotherhood that remains an ideal today.

But Alexander died young, and the Romans and their empire would be his true heirs.

Thus your study of the lives of famous Greeks concludes with two remarkable figures who challenge Rome for world domination: Pyrrhus, the Greek-speaking king of Epirus, and Cleopatra, the last ruler of Egypt in the line of Alexander’s general, Ptolemy.

Both failed, but in instructive ways that make them worthy of inclusion in a course on Famous Greeks.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Theseus
    Theseus, legendary founder of Athens, traveled to the far corners of the Greek world doing great deeds, and at home he created the prototypes of Athens's key institutions. Athenians' beliefs about Theseus, like Americans about George Washington, set a standard for judging leaders. x
  • 2
    Achilles and Agamemnon
    No book on leadership could offer a better example than the conflict before the walls of Troy between Achilles and Agamemnon (c. 1250 B.C.). As Greek commander-in-chief, Agamemnon is in over his head. Excelling in the virtues he lacks is Achilles, "best of the Achaeans." Homer's genius will transform their power struggle into a timeless lesson in the moral dimension of politics. x
  • 3
    Hector
    It is part of the genius of Homer to make the Trojan prince Hector, the Greeks' chief foe, into the noblest hero of The Iliad. Patriot, soldier, devoted husband and father, Hector embodies the virtues most admired by the Greeks and their tragic vision of life. x
  • 4
    Odysseus
    Unlike the doomed Hector, Agamemnon, and Achilles, the wily Odysseus is the consummate survivor. For 10 years after the fall of Troy, angry gods make him wander the Mediterranean. In the end, his prudence and courage restore him to his home. Homer makes Odysseus's story into a metaphor for the human experience, wand gives us a look at the late Bronze Age. x
  • 5
    Lycurgus
    The legendary Spartan Lycurgus (c. 776 B.C.) represents a characteristic early Greek figure: the lawgiver who saves his country from civil war and establishes its characteristic political, social, and religious institutions. No such institutions in antiquity were as famous or significant as those of Sparta. x
  • 6
    Solon
    Athenian democracy owes much to Solon (638–559 B.C.), a truly wise man who used his mind to serve his country. Many figures of archaic Greek history are hardly more than names to us, but this is not true of Solon. His poetry survives and offers us unique insights into the values and motives of this statesman whom our own Founders so admired. x
  • 7
    Croesus
    Why do great nations rise and fall? So asks the first true historian, Herodotus. A profound moral teacher concerned with the pitfalls of hybris (arrogance) and moral blindness, he begins his work on the Greek-Persian wars with the story of a monarch who belonged to neither people. How does the tale of King Croesus of Lydia (r. c. 560–546 B.C.) lead us to reflect on enduring issues of public morality and personal virtue? x
  • 8
    Xerxes
    Both Plutarch and Herodotus would agree that Persia's King Xerxes (519–465 B.C.) belongs in any course on famous Greeks. Xerxes is central to Herodotus's Histories: He was responsible for the fall of his country. By studying the folly of Xerxes, Herodotus hopes the Greeks can avoid the same errors. x
  • 9
    Leonidas
    It is a hot August morning in 480 B.C. Xerxes is closing in on Greece with 500,000 men. Facing him is Leonidas, king of the Spartans, with a small force of 7,000 built around a band of 300 Spartans. The stand they are preparing to make at the narrow pass called Thermopylae will become one of the most stirring in the annals of war. It will change world history and secure the place of Leonidas among the famous Greeks. x
  • 10
    Themistocles
    The aftermath of Thermopylae was as critical for Athens—and for freedom in the ancient world—as May and June 1940 were for Britain and the cause of freedom in the modern world. In that dark hour, the British found a leader to rally them for the great test. In the same way, the Athenian democracy would find in Themistocles (527–460 B.C.) a man equal to the moment. x
  • 11
    Pausanias
    Thucydides sees Sparta's King Pausanias (510–476 B.C.) as equal to Themistocles in intrepidity. By leading his allied force to an epic victory over a vastly larger Persian army at Plataea (479 B.C.), Pausanias ends the threat of Persian invasion and proves himself one of history's great captains. How do the Greeks manage to achieve this unlikely triumph? x
  • 12
    Pericles
    Along with Lincoln and Churchill, Pericles (490–429 B.C.) is one of history's three greatest democratic statesmen. Why does he decide to lead his country into the great war with Sparta? This lecture and the three that follow paint a portrait of Pericles and his age that is quite different from the one found in most histories. x
  • 13
    Anaxagoras, Phidias, and Aspasia
    Pericles is an intellectual as well as a political leader. His Athens is a place of unprecedented creativity, resulting in works of art, philosophy, and literature that are still admired, debated, and studied today. The names of Anaxagoras, Phidias, and Aspasia (5th century B.C.) represent the leading intellectual, artistic, and cultural currents of this golden age. x
  • 14
    Sophocles
    Tragedy is the definitive cultural statement of the Athenian democracy. Aristotle calls Sophocles (495–406 B.C.) the supreme tragedian. Active in politics and as a general, Sophocles leaves us three plays, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus, that can be read as parables about Pericles's rule, the mysteries of wisdom and suffering, and the moral dimensions of politics. x
  • 15
    Thucydides
    Pursuing history as a field of study begins in 5th-century B.C. Athens with the idea that learning from the past is the best way to guide present decisions. Herodotus comes first, but Thucydides (471–400 B.C.) is the greater historian. His powerful and pathbreaking History of the Peloponnesian War is "the eternal manual of statesmen," as timely and vivid today as when it was written. x
  • 16
    Alcibiades
    Brilliant, willful, dynamic, and fatally seductive, Alcibiades (450–404 B.C.), the nephew of Pericles, is one of the most fascinating and disturbing characters in all of Greek history. Gifted like his uncle but without his integrity, he is a product of Athenian democracy whose career highlights some of its worst failings and excesses. x
  • 17
    Nicias
    A dogged foe of Alcibiades, the conservative aristocrat Nicias (465–414 B.C.) becomes one of three commanders of the Sicilian expedition, along with his hated rival. Ultimately, supreme command devolves on Nicias. Despite his reputation for virtue, he is lazy, inept, and fears responsibility. But he is worth studying; examples of bad leadership are often the most instructive. x
  • 18
    Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War
    Even after the disaster in Sicily, the Athenians refuse to give up, resorting to bold military and political strategies. They even bring back Alcibiades, who had worn out his welcome in Sparta, and whose military genius and political skill restores Athens to a commanding position. But Sparta, too, has a formidable leader in Lysander. x
  • 19
    Lysander and Socrates
    The exile of Alcibiades by the Athenians gives Lysander his chance to prove himself. He brings victory to Sparta, but smaller men pull him down. The destruction of the great by the mediocre is also the story behind the trial of Socrates. His closeness to Alcibiades is the real reason that his fellow Athenians hate him. x
  • 20
    The Trial of Socrates
    In his funeral oration, Pericles celebrates the Athenian democracy for its tolerance. The Athenians treasure freedom of speech as essential to true democracy. Yet this same Athenian democracy puts to death its greatest thinker and teacher, Socrates. Why? x
  • 21
    Xenophon, Plato and Philip
    After Socrates' death, his pupils Xenophon and Plato come to believe that Athens has a perverse form of government. But a polis such as Athens is no longer the center of action, for to the north a new power is rising that will change the world. Macedonia and its superbly capable and ambitious king, Philip II, are the cutting edge of history. x
  • 22
    Alexander the Great
    Plutarch makes Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.) and Julius Caesar the centerpieces of his Lives. Alexander's generalship and political vision transform the world. Not only one of the greatest military leaders in history, he outlines a vision of brotherhood that remains an inspiring ideal today. x
  • 23
    Pyrrhus
    The Romans are Alexander's true heirs. The life of King Pyrrhus of Epirus (318–272 B.C.) shows why Rome rather than Greece wins world mastery. His proverbially costly "victories" over the Romans offer an object lesson in how even a gifted leader may fail if he does not "pick his battles" well. x
  • 24
    Cleopatra
    The last and most serious challenge of Greece to Rome comes from Cleopatra (69–30 B.C.). Charming in turn with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, she nearly defeats Octavian. This lecture goes behind Roman propaganda to reveal her as one of the supreme figures of ancient history, a stateswoman whose vision of a Hellenic eastern empire foreshadows Byzantium. x

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and...
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Reviews

Famous Greeks is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 118.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Directly Applicable to Today’s Big Debates J Rufus Fears was a national treasure. In Famous Greeks, he guides us through reflections that are more relevant now as schools enforce secularism as the only guide to human existence and philosophy to the dustbin. "Famous Greeks" suggests that this position is perhaps too simplistic. THE OLD SCHOOL: Fears begins with Plutarch who was a procurator of Greece & priest of the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. Plutarch felt it more important to shape moral character than simply present facts. Discipline was regarded as superior to unguided amorphous random desire. THE CEO: In L2, Homer discusses Agamemnon, whom Fears compares to a failed CEO: a man promoted beyond his competency. This is relevant today as even courts have been unable to punish CEO misdeeds on the caveat that it impossible for any one person to control multinationals. In the Iliad, Homer contrasts the reputation of the honorable Achilles with the backroom maneuvering of the CEO Agamemnon within evoking scenes of the Trojan War. HUBRIS: In Homer's Odyssey, one of Professor Fears' favorite topics re-emerges: hubris. This time, it is the hubris of Greeks in power. We parallel this to Washington DC where hubris has been omnipresent for the last decade. The Greek hubris is overcome by the cunning, prudence, and courage of Odysseus. The lesson suggests that with determination against hubris comes hope. CIVIC VIRTUE: Fears next describes the Spartans and here the lesson cautions against the increasing incivility promoted by interest groups. The Spartan system, was based on elements of monarchy, aristocracy [Senate of Old Men], and democracy [the Assembly of all Spartans] to produced government. So is ours. Women were treated with utmost respect, could overrule a Spartan, and enjoyed independence to the point that they had their own dialect. In the lesson, Fears cautions: “even the best constitution will fail unless it is vitalized by civic virtue”. DEBT & SELF-KNOWLEDGE: During the 7th century BC, silver coinage was invented (value controlled by the state) making it easy to go into debt. By 600 BC there was great financial disparity and the poor were selling themselves into slavery (just as we now sell ourselves into credit card slavery). Solon's moral motto was “nothing in excess", a concept opposed to such consumerism. He also said: “Know thyself" with the implication that you are mortal and there are limitations. This starkly contrasts with modern advertising projections of human boundaries. FORGOTTEN POVs: Heraclitus in the 6th century BC criticized not only the immorality of the Athenian gods, but asked why we worship athletes? Pythagoras, of geometric and musical harmony fame, believed in the existence of the soul and the transmigration of the soul. He felt that knowledge, unless put to common good was useless. For his troubles, he was burned alive. MORALITY: In L7-8, Herodotus (the author of “Histories”) tells the story of the King of Lydia demonstrating that there is no separation of public from private morality. Fears juxtaposes this with a description of the immorality of the ultimate despot Xerxes. REASON: Pericles is compared to Lincoln and Churchill because he had “a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, vision and an ability to build consensus". He was influenced by a close friend Anaxagorus who taught Pericles to ignore divine explanations for phenomena, including that the sun was not divine put a piece of hot metal. Yet Anaxagoras believed that all things have come into being through “reason, unmixed with any other substance". Surprisingly, this secular-labeled viewpoint strongly parallels the Judeo-Christian & Islamic traditions of an omnipotent Reason. ABSOLUTE TRUTH: The secular viewpoint is taken up again by Thucydides. Like Machiavelli, he believes that morality plays no role in politics and that only “might makes right". His “History of the Peloponnesian War” is viewed as the manual of statesmen. Yet Thucydides' coverage of the Athenian conquest of the island nation of Melos points to his own doubt. Melos held that there are absolute rights and wrongs based on their concepts of divinity. Yet when secular Athens’ with the view that “might makes right" wiped out Melos, Thucydides juxtaposed the Melian tragedy with the subsequent fall of Athens, implying that outrageous acts have disastrous consequences. Fears points out that “might makes right” secularism recognizes only who is in command of the tools of power, not absolute truth. RELATIVISM: In the modern business world, it has become clear that multiple POVs lead to emergence. Fears does an excellent job showing how Socrates' claim that his whole life was a search for absolute truths was his intellectual downfall. Man is bounded within unknowability by the limitations of his individual powers and by common sense. Socrates was right when he said that he knew nothing. Knowing nothing cannot criticize knowing something because the gist of Socrates’ argumentativeness is chaos rather than emergence. There is so much to Dr. Fears courses, that no single review can encompass all of his intellectual/philosophical challenges. Having met persons who have attended Dr. Fears' lectures, it would be an understatement to say that we miss him greatly.
Date published: 2018-12-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting Subject I am enjoying the Great Course "Famous Greeks." The course material is excellent, however the presentation is disappointing and distracting at times. The presenter mispronounces the word "cavalry", he keeps saying "calvary," but also, to make matters worse there is a graphic with "cavalry" misspelled as "calvary." This is simply not professional.
Date published: 2018-06-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This is a history course, not a biography Most disappointing. Not one of the " best of the best' college-level courses" as advertised. I am half way through this course and have been very disappointed with the content. I appreciate the style, which is rather informal (ideal for listening while driving). But the content is lacking. Historical figures are used as launching point to tell historical tales, with very little biography or character analysis. Themistocles is barely mentioned by name more than a handful of times in his lecture. The lecture of Pausanias completely skips over his alleged treason with the Persians. Most of the opening lecture on Theseus is a course introduction, very little time is paid to Theseus. And the lecture on Solon rambles and wanders incoherently into Pythagoras. All the stories are interesting but really a light course telling tales of history, not one of the " best of the best' college-level courses".
Date published: 2018-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining, compelling Really enjoying this series. It reminds me of the best courses I took in college as the lecturer has a deep love for the subject matter and is very skilled at conveying it. I knew very little about Ancient Greek history and these courses have opened up a whole new world to me.
Date published: 2017-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Appropriate J Rufus is a great story teller. His presentation makes the course
Date published: 2017-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an excellent overview with enough detail to keep the lectures interesting.
Date published: 2017-08-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I was never bored. I listened to the entire course in my car over the past few weeks. He makes debunked comparisons of Dyonysus to Christianity. So if you're a Christian make sure you look up what Dyonysus really was all about. Other than that, the course was excellent. Short bio's covering a lot of history. The Professor is good enough of a story teller that he keeps it entertaining. This is a very good course to show you how the "stage was set" prior to Christianity. I learned alot.
Date published: 2017-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Lectures by a Great Professor I've taken numerous Great Courses particularly in the area of history. I find the lecturers generally excellent, but I found Rufus Fears to be among the best of all. This series of lectures is wonderfully delivered in an almost story telling manner. His grasp of the subject is unquestionable and his style was completely engaging. I listened to his detailed history of the Greeks and very much enjoyed his discussions of the context within which each lived. I'd highly recommend this course as the Professor is so engaging and he really lights up the subjects of each of his lectures.
Date published: 2017-05-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dramatic presentation Professor Fears does a great job bringing characters to life. The lectures provide an enjoyable and edifying alternative to tackling Plutarch's Lives, on which the presentation is largely based. If you purchase the audio version, be sure to review the maps included in the Course Guidebook before listening (especially if you're playing the recording while driving) if you're not already familiar with the historical geography of the eastern Mediterranean.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Only Way To Learn Professor Fears is not only an historian, he is a story teller par excellence. History and Literature can appear dry but not in the hands of a great story teller, dry facts and information come to life. I also own Books That Have Made History by Professor Fears, and his story telling makes all the difference in both courses.
Date published: 2017-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging Course! I had this given to me, unsolicited, as a gift and was a bit wary that I wouldn't like it. I'm not much of a reader of ancient history. Although I've been interested in the history of Greek and Roman civilizations, it just wasn't something that caught my interest. This series really corrected this for me. The content was interesting, but it was the delivery by Prof. Fears that really hooked me. He is an incredibly knowledgeable scholar, but I really enjoyed his style of speaking. The guy gets into it, telling the stories almost as the ancient bards and chroniclers must have told them to the people of the time. I can highly recommend this series.
Date published: 2017-01-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Famous Greeks The lecturer is not up to the quality that we are used to hearing in the Great Courses series. Yes, he has a command of the subject, but his manner is not engaging. This is the first and only disc that I have seriously thought of sending back. Perhaps the saving grace of the course is the last two lectures that give a good account of the Greek and Persian wars.
Date published: 2017-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! What a course! J. Rufus Fears (May he rest in peace) was a fantastic story teller! He truly brings the ancient Greeks to life! The Teaching Company is doing a great service to all of us by keeping examples of this great instructors talents alive! I wish to buy all of the courses J. Rufus Fears has with The Great Courses.
Date published: 2016-09-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good storyteller, but some annoying bits The professor has a good style of telling the story in a way that doesn't sound historical (the beginning in fact, is not). However, he often trails off at the end of words, leaving the listener (I am rating the audio course only) unable to pick up certain words. More annoying, he constantly mispronounces "cavalry" as "calvary", a word with an entirely different meaning. It's grating to hear that. He also states that what is modern day Turkey was called by the Greeks, Asia Minor. In fact, it was called Asia Minor by the Romans. The Greeks referred to Turkey as Anatolia. I'm not a scholar of history, and even I can point out these mistakes. I'm sure there are others more blatant to one more aware of the content than I.
Date published: 2016-06-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Egocentric lecturer,simplistic presentation The approach of studying history through the lives of great men is interesting and useful. One problem is that it causes one to focus on the political and military at the expense of the arts and sciences. For example, Aristotle is hardly mentioned in these lectures. For some reason, Professor Fears chose to include several mythological figures in his biographies, which for me diluted the content. In the main, though, the personages chosen are interesting and their influence on history makes for good study. The big problem is Professor Fears himself. His style is colloquial and even folksy- he retells the Greek stories in his own simplistic, modern style, putting 21st century phrasing and slang into the mouths of the Greeks. Many reviewers seemed to applaud this style- for me, it was a disaster. Worse, though, was the way he used the course to present his own ideas without reference to any dissenting viewpoints. He continually cites Pericles, Lincoln and Churchill as being generally recognized as the 3 greatest statesmen in history. I doubt that many historians would agree with that statement. He also waxes eloquent on the virtues and world vision of Alexander the Great, while completely dismissing the other side of the coin. When Alexander captures a city and executes all the inhabitants, it's because he sees that it's for the greater good. When Alexander completes his conquest of Persia and the release of the Greek city states there, Professor Fears applauds his move to continue his conquest of foreign lands. And surprisingly, he didn't address what to me was one of Alexander's finest accomplishments- the establishment of the city of Alexandria and its library. Also, he did a hatchet job on Cleopatra. Starting out with great praise for her learning and daring, he winds up with a very harsh summary of her. Many other historians would disagree. Looking back at the course, I have 2 impressions. One is the scope of and beauty of Greek civilization and achievement, and the other is the flawed presentation made by Professor Fears. Unfortunately, for me the latter dominates.
Date published: 2016-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Almost as good as his "Famous Romans" course Although I have listened to Professor Fears' "Famous Romans" course three times now, I finally got around to listening to "Famous Greeks", which I thoroughly enjoyed. In this course, Professor Fears' gift for story telling is (once again) in full display, and the substantive content delivered was at least equal to (and perhaps exceeded) his "Famous Romans" course. Although this course was not as funny or entertaining as Famous Romans (where Prof. Fears hit his full stride), it is as funny and entertaining as anything else put out by the Great Courses, and I had no problem plunging through the entire course in just a few days, and plan on doing so again soon. In fact, both this course and Famous Romans have inspired me to finally make my way through Plutarch's "The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans", which I am thoroughly enjoying so far. Some highlights from the course: In lecture 14, I was really impressed with how Prof. Fears situated several Greek plays that were performed during the Peloponnesian War in their historical context. After discussing the plots, Professor Fears did a wonderful job of pointing out how the Athenian audience watching the plays would understand them at two different levels: on the level of what was happening on stage, of course, but also on the level of what was going on (politically) around them, especially with regard to their war with Sparta, which Prof. Fears discussed in previous lectures. Indeed, after listening to just this single lecture, feel like I have a much better understanding of these plays than I did before, and look forward to reading them again soon with this broader historical context in mind. Lectures 15, 19, and 20 did the same thing for Thucydides, Socrates, and Plato (situating them in their historical context), and I am now convinced that Thrasymachus, who appears in the first book of Plato's Republic and argues that justice is nothing more than "might makes right", was strongly influenced by (if not directly based on) Thucydides' Melian dialogue, where an Athenian delegation to the island of Melos argue, in response to the latter's request that the Athenians act justly, that "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must". As with lecture 14, I found the connection between what was happening on the stage of a Greek tragedy or in the pages of Greek philosophy, on the one hand, and what was going on in the real world, on the other hand, incredibly enlightening. Finally, without giving anything away, lecture 22 on Alexander the Great was a masterpiece, and was worth the 21-lecture wait. All in all, this was a very enjoyable and informative course, and one that I would heartily recommend. Grade: A.
Date published: 2016-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Storytelling at it's near best. Professor Fears was a great storyteller and for how long was history passed on this way? My only hope is that by the time of his death Professor Fears learned the difference between cavalry and Calvary. Even the video footnotes had it wrong. Still, I enjoy his course's and understand that other professors may give more technically bound lectures but there is much value here for the less demanding and casual historians among us.
Date published: 2016-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great value and Great Course I got this course on audio download and forgot i had it and purchased it on sale for video download. I love love love this professor. I love his passion for the subject matter which makes me passionate for the subject matter. I think his lecture on Achilles and Agamemnon may be the single most inspiring lecture of any Great Course and I have several. You feel like you are living in the age of the life he is describing and he connects it to our present day. I think this is a must buy in any collection. I purchased Plutarch and read the life after each lecture and just found it to be very very rewarding.
Date published: 2016-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous Greeks comes to life! I just finished Famous Greeks by Dr. Fears and I LOVED the course, content, and the Professor. Now when I started, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Dr. Fears style. BUT after a couple of lectures, he really hooked me. So, if you find yourself in that situation, give it 2-3 lectures. Some of the history and famous people I knew, but much I had forgotten or was naive to. Regardless, Dr. Fears really made it hit home. It was enthralling, exciting and enlightening ! I agree with another reviewer that it’s not all history, but ethics, morals, and wisdom from the lessons we can learn from history. He’s informative, and entertaining... even acting out parts to a degree. The depth of the topics was just right...details, but not too deep. I don’t agree with the sermonizing comment of another reviewer. He’s teaching us life lessons. I never felt he was preaching, just merely point out the facts !! What was he paid to do? ...and his insight is very enlightening to us naivetés. He sets these up in a very crafty manner, and then springs them back upon you in a “6th Sense” sort of way. I had several epiphanies from his “twists”. I really felt I got great value from the course. Much more than I expected. If you signed up for one of his college courses, you’d pay a lot more than this course. I really feel Great Courses does us all a great service by providing lecturers we could never see face to face.... opportunities to learn we might never have. I can’t wait to get Famous Romans. Having taken Latin in HS, I am familiar with many famous figures from Rome, but I want to see how Dr. Fears transforms them into living images.
Date published: 2015-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for the average listener I'm a big fan of Prof Fears' courses. I have almost every one of them. For entertainment value, for keeping listeners interested, especially for long car rides, there is no better presenter. If you are a serious Greek scholar or thinking about becoming one, there are probably better courses, as a number of the other reviewers have pointed out. The goal of this course, and Famous Romans, is not to teach you history. The goal, as Prof Fears points out, is to mirror what Plutarch's lives did for people, to provide moral instruction using the lives of famous people #in Plutarch's day, Greeks and Romans# as examples. Prof Fears is trying to teach wisdom, using historical examples. He is not trying to advance historical scholarship of the ancient world. For those looking at other Prof Fears courses #Churchill, Life lessons of great books, life lessons of great myths, lessons of history, etc.# his aim in those courses is very similar. He's not trying to teach history, he's using history to teach wisdom. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, it's definitely entertaining and worthwhile, in my opinion.
Date published: 2015-11-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much plot summary and sermonizing This is an entertaining and undemanding introductory-level survey of ancient Greek history. Fears is an engaging (but overly melodramatic) story teller. His lectures consist largely of his own colloquial paraphrases of biographical stories from Plutarch and of story lines from the literary works that feature the famous Greeks whom he profiles. These stories are interspersed with moralistic asides and factually unsupported (I would say flat-out false) assertions. As in his other courses, Fears claims that history is driven exclusively by the actions of Great Men and that social and economic factors are irrelevant. He lauds such figures as Pericles, Lycurgus and Themistokles as exemplars of democracy and personal liberty while ignoring their enslavement of subject peoples, their wars of aggression against neighboring states, and in some cases their personal corruption. Fears' uncritical hero-worship of some of his characters and excessive demonization of others indicates a lack of balanced and nuanced judgment. Fears strikes me as prudish and dainty, as shown for instance by his misstatement of the incident that led to Alcibiades' removal from Athens -- he was accused not of mutilating the FACES of the herms prior to the departure of the Sicilian Expedition, but of knocking off their phalluses. Fears is either ignorant of this fact or too embarrassed to state it accurately. Customers interested in ancient Greece would do better to buy one of TTC's other fine surveys by John Hale, Jeremy McInerney, or even Ian Worthington (whose course I didn't much care for, but which is far more substantive than this one).
Date published: 2015-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable course about Greek characters I really enjoyed this course. The professor is passionate about the topic and is a great storyteller. There is a dramatic flair to the presentation of the content that makes the course move quickly and draws the listener in. Content overview: Each course is centered around a historical Greek individual and the era that they lived. The content is more focused on the stories that defined the individuals life rather than the details of their life (i.e. When they were born, etc.). This allows the content to come across more as a novel rather than an encyclopedia. If you like this style, I happen to, you'll love this course. If you want to get more of the finer details, it may leave you wanting more.
Date published: 2015-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A captivating course I have to agree with the other reviews posted. This course is presented as a series of stories. However, I do not share their value judgement on the preceding statement. I found the course to be enthralling and, as cliche' as it sounds, I was hanging on every word Fears was speaking. He has an excellent way of presenting these historical figures to you. I cannot say that the other reviewers critiques are inaccurate but I believe they may be more harsh than deserved. He does often present his opinion, though I don't see him presenting it as fact. True enough, there are times when he doesn't spend much time on the other side of the argument but he doesn't outright say that the other side is wrong. If you are looking for a course that is dry and detailed in its complete examination of the totality of these figures lives, then this course is not for you. I am a college educated man but I find the way that Fears presents this course to be refreshing on an academic level. It hearkens back to an older time I feel, a time where orators were the chief source of information. This may turn some people away from him but I encourage you to go into this course with the expectation that you are going to be told a story, kick back in a chair with a good drink and relax as you learn about these famous figures.
Date published: 2015-08-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Entertaining but flawed Audio version I have mixed feelings about this course, mostly because of Professor Fears' tendency to present his opinions as fact. A glaring problem is his uncritical adulation of Alexander the Megalomani-er-Great (see BGZRedux's excellent review of this course). Another is his lecture on Cleopatra, which I regard as very nearly a hatchet job. She was actually a brilliant woman, one of the truly great (if flawed and ultimately failed) pharaohs, especially in light of the previous pharaohs of her own family. She was the only one of the Ptolemys to bother to learn to speak Egyptian, and she took her duties as leader of the Egyptian people very seriously. Although she may have had fun seducing Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, her goal was to keep Egypt independent of Rome. And not coincidentally to preserve the Egyptian throne for her son Caesarion. On the other hand, there is still much good information in this course, especially regarding Socrates. It doesn't bother me that Professor Fears includes the ancient mythic heroes; the ancient Greeks believed they were real and regarded them as models for their own lives. Overall, I'm glad I listened to this course, but I think the courses by Elizabeth Vandiver, Kenneth Harl, and Jeremy McInerney are superior in content and in objectivity.
Date published: 2015-07-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Thespian Presentation If you wish to learn more about the ancient Greeks then purchase the courses taught by Elizabeth Vandiver. Prof. Fears is to Dr. Vandiver what a thespian is to a scholar. Like a movie that claims to be based on history, but leaves you with uneasy feelings of uncertainty, with Prof. Fears you often just don't know if you are getting a straight story. As a scholar Dr. Vandiver gives both sides of an argument, sometimes offering her own opinion. Prof. Fears sometimes leaves out the other side, simply saying there is debate but 'here is how it must be'. At other times Prof Fears gets off track, and focuses upon simplistic topics such as his belief that Pericles is one of the three great politicians in history #along with Lincoln & Churchill# using superficial comparisons, eg., that all three faced criticism. Using the criteria he presented his list of great politicians in history would probably number in the thousands. My next course covers Herodotus. I will see if Prof. Fears has referenced Herodotus accurately.
Date published: 2015-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it If I were a scholar of Greek history this might seem a bit simplistic, but then I would not have bought these in the first place. Professor Fears does use humor and a lot of story telling to deliver the story of these famous Greeks but it works. I assume he never invents facts, but if he invents dialog to convey a situation that is fine with me. He is candid about what is known, what is surmised and what is covered in poetry and may not be completely authentic. I learned so much, am now listening to his same course on the Romans, and watching the DVDs on famous ancient battles. I already have purchased the larger series on History of the Ancient World so this series launched me into a much deeper exploration of the history before the advent of the Christian Era. I am enjoying every minute.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from J. Rufus Fears is the best professor in history. Professor Fears keeps you 150% engaged hanging on to his every word in this course that is at once historical, educational, a giant lesson in morality and ethics and thanks to his style, hugely entertaining. Professor Fears is a national treasure and I hope he does more courses for The Teaching Company.
Date published: 2015-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Fears puts you there! I have listened to this course three times and I remain completely engaged by Professor Fears' presentation. He presents the history of the Greeks (and some of their contemporaries such as the Persians) in a way that the Greeks might have taught their own history. He looks through the eyes of contemporary commentators such as Thucydides and brings every episode to life. As such, his presentation may occasionally lack absolute historical accuracy and fail to reflect a few of the latest theories. However, it isn't intended to be a complete survey of Ancient Greek history. Instead, it is a wonderful introduction for those who want to dig deeper. If Professor Fears can't get you interested in the Ancient Greeks and make you understand their relevance to our own founding fathers and Western culture in general, then no one can. After hearing this course (and his equally great course on Famous Romans), I began reading the original sources - Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, and for the Romans, Tacitus, Suetonius, Livy, and others. This course is a great introduction to ancient history for an intelligent young student, and I'm using it as part of my 6th grade daughter's home schooling. She is also enthralled by Professor Fears lectures, but is fully aware that there is no single authoritative source for anything. This is just the entertaining tip of the iceberg.
Date published: 2015-01-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from adequate, engaging Well...I'm afraid to say that this course was moderately entertaining, but not very substantial. Overall I'm glad I had the opportunity to become acquainted with figures I didn't know all that much about, so admittedly, I'll probably tackle Fear's complementary course, Famous Romans, in the near future. Famous Greeks is worthwhile as part of a liberal arts education, and it is a decent addition to a collection of other Greek-related courses. However, it just didn't leave me with the same sense of awe I get from other courses. Professor Fears certainly lived up to his reputation as a first-class raconteur. Sounds just like Ned Flanders, of the Simpsons. Anyway, he's great at storytelling. It's as if he's giving us a lively, first person report, seemingly having been there himself hiding in the shadows. Great job. But I didn't get the course only to be entertained with engaging stories.
Date published: 2014-12-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Famous Greeks Professor Fears gives an entertaining glimpse into the lives of the acients and these lessons can be used to better our own present day lives.
Date published: 2014-12-06
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