Famous Greeks

Course No. 337
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course No. 337
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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, 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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
J. Rufus Fears (1945–2012) was the 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 the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his PhD from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was a Professor...
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Famous Greeks is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 124.
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course Truly an enjoyable, interesting course. I listened to the CD everyday traveling to and from work. I love history, especially Ancient History; this course did not let me down.
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Narrative Professor Fears was always extremely strong at weaving a good narrative. And, for this, we owe him a very great debt of gratitude. History comes alive in his lessons, and having history live in rich and vibrant color is a true gift - one we must not take for granted. Further, we are able in these lessons to get to core matters and aspects of character of major figures among the ancient Greeks. That, too, has great value for us, both in learning about the lives of these notables but also in taking away lessons for our own lives in our own time. These are the ways in which Professor Fears truly excelled. The weakness is that the tales told are ones many, if not most, students are already familiar. And the lessons don't take us very deep into the lives or history of the Ancient Greeks. Nor do they take us much beyond the conventional historical accounts. So, buy if you want a good narrative account and some fine inspiration. And, don't buy, if you're wanting a deeper and more nuanced dive into the lives and times of these famous Greeks.
Date published: 2014-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous Greeks: Myth, History, & Biography Approach ancient Greek history and mythology through the biographies of Famous Greeks -- experience the EPIC-POETS / heroes, the TRAGEDIANS / dramatic arts, the RHETORICIANS / speeches, the SOPHISTS / ethical questioning, the STATESMEN / law-bringers, the classical ARTISTS / beauty, the HISTORIANS / truth, and the PHILOSOPHERS / the good life – filtered through Plutarch’s pen (Greek & Roman Biographies) and Aristotle’s vision (of man as a political animal in a community). With an interpretative eye, a story-telling voice, and the cultured ear of Professor J. Rufus Fears, watch him integrate the Greek city-states and the intellectual and political movements with the famous people who made that history (past historical studies); while simultaneously drawing lessons from these individual histories (with present historical analogies); which offer readers moral insights and civic lessons (future social and personal consequences). Let me put detail on these abstractions and meet some of the HISTORICAL PERSONALITIES. For example, the epic poets -- Homer and Hesiod and the heroes of the Trojan War -- Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, and Odysseus; tragedy and comedy --Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes; the strategists and statesmen – Lycurgus (Sparta), Solon (Athens), King Croesus ( Lydia), the emperor Xerxes (Persia), Pericles, Philip of Macedonia, Alexander the Great, and Cleopatra the last ruler of Egypt; the artists, historians and philosophers -- Herodotus, Thucydides, Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle. There are FIVE MAJOR HISTORICAL PERIODS covered when studying these historical personalities (all dates in B.C.) beginning with the Trojan War and ending with the rise of Rome as master of the Mediterranean world: the Trojan War (12th century), Archaic Greece (8th through the 6th centuries) the Persian Wars (5th century), the golden age of Athens and the Peloponnesian War (5th … 4th centuries), and the age of Alexander the Great (4th century). According to the professor, our FOUNDING FATHERS were greatly influenced by many of these historical personalities in their research, interpretation, and writing of our nation’s founding documents. They drew intellectual and moral lessons from the historical RISE, EXPANSION, AND FALL of earlier DEMOCRACIES through the biographies of the famous men & women who made that history. SOCIOLOGICAL PORTRAITS of WISDOM, virtue, success, HUBRIS, vice, failure, etc., are all made explicit through these biographical-historical research studies. The professor’s knowledge and delivery is in the SCHOLARLY AND HUMANISTIC traditions of striving toward the perfection of beauty, truth, justice, and the good-life. EXCELLENT and highly recommended – now the Famous Romans Great Course lectures. The biographical approach to history has its greatness and limitations but is a needed and necessary supplement to the institutional, cultural, and economic approaches to history offered today.
Date published: 2014-05-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Story-telling rather than insightful analysis This course offers little more than a retelling of tales of Greek lives in the Professor's own inimitable style. Admittedly he can tell a good story, and the course is a good source of entertainment for that reason, but it does not offer a great deal more than you would get by reading the sources yourself. I would certainly recommend the course to somebody who is looking to become acquainted with Greek literature; the Professor does an excellent job at making the stories accessible to a modern-day reader. However, if you are looking to learn more about the historical veracity of the stories, their symbolic significance to the Greeks, why they have been held in high regard through the ages etc,, then you need to look to some of the other Teaching Company courses on the classics.
Date published: 2014-04-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from What happened to Aristotle? How can you construct a course on the Greeks with only a passing reference to Aristotle?
Date published: 2014-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Limits of Human Ambition The first time that I began to appreciate the legacy of the ancient Greeks was in reading a small book by Edith Hamilton called “The Greek Way.” This lecture series offers the same eloquent testimony of the importance of the Greeks. The vitality of this topic is the wisdom that may be found in the ideas and cultural contributions of the statesmen, lawgivers, writers, poets, and artists described in this course. It is impressive that Professor J. Rufus Fears goes well beyond a series of biographical profiles in this lecture series. The major historical events of ancient Greece are covered in a clear, chronological progression. Throughout the lectures, the professor always has his eye on the big picture of lessons we can learn from history and the great lives. Geographically, Hellenic culture spans the southern portion of Italy all the way to the Black Sea. I appreciated experiencing the course in the DVD format, due to the onscreen maps that identified the locations of the cities covered in the lectures. In some of the more recent Great Courses, the maps are too small and detailed even for a large-screen television. In this older course, the maps include extremely clear and bold lettering of the cities and regions. Professor Fears’ gift for storytelling may be deceptive. Beyond merely recounting the plot of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex,” for example, the lecturer offers an insightful interpretation of Oedipus, who, from the playwright’s perspective, may have represented the Athenian ruler Pericles. The vivid description of the plague in Thebes at the start of the play has its parallel in the onset of plague early in the Peloponnesian War, which was the ill-fated project of Pericles. With his detailed background on Pericles, Professor Fears makes a strong case that the freedom of speech in Athens permitted Sophocles to criticize Pericles at the theater festival. The centerpiece of the lecture series was a detailed, three-part analysis of the notorious Athenian traitor, Alcibiades. A student of Socrates and a young man of virtually unlimited potential, Alcibiades came to represent both the positive and tragic sides of Athenian culture. His grandiose plan for the invasion of Sicily resulted in a defeat of nearly cataclysmic proportions. It also led to the defection of Alcibiades to the side of the Spartans and the ultimate fall of Athens by the end of the fifth century BCE. The story of Alcibiades is a microcosm for the paradoxical nature of Athenian culture, and it is manifested in the Greek notion of “hubris,” or outrageous arrogance. The overreaching of Alcibiades resembles the rise-and-fall structure of a Greek tragedy. Professor Fears uses this biography to unfold one of the major themes of the course—the dangers of human ambition. The “hubris” of Alcibiades, as well as that of many of the larger-than-life Greeks, severely tested Apollo’s’ decree at Delphi of “nothing in excess.” As a theme central to classical literature and theater, the moral lesson of the story of Alcibiades was clearly a mirror of the dark side of Greek culture. This lecture series draws heavily upon the voluminous writings of Plutarch, who single-handedly devised the literary form of biography. Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” profoundly affected the founding fathers of America and reached all of the way to President Harry S. Truman, who acknowledged in his folksy manner the wise counsel provided him by Ol’ Plutarch. A study of Plutarch reveals how Greek statesmen, writers, and philosophers were pondering whether human life is dictated by the will of the gods or if we are capable of being masters of our own fate—a question with which we are still struggling today. COURSE GRADE: A
Date published: 2013-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made for an enjoyable commute. I commute 45m to and from work every day so I order the Audio CDs to listen to. At first I thought Dr Fears presentation was kind of Hokey but as the course went on I realized that he has a mastery of the topic and that his presentation actually helped me follow along better. I soon began to look forward to my commute so that I listen to the course. I am currently listening to his sister course 'Famous Romans' and I highly recommend both.
Date published: 2013-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Fears, No Gain. My Favorite Professor I purchased this course (and its companion, Famous Romans) in 2001 on tape and have enjoyed the lectures so much I recently purchased them in audio download. These are light, entertaining, and informative. Professor Fears is something of a modern day Plutarch (on whose Lives he relies to a great extent in these lectures, but whom he does not follow in pairing and comparing Greeks and Romans, and adds to the cast of characters); he is a great storyteller with an eye for the significant detail and a penchant for identifying common threads, questions to address, and morals to be drawn in these biographies. Sure, there are selections made and matters discussed that might make a specialist cringe, but on the whole the biographies are quite reliable in broad strokes. Listening to them on road trips provides me with many happy hours of pleasure and instruction. After listening to Professor Fears’ lectures, how can I forget the high drama and contributions to Greek life and thought of the Iliad and the Odyssey (yes, Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, and Odysseus are all included!), the leadership of Leonidas at Thermopylae, the opportunism of that bad boy Alcibiades, the vacillation and ineptitude of Nicias, or the dramatic Trial of Socrates and the epic career of Alexander the Great? The good thing about these lectures is that they follow Greek history chronologically. Professor Fears carries us along with a narrative of that history, bringing into stark relief the various eras. In this regard, Famous Greeks is an excellent way to become familiar with the sweep of ancient Greek history in an easy and entertaining way. I know, because it helped me when I followed this course with several other more in-depth TC courses on Greek history and culture. Still, I return to Famous Greeks for the sheer enjoyment of Professor Fears’ stories.
Date published: 2013-09-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Greek Lite (downloaded audio lecture series) These lectures deal with classical Greek personalities that shaped our current western world, and provided a basis for our values of honor and morality. From Theseus to Cleopatra, from places like Athens to Sparta to Alexandria these strong personalities have served as role models for later leaders and despots. While Dr Fears has a folksy delivery that is pleasant, it sometimes gets in the way of the material. But what these lectures lack in historical depth they make up in the fascinating 'stories' that can be highly entertaining.
Date published: 2013-08-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I already knew large portions of the material I am not well read in history, but I knew a large part of the material, especially the Greek mythology. Of course I could have looked at the syllabus and see that the first 4 lectures (one third of the course) are about mythical heroes. And in a sense Achilles is a famous Greek, probably more famous than Solon. Still when reading a course on famous Englishmen I do not expect to see Robin Hood there. I also do not like this dramatic delivery style. Sorry, I listen to the lectures in a car, it can be noisy there, or I sometimes may want to keep the volume low. The lecturers that keep changing the voice from loud to dramatic whisper are really hard to follow.
Date published: 2013-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Andy Griffith teaches Greek History I've had many other courses on the Greeks - their history and culture - but I think this was my favorite. Prof. Fears teaches Greek History like I imagine Andy Griffith would have - sitting around a circle, telling the tales of the old days. It was incredibly engaging and informative in a way that a traditional history class could not match. If you only want one course on Greek History, this would be it. If you've taken others, this one makes that history come alive. I heard Prof. Fears recently died. RIP. He lives on in these excellent lectures.
Date published: 2013-05-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun but Simplistic Intro to Ancient Greece I recommend this course for those with little background in ancient Greek history, and who don't mind a once-over-lightly introduction. The course is mistitled. It does not present a series of biographies; rather, it uses important but usually brief phases of the lives of some of the most famous Greeks as a springboard for discussing the associated history. There is nothing wrong with this, but it should be made clear. Also, of course, our knowledge of the details of the individual lives are limited by the sources. More importantly, the history is superficial, and somewhat hit-or-miss. It is presented at a high-school level, at best, with little discussion of different interpretations of events, or of issues in the sources. When Professor Fears does mention a disagreement among scholars, it is always accompanied by a cursory dismissal of those who disagree with him, without argumentation. In addition, the focus is very much on major figures and events, with little discussion of the lives of the common people and of the non-citizens, including women and slaves. Many battles are described in a fair amount of detail, but for the most part this is a broad, quick overview. So why do I recommend it at all? It is a fun, very enjoyable course! Professor Fears is an outstanding speaker, a natural story-teller, with a wide dynamic range from serious moralist to play-actor. He lectures in a flowing, conversational style which is a pleasure to listen to, and his deep engagement with and enthusiasm for the material is obvious. I found the time flew more quickly than in most other courses I have taken. A few other concerns: One problem with the narrative style is that it is sometimes difficult to tell where information from the sources ends and Professor Fears' improvisation begins. Also, there is a clear pro-Greek and anti-Persian bias throughout the course. (The Great Courses' excellent course on The Persian Empire would remedy this.) And finally, I found Professor Fears' adulation of Alexander to be disturbing. Aside from neglecting to mention Alexander's possible involvement in the murder of his father, Professor Fears describes Alexander as "as much a genius as Einstein in physics or Mozart in music," and sets forth Alexander's "vision of the brotherhood of mankind under the fatherhood of god" as one of his gifts to humanity. - Really, professor?? If that megalomaniac, responsible for the violent deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands, were living today, he would be a war criminal on trial in The Hague. The fact that he won his battles does not make him a great man. So - a good course for anyone desiring a non-academic and very enjoyable introduction to the history of ancient Greece. Many other Great Courses go into far more depth for those interested.
Date published: 2013-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very impressed! At frist, Dr. Fears rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't think I could get used to his style or his stretching of facts. But after just a few lectures, I was hooked. He has a gripping command and a passion for teaching, inspiring and warning. The lesson throughout the Famous Greeks is that of hubris that leads to downfall. This lesson is brought home very well by Dr. Fears.
Date published: 2012-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous Greeks review Prof. Fears is the man! He has a talent for storytelling. Instead of straight facts, he is able to put the material into a story, making it more relatable and real. Plutarch is among the great classics. It is written in a unique style which you just have to read for yourself. Try a shorter biography in Plutarch at first. Then try tackling a longer one, like Cicero, even though he was Roman. He does Romans and Greeks and compares them. Then listen to Famous Greeks or Romans, and what ever you read is reinforced and is put into a different perspective. Keep em coming Prof. Fears!
Date published: 2012-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Storytelling Sometimes I enjoy a course that comes across light on requiring significant brainpower when there is a captivating story to be told... this is that type of course. While there are certainly dates, places, and names strewn throughout the course, none of it gets in the way of the presentation and turns this into a 'hard history' course. Some may frown on that sort of presentation, others may appreciate the important lesson is what was going on and less exactly when (though context is certainly important for understanding). Professor Fears presents a 'history light timeline' course of who's who in Greece that takes the listener (based on the CD version) from the mythology (or accepted history) of the Trojan war through the Peloponnesian War to the end of the Ptolemaic line in Egypt weaving together everyone from Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus to Xerxes (OK he's actually Persian but go with it since it's such an important part of Greek and Western history) and Leonidas to Pericles, Sophocles, Alcibiades (who would fit in perfectly as a current politician you would love to hate,) Alexander the Great, and ending with Cleopatra. For me the key to a Great course is a desire to follow up on something from the course in more detail and this one left me wanting to dive more into certain characters. The only comment I have against Professor Fears is his roller-coaster presentation style (only because while driving it can be distracting). One moment he's drawing you into the story and building in volume... only to whisper the resolution after the climax where it can barely be heard over the road noise and air conditioner. I doubt this is a problem if listening to it in another environment or watching the DVD, but it does take away from listening to the CD version while commuting.
Date published: 2012-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Fears is a Master I am a busy professional and have little leisure time to read or seek entertainment. I am a fan of the Great Courses and have listened to at least a dozen courses by now, all of them highly entertaining and educational. I never tire of learning. To date, Professor Fears' course on Famous Greeks has been my absolute favorite. I listen to these CDs while I am driving to work or running errands. I find myself coming up with excuses to be in my car. He is a master story teller and brings the history to life by animating the characters whose lives we are studying. His style of giving voice to the characters by creating dialogs is especially engaging. The result, for me, is that the Ancient Greeks feel alive inside of me, as if they were a part of my own history. The images Professor Fears creates in my mind, the emotions, the struggles, the tragedies, the grief... all stick with me throughout my day. I find myself incorporating stories of these characters into my work and everyday conversations. Professor Fears has my greatest respect and admiration. I have already purchased and began listening to the course Famous Romans by Professor Fears and find it equally engaging. I wish I could thank him personally for enriching my life. As far as that goes, I also thank The Teaching Company as every course I have listened to has significantly enriched my life.
Date published: 2012-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from DELIGHTFUL STYLE Two disclaimers and then my review; If you are a "serious historian" you probably won't enjoy this course, and if you don't like a breezy, friendly style you won't like it either. Having said this, I must say that Dr Fears is becoming one of my favorite lecturers. His tecnique of putting words into the mouths of the characters makes it come alive. Most history courses I have taken are dry and laborious. This course is fun and makes me hate to reach my destination and turn it off. Starting with legenday Greeks, Dr. Fears clearly deliniates myth/legend from historical fact, and also identifies his opinion when it differs from the "standard model". He skillfully interweaves non-greeks when necessary to understand the "Famous Greeks" in context. I have purchased "Famous Romans" and can't wait to listen to it.
Date published: 2012-05-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I'm Not a Fan I can't argue with the numbers but tastes differ and I am not a fan. Fears is certainly accomplished in his own way but for my money he is a cheerful teller of tales, at a presentation level somewhere between Parade Magazine and the Readers' Digest. Slack and uncritical with none of the acuity we get from the best of them. Note that this is not merely a complaint about popularity. Some of our most popular--Greenberg, Ehrmann--maintain high standards of scholarship and rigor. Not this one.
Date published: 2012-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbeatable Look at Greek History By focusing on famous Greeks (and a couple non-greeks), the professor covers a wide swath at this quintessential ancient civilization. There is a longer Greek history course, but an amazing amount is crammed into this course which is informative and entertaining.
Date published: 2012-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous, and not so famous Professor Fears does it again. How does he continue to enthrall us with his story telling ability? He makes history so easy to take. I am writing the same review for Famous Greeks and Famous Romans as they parallel each other so perfectly. The people selected for each course were names I knew a lot about, names I had heard but knew little of, and some names I had never heard of. Yet Professor Fears shows how each of the people selected were integral to the history of their respective nation. One point I got clearly from his presentation was that circumstance does not make the man, rather the man makes the circumstance.
Date published: 2012-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Famous, and not so famous Professor Fears does it again. How does he continue to enthrall us with his story telling ability? He makes history so easy to take. I am writing the same review for Famous Greeks and famous Romans as they parallel each other so perfectly. The people selected for each course were names I knew a lot about, names I had heard but knew little of, and some names I had never heard of. Yet Professor Fears shows how each of the people selected were integral to the history of their respective nation. One point I got clearly from his presentation was that circumstance does not make the man; rather the man makes the circumstance.
Date published: 2012-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Approach and Insight In this lecture as well as other lectures by Dr. Fears I appreciate his passion, energy and storytelling abilities. This is not to say that Dr. Fears does not rely on content, because he does! Rather he wraps the context, history with storytelling in such a way that you desire more. This is anything is the only critique I have. The series left me wanting more and preferably from the style of Dr. Fears
Date published: 2012-04-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Story Teller Professor Fears is a good storyteller. It's easy to hear how much he loves to tell the story of ancient greeks. That being said, he glorifies their stories a litte too much for my taste. I enjoyed reading Thucydides, Plutarch, and Homer more than I enjoyed listening to Professor Fears tell their stories.
Date published: 2012-02-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Inspirational but Ultra-Light If you are buying for a child, I give this course six stars. Style and content are easy-breezy, suitable for telling around the campfire. (If you ever wanted to hear Hector and Achilles cussing each other in modern American, here's your chance.) The moral lessons are those we want to impart to our children. For adults, I struggled whether to give content a 3 or 4 but settled on 4. Prof. Fears’s raw material is some of the greatest history and historical fiction ever written, and the Wow factor comes through. Classics has always as much about the story and the message as the facts, so it’s appropriate. Still, this is light for a university-level course. And when Dr. Fears draws parallels with modern America, it is the oversimplified America of a junior high school civics class.
Date published: 2012-02-04
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