"Greece and Poverty have always been bedfellows," the historian Herodotus once wrote regarding the rugged and general inhospitable nature of the Greek peninsula. But despise the seemingly insurmountable handicap of a land of mostly naked rock where neither crop or heard can be nurtured, the sixth century before Christ marked the beginning of a creative explosion that would forever mark the foundation of Western Civilization. The Polis with its government, art and philosophy form the bases of the Classical Age that Rome themselves would finally absorb. Tracing the rise of Athens we will observe the three concepts of the Hellenic Age: Humanism, Rationalism, and Ideal Forms.
Greek drama is a study in Humanism itself, and Euripides in particular seeks to show man for all the flaws he can possess. Is man driven by the Apollonian Archetype, or the Dionysian? And is either in its purest form flattering or even preferable? In his play, Euripides allows us to come to terms with the necessity to balance our rational and emotional natures.
From the Parthenon to the sculptures of Praxiteles, it is the public monuments of the Hellenic Greeks that provide the icon of the age. In an unprecedented building project, the apex would be reached in the rebuilding of Athens after the Persians had reduced it to rubble. Centered around the acropolis, public monuments were erected by the demos to glorify the city's new-found status. A tour of the acropolis reveals the architectural techniques of the age most profoundly demonstrated in the orders. A survey of figure sculpture from the Archaic to the later style of Praxiteles shows the maturing of a style over time.
Two charges have been brought against one of Athens' most renowned thinkers. In a trial Socrates is expected to provide a sophistic defense but rather uses the forum as a vehicle for philosophical truth - a distinctly slow process of judicial suicide! Socrates forces Athens, and us today, to ask fundamental questions of any society ruled by the demos. In so doing he becomes one of the West's most regarded political martyrs. Only later would a religious martyr confront similar issues of choosing truth over expedience significantly, also in a trumped-up trial.
Beginning with the triumphs of Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Age is characterized by the spreading of Greek Classicism over a vast unified kingdom. Though it was built on the tradition of the earlier Hellenic Age, the Hellenistic Period is a time of marked contrasts to the past. As seen in the sculptures of the age, a more grandiose and emotional spirit drives the culture, and gives us the first glimpse at one of the most fundamental dichotomies of Western Civilization. Like a pendulum swinging between two extremes, the Hellenic and the Hellenistic Ages is just the first of the West's contiguous periods of contrasts.
Without a doubt, Rome was the vastest political experiment the world had ever produced. Actually, two Romes - a Republic, eclipsed by an Empire. We begin by examining the Roman architectural foundation built on the arch, and follow that by surveying the public amusements erected for the effective pacification of the city dwellers. From the Colosseum and its games, to the Baths and their social-life, Rome builds a monument to her own success. Every imperator fancies himself Caesar and builds monuments to his glory. A column of Trajan, a bronze of Marcus Aurelius: relics of a Rome long fallen.
For the glory of Rome's history there's Virgil. For the folly of her people, there's Ovid. After the writing of the Art of Love Ovid was already suspect in the eyes of Augustus. The Metamorphoses would put him in exile. There is something to be said for a writer Rome officially considered "too erotic." Ovid calls upon the gods no less for divine aid in writing the mythic history of the world, and in so doing gives us today one of the most definitive collections of ancient classical myths. No future educated person of letters would be complete without the thorough reading of Ovid's magnus opus. From the Renaissance and its rediscovery of Ovid, to modern day Jungians searching for hidden archetypes - The Metamorphoses is Roman poetry at its best.
No one person has had a more profound effect on the course of Western history than Jesus of Nazareth. From an insignificant outlying Roman province, this man grew from relative obscurity to become the foundation of Western culture. But who was Jesus? What did he say, and how was it heard in his day? And what decisions were made in early Rome that would profoundly set the course for the development of early Christianity that would follow? These are a few of the questions address in this attempt to put the man in context.
For almost five centuries the Roman Republic stood as the pinnacle of human stability and governance. Through its traditions and constitution it had managed to navigate the inevitable challenges society and governments face, all while preserving an unprecedented level of freedoms and economic prosperity. Its decline and eventual transformation into tyranny has been fertile ground for drama and art into the modern age. Much can be learned by understanding their problems and the decisions they made leading to its death. Perhaps even an American Republic which was founded on the Roman model will heed the lessons it affords.