Scenes From Classical Athenian Life

Professor Edith Hall presents a lecture series on the intellectual and cultural life of Athens in the golden age of the Athenian Empire and Democracy via three important sites: the theatre of Dionysus; the cemetery where Pericles delivered perhaps the most influential oration of all time in 431 BCE; and Aristotle’s Lyceum, the first ‘university’ to encompass both teaching and research.

Medea, Antigone, Oedipus and Lysistrata—these are just some of the characters from ancient Greek drama who still walk our contemporary stages and haunt our imagination. One of the classical Athenians’ most important inventions was the medium of theatre. From the mid-sixth century BCE, they gathered to watch tragedies, and later comedies in their sanctuary of the wine-god Dionysus on the south slope of the Acropolis. Professor Hall outlines the origins of Greek drama in this historic setting, its architectural development and some of the greatest masterpieces.

In 431 BCE the Athenian statesman Pericles delivered one of the most influential speeches of all time, his Epitaphios or Funeral Oration. The occasion was at the funeral of the first Athenian soldiers to lose their lives in the Peloponnesian War. Professor Hall examines the history of this beautiful site, the momentous occasion on which Pericles spoke, and the ways in which his speech, recorded by the historian Thucydides who was present at its delivery has informed subsequent epoch-making orations from Lincoln at Gettysburg to Kennedy and Obama.

In the 330s BCE, the great philosopher and scientist, Aristotle of Stagira in northern Greece, returned to Athens (after more than a decade in which he had tutored the young Alexander the Great) and founded his Lyceum. The first institution in world history to encompass teaching, research and the collection of a vast library, the Lyceum immediately began to revive even Plato’s Academy in international reputation. Professor Hall looks at the archaeological site of the Lyceum, discovered accidentally in 1996, and asks how the remains can illuminate Aristotle’s life, work, and incomparable contribution across academic disciplines, from Political Theory and Aesthetics to Zoology, Physics and Astronomy.