Famous Greeks

Examine a gallery of historical characters who shaped the story of Greece from the Trojan War through the rise of Rome in this course taught by a renowned classicist.
Famous Greeks is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 130.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and riveting! I cannot understand the less than 5 star reviews. This is my third course with Professor Fears, and I’ve introduced friends and family to him, most with a classical education... they all give him 5 stars. Not only that, but because of this course, I have read The Odyssey et al.. isn’t that what The Great Courses want to achieve? Inspiration to discover other worlds... grateful to have found you!
Date published: 2021-05-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Worth listening I am not a big fan of Prof Fears. I had resolved not to listen to any other course of his, after my last one. But somehow I had bought this so I listened to it. I think he is not unbiased in presenting hx. I am an Iranian, so it has an effect on my judgement, but he more or less evilifies Persians & glorifies Greeks. If one pushes his views somewhat more to the Right, it will lead to racism and violence. He is more a story-teller, rather than a historian. For example, he quotes Herodotus, as to what Xerxes said to his wife, in their bedroom in some city. How on earth Herodotus knew what they said to each other in their bedroom, I cannot fathom. Prof Fears mentions this as a fact.
Date published: 2021-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The poorest course so far I was looking forward very much into these lectures. First problem I had is that it is very basic, with retold stories from Homer, Herodotus... Secondly, there are historical inaccuracies, something that is simply not allowed in a course like this one. And thirdly, the professor is telling these stories more like someone in the pub and not at the cathedra. At first, this might sound passionate and sympathetic, but quickly becomes irritating. There are much better courses on Ancient Greece here, pass this one.
Date published: 2021-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiration and Information Combined I admit that several years ago, when I first listened to a few of Fears' lectures, I was taken aback at the lack of presentation of opposing scholarly interpretations of much that he unpacks. It is true that he goes as far as to dismiss scholarly debates, as when announcing with certainty that the works of Homer are indeed the products of one sagacious poet. No general history book on Oxford or Cambridge press can get away with such a definitive statement. At best, one is supposed to argue for the plausibility of such a take. I was taken aback by the constant refrain of the "3 best democratic leaders." viz. Pericles, Lincoln and Churchill. I still find such "top lists" to be contentious, and somewhat subjective. He also takes traditional positions on important philosophical issues without arguing for them, and finds it easy to speak in terms of heroes and villains; good and evil, playing favorites. He packages the notion of Natural Law with modern patriotic quotes from the Declaration of Independence, which derive from a later British tradition of Natural Rights ala John Locke. In short, because my background as a scholar has included certain exacting protocols for making any definitive statements, I did not cut the extremely knowledgeable master of Classics, language, archeology and ancient history much slack to teach things his way, having perhaps earned the right to put forward his own worthy vision of a past nobody can reconstruct with perfect accuracy. What may be lacking in terms of getting into the scholarly weeds of multiple interpretations (for which many other courses of great value are available at a more advanced level here) he makes up for in what amounts to a unified and sweeping tour de force of the Greek world from the mists of legends only partly attested by archeology, down to the solid historical ground of the Peloponnesian War and down to the Hellenistic period. Professor Fears does not shun scholarship, but incorporates it in ways reflecting his own considered judgments as a long-time participant in the scholarship of the period-- one who has been involved both in historical and archeological dimensions of reconstructing and understanding the nature and legacy of this awesome past. In some lectures, his folksy delivery led me to believe he was distorting the history, as for example in his retelling of speeches or the Melian dialogue in Thucydides, yet when I opened the book to compare T's history with the retelling of Fears, I was impressed that he remembered so much detail, nuance and usually hit on the most important points in the text. After doing a number of such comparisons in various lectures (due to my suspicion of being hoodwinked by a good yarn at the expense of fidelity to the classics) my admiration for his erudition and ability to retain and meaningfully order facts grew immensely. My earlier dismissal of him as a "superficial" story-teller had been the response of someone whose graduate education placed analysis and comparison above holism and unified meaning in the interpretation of texts. Well, as interesting as that more contemporary approach is, it too is a fashion. History, mythology, philosophy, art and drama were once presented not as esoteric specialties separated from the life and conduct of individuals, but as the "humanities," i.e. necessary education of any citizen. Fears is correct in pointing to the Founders of this country (but also of many others during the Renaissance and then the Age of Reason) who found in these classics, ideas to be carefully examined for their potential value as guides to political organization and the quest for individual well-being. I think Fears' vision is continuous with this reception of the classics, one he knows to be unfashionable in our own times. Between this course and his companion course on the Romans, one will here an increasingly unfashionable, and thus important, counterpoint to the more specialized histories that downplay great leaders, generals, playwrights, poets that were the topics of so much of the primary sources we have (Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Livy, Sophocles, et al.) in favor of attempts to construct plausible social histories and cultural histories (through both archeology and careful readings of texts). That is great too. I've learned much from the newer social and cultural histories and studies. But the sweep of these leading characters *in the primary sources* is sometimes minimized or even lost in the process. Greek society was, we know, agonistic--i.e. extremely competitive with the striving for individual distinction marking out a key psychological and ethical motivator. Time (honor) and Aret (excellence) were the goals of life for so many Citizens (free male Greeks), and these classics focus on their quest to embody it both in historical, personal and transcendent terms. Yes, there is little or nothing on the women who made so much of all this possible. Yes there is little or nothing in this course on the institution of slavery in its cruel details. Yes, Fears sometimes appears, in leaving such things out, to idealize a society that was really much harsher and often cruel than the lectures paint. But listen more closely to the discussion of Athenian aggression, hubris, and the view (see Melian dialogue in Thucydides in which genocide is carried out by the Athenians at the end) that "justice is only for equals in power; the strong needn't show justice to the weak." Notice how Pericles first speech (or maybe the Funeral Oration) describe women as seen but not heard. It isn't foregrounded, but clearly the primary sources and Fears' comprehensive knowledge of them make plain the hypocrisy, exploitative and pure cruelty of which these Greeks were capable. In short, then, reliable information and story-telling inspiration are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Rufus Fears had a way of communicating the history and anthropology of these Greeks (i.e. what they believed, how they behaved, norms, customs etc.) that was both accurate and adventurous; informative and inspirational. It makes a superb introduction to those who would rather not start out with a very detailed, advanced history. But just as much, I found that it reminded me of the excitement I first felt when, as it were, I first opened the book of Ancient Greece in college. For those with a background in the topic, it's worth listening to and being transported by these marvelous, almost cinematic lectures with an open mind. Highly Recommended
Date published: 2021-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from exceptional Professor Fears must've surely been channeling Homer, not to mention the other three great Greek historians he references, in telling the story of the rise and fall of the Great Age of Greece through several of its most eminent personalities, his lectures are not only riveting, but also, everyone of them, inspiring - one of The Great Courses best
Date published: 2021-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Revel in history with Professor Fears! We have watched The Great Courses lectures since they were sold as CDs and mailed with a booklet. In all those years, few professors were so captivating as Professor Fears. Some may interpret his style as flippant storytelling . . .o ye of little rhetoric! He surely rivals the greatest bards of the ancient world in his passion and delivery. He lifts you up right through your screen and transports you through time and place. Prepare to love these scholarly lectures as you would your favorite movie.
Date published: 2020-09-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Storytelling—Good; History—Not So Much This is the second course I’ve taken from Professor Fears (the other being “Famous Romans") and this time I knew what to expect. I still appreciate his lecture style, where he sets a scene and brings us all into the time and place in history. But I dislike more than ever his almost casual attitude in separating what is fanciful and what is either factual or grounded in rigorous research and analysis. It is certainly easy enough for the listener to discount as implausible, conversations that no one could have overheard or recorded,but not so easy to distinguish which of the many moral observations that he puts into the minds and mouths of the players are factual and which are his views. To be sure, at times this is enlightening, as when he gives an interruption of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata that is very much at odds as to what I thought. But I found his continual comparisons of those ancient Greeks to modern persons to be suspect at best and often wildly off the mark. For example, to cite Pericles, along with Lincoln and Churchill as the three greatest politicians of all time, seems to be questionable, although interesting, while his comparison of an ancient commander to Patton made me think that while he might know a lot about Greece, his understanding of Patton was deficient. For me, this second set of lectures made me realize that even his storytelling had some serious deficiencies. For example, Professor Vandiver’s lectures made me much more aware of the culture of ancient Greece, than did Professor Fears approach. Plus, she always presented differing academic views and did not discount the ones that differed from hers. Often Dr. Fears does not acknowledge other views and when he does, gives them little credence. More significantly, he often ignores important points about his subjects if they conflict with the points that he is attempting to make. For example, Dr. Fears is a major Alexander fanboy. We never get told about his sexuality or the murder of one of his close friends while in a drunken frenzy, to cite only two instances. I recommend this course for anyone who wishes a fun, though surface view of classical Greece and many of the major players of the day (both real and mythical). Just be aware that, at least in my opinion it has little depth and is at times misleading. In short the storytelling is good and the stories are just that.
Date published: 2020-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful storyteller This 2001 release consists of telling the story of Ancient Greece by focusing on its most famous individuals, Plutarch-like. Professor Fears is a storyteller, more like Herodotus than Thucydides, but he stays within what is broadly agreed upon by scholars. Don’t be fooled by his seemingly off-the-cuff presentation; he’s got his facts straight, even if paraphrasing historical texts and occasionally adding a humorous elaboration, trying to show how that conversation might have played out in modern times. After a couple of lectures, I was hooked and started looking forward to the next segment. I have already seen several TGC video on ancient Greece, so know the history pretty well, but he brought some fresh insights, and was able to take the larger view than professors who are focussing on just one figure or single event. He gives the best explanation I have heard to date of why the Greeks felt it necessary to sentence Socrates to death, for example. This is a survey course, and would be a good first course to take before some of the other Greek courses. This falls very close to the top of my all-time favorite TGC courses. Looking forward to Famous Romans.
Date published: 2020-06-13
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In lectures inspired and informed by the monumental works of Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch, Professor J. Rufus Fears examines a gallery of fascinating characters who shaped the story of Greece from the Trojan War through the rise of Rome.


J. Rufus Fears
J. Rufus Fears

We are no wiser than the Athenians of the 5th century B.C., no wiser than Sophocles for our science of today has shown us the overwhelming power of genes, of DNA.


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 Distinguished Faculty Research Lecturer at Indiana University, and Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. An acclaimed teacher and scholar with more than 25 awards for teaching excellence, Professor Fears was chosen Professor of the Year on three occasions by students at the University of Oklahoma. His other accolades included the Medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, the University Continuing Education Association (UCEA) Great Plains Region Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the UCEA's National Award for Teaching Excellence. Professor Fears's books and monographs include The Cult of Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology and The Theology of Victory at Rome. He edited a three-volume edition of Selected Writings of Lord Acton. His discussions of the Great Books have appeared in newspapers across the country and have aired on national television and radio programs. Professor Fears passed away in October 2012.

By This Professor


01: 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.

32 min
Achilles and Agamemnon

02: 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.

31 min

03: 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....

31 min

04: 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, and gives us a look at the late Bronze Age.

31 min

05: 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.

30 min

06: 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.

31 min

07: 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 morali...

31 min

08: 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....

31 min

09: 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...

30 min

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.

31 min

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?

30 min

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.

30 min
Anaxagoras, Phidias, and Aspasia

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.

30 min

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....

30 min

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....

31 min

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.

31 min

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.

31 min
Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War

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.

30 min
Lysander and Socrates

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.

30 min
The Trial of Socrates

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?

30 min
Xenophon, Plato and Philip

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....

31 min
Alexander the Great

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....

31 min

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.

31 min

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.

32 min