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Ancient Greece and the Formation of the Western Mind

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1 Ancient Greece and the Formation of the Western Mind

2 Homer Homer shaped two great poems: the Iliad and Odyssey.
Date of poems = 8th century B.C., the time when Greece emerged from its Dark Ages and learned to write again. Homer’s poems played in the subsequent development of Greek civilization the same role that the O.T. of the Bible writings played in Palestine: they became the basis of an education and, therefore, of a whole culture.

3 Homer’s Poems Not only did Homer’s poems serve as models for epic poetry, his characters became models of conduct for later generations of Greeks. Furthermore, the Olympian gods retained, in the prayers, poems, and sculptures of the succeeding centuries, the shapes and attributes set down by Homer.

4 Greek Gods The difference between the Greek and Hebrew hero, between Achilles and Joseph, for example, is remarkable, but the difference between the God of Abraham and Isaac and the Olympians who interfere capriciously in the lives of Hector and Achilles is an unbridgeable chasm. The two conceptions of the power that governs the universe are irreconcilable, and in fact the struggle between them ended, not in synthesis, but in the complete victory of the one and the disappearance of the other.

5 The Alien Greek View The Greek conception of the nature of the gods and their relation to humanity is so alien to us that it is difficult for the modern reader to take it seriously. The Jewish basis of European religious thought has made it almost impossible for us to imagine a god who can be feared and laughed at, blamed and admired, and still sincerely worshiped. Yet all these are proper attitudes toward the gods on Olympus; they are all implicit in Homer’s poems

6 Order and Disorder The Hebrew conception of God emphasizes those aspects of the universe that imply a harmonious order. The elements of disorder are blamed on humans. Just as clearly, the Greeks conceived their gods as an expression of the disorder of the world in which they lived. The Olympian gods, like the natural forces of sea and sky, follow their own sublime disregard for the human beings who may be affected by the results of their actions. However, even Zeus who is the leader of the gods has limits to his power. Behind Zeus stands the mysterious power of Fate, to which even he must bow.

7 Morality Such gods as these, representing as they do the blind forces fo the universe that people cannot control, are not thought of as connected with morality. Morality is a human creation, and though the gods may approve of it, they are not bound by it.

8 Greek Life The intellectual revolution in Greece advanced Athenian democracy and trained men for public life in the art of public speaking. The sophists taught the art of speaking through effective presentation of point of view. Emphasis on the technique of effective presentation of both sides of any case encouraged a relativistic point of view and finally produced a cynical mood that denied the existence of any absolute standards.


10 Greek Theatre

11 The Theater of Dionysus
The theater was invented by the Athenians, and it began as a dance. The word “chorus” in Greek means “dance” – a meaning still preserved in the word “choreography.” The drama began as a dance to worship the god Dionysus.

12 Theater in Delphi The capacity of the theater was 14,000.

13 View From the Seats

14 Diagram of the Theater

15 Greek Theater’s Appearance
Circular dancing floor Stage building (skene)–with doors, columns No curtains or lighting Statue or an altar Simple scenery – mostly props

16 Sophocles

17 Sophocles, Author of Oedipus
B.C. Author of 123 plays, only 7 of which survive today. Innovator of the theatre, which in his time was performed in competition during the celebration of the Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry.

18 The festival took place in Athens and consisted of three tragedies, a short farcical play, and a comedy. First prize was a crown of ivy…no money.

19 Thespis, a Greek poet, was probably responsible for adding the first actor to the chorus.

20 Masks of the Greek Theatre
Because the character expressions had to be visible even in the nosebleed sections, masks with exaggerated features were worn by the actors and the chorus. The chorus, a group of actors, served as narrators for the play. They often spoke and chanted in unison. Typically, one actor held the stage (not counting the chorus), although it’s said that Sophocles introduced plays with up to three actors on stage at once. No women performed; men wore masks and costumes to portray women.

21 Masks of the Greek Theater

22 Theater Tickets – Which of these ticket holders would have the best seat in the theater?

23 Other Contributions of Greeks
What important new form of government was created by the Greeks? What sporting event began with the Greeks?

24 Oedipus Rex

25 All the individual acting parts in Oedipus the King were probably played by three actors.
The plays were usually based on a well-known story.

26 Issues and Ideas Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
It is possible to escape or trick fate. We should not attempt to justify our actions, good or bad. Family secrets are best kept as just that –secrets. We should engage ourselves in bettering our community, even if it is ourselves that we must change. Society answers the sins of the parents on the heads of the children. There is more than one way to see. There are no coincidences. All types of pride are evil.

27 During certain intervals in the play, the chorus danced and sang a choral ode.
There are five choral odes in Oedipus the King.

28 Riddle Me This What creature walks on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet in the evening? The answer to this made one man a king…Oedipus the King

29 Tragic Dilemma A situation that forces the tragic protagonist to make a difficult choice Always a “lose-lose” situation Free will is at odds with fate in the tragic dilemma

30 Tragic Hero A noble or outstanding person who undergoes a downfall or destruction by virtue of an inherent personality flaw, called the tragic flaw, or hamartia. Example of a modern tragic hero is…?

31 Hamartia Hamartia is the fall of a noble man caused by some excess or mistake in behavior, not because of a willful violation of the gods' laws. Hamartia is also known as tragic flaw.

32 Hubris In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance. An accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow. The proverb “pride goes before a fall" is thought to sum up the modern definition of hubris –from

33 The Flaws of Oedipus Like the Athenians were very quick to think up and act on any new plan, Oedipus often acts before he thinks things through. The Athenians were a people of hope, and Oedipus also is full of hope even when the audience recognizes that he is doomed. Most importantly, Oedipus falls not through some particular fault but because he is the man he is, because of all the aspects of his character, good and bad alike; and the development of the action right through to the catastrophe shoes us every aspect of his character at work in the process of self-revelation and self-destruction. All aspects of his character, good and bad alike are equally involved; it is no frailty or error that leads him to the terrible truth, but his total personality.

34 Oedipus Each action on stage shows us the mood in which he committed some action in the past. The revelation of his character in the play is at once re-creation of his past and an interpretation of the oracle that predicted his future. Oedipus determines his own conduct by being the man he is. He serves as an example of the inadequacy of the human intellect and as a warning that there is a power in the universe that humanity cannot control or even fully understand, but Oedipus the man still has our sympathy.

35 Tragedy Tragedy deals with the big themes of love, loss, pride, the abuse of power and the fraught relationships between men and gods. Typically the main protagonist of a tragedy commits some terrible crime without realizing how foolish and arrogant he has been. Then, as he slowly realizes his error, the world crumbles around him. (from

36 Oedipus demonstrates hubris at a crossroads known as Phocis
Oedipus demonstrates hubris at a crossroads known as Phocis. There, he meets and kills his father without realizing what he’s done.

37 Catharsis Catharsis is the goal of tragedy.
Purification through suffering is achieved. Through tragedy, we experience clarity and renewal of purpose.

38 The Oedipus Complex In Freudian psychoanalysis refers to stage of psychosexual development in childhood where children of both sexes regard their father as an adversary and competitor for the exclusive love of their mother. (from wikipedia)

39 The Importance of Knowing Great Works like Oedipus
You’ll get the jokes. You’ll understand the allusions in other stories, films, novels, and articles. You’ll see connections between ideas in other works and this one.


41 Oedipus Tex


43 Oedipus- A Well Known Story
The story of Oedipus began in the city of Thebes, which was ruled by King Lauis and Queen Jocasta. Lauis and Jocasta had a son. They pinned the child’s ankles together and gave him to a shepherd to leave him on a mountain to die because of a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother.

44 The shepherd who was given the child to leave on the mountain had pity on the baby and gave him to another shepherd from the house of Polybus and Merope, king and queen of Corinth. When the child Oedipus became a young man, he went to the oracle of Apollo in Delphi to ask the god who his parents were. The only answer he received was the information given to his mother and father.

45 Oedipus decided to try to circumvent the prophecy and run away to make a new life far away from Corinth. When he was traveling, he came to a narrow place in the road called Phocis and it was here that he killed an old man and most of his attendants. Just before he arrived at the city of Thebes, Oedipus met a monster called a Sphinx, which was part woman, part lion, and part bird.

46 “The Rest of the Story” This creature had been terrorizing the city. Only someone who could solve her riddle could save the people of Thebes. Oedipus saved the city by solving the riddle… His reward was to marry the queen, recently widowed, and become King of Thebes. Did Oedipus outsmart the gods and escape his fate?

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