Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World by Daniel Robinson (The Great Courses)

Citations in minutes/seconds into the lecture.

Alexander the great “had the presence of mind to conquer the world,” and this played a major role in spreading Hellenic culture (Lecture 1, 24:00). Robinson speculates that Alexander wanted to Hellenize the rest of the world, and this played a role in his decision to command 10,000 of his solders to marry Persian women. (Lecture 2, 22:00).

Hellenistic art and architecture stands out for being rhetorical without being propagandistic. It isn’t very religious or ideological. When Greek gods are depicted, they are depicted as having human excellences. Today, the kind of buildings that governments make and the aesthetic sensibilities we have seem a lot less developed in comparison. There was an interest in beauty and perfection that we don’t have today in civic projects. (Lecture 2, 26:00)

We don’t have discussion of rights that people have in virtue of being human beings before Hellenism. (Lecture 3, 19:00)

Greeks were xenophobic. They thought they had a special culture and they were worried about other cultures coming in and messing it up. They feared countries governed by “revealed truth” and paternalistic pharaohs and so on. (Lecture 3, 21:00)

Greek science was not very practically oriented. They were more interested in developing knowledge and understanding for its own sake. (Lecture 4, 7:00)

The Romans were hugely important in developing legal systems. But they were influenced by the Greeks, especially Solon. (Lecture 6, 1:20)

Before the Stoics, it’s not clear that the Greeks would have had a concept of individual rights. Chrysippus was an early thinker in this tradition. For the Greeks, the polis (the city-state) was more important. In this way, their kind of democracy was pretty different from ours. (Lecture 6, 21:30)

The Greeks produced standards in literature, architecture, aesthetics, scholarship, and institutions that have a huge influence on us today. We call some part of the world “civilization” largely in terms of the extent to which it builds on these achievements, so says Robinson anyway. (Lecture 12, 1:00)

Argument that the culture in Athens was something special: How many highly educated people could watch the plays of Sophocles, Euripedes, et al. and really appreciate them? Probably not many, and, in Robinson’s view, not just because we lack the cultural context. He thinks there was an important kind of sophistication that their elites have which ours lack. (Lecture 12, 4:30)