Banner image of Athens at dusk

The Golden Age of Athens

The Golden Age of Athens

June 30 - July 5, 2019

One of the most astonishingly creative periods in human history occurred in a small city-state, Athens, in the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ. The very smallness of this city-state may have contributed to the intensity of its creativity and the splendor of its achievements in tragedy, comedy, architecture, sculpture, philosophy and history. Western culture has been pervasively indebted to these achievements ever since. And yet, the Athenians remain in many ways enticingly alien. Their religion, their laws, even their brand of democracy, while all central to their achievements, can't help but strike modern students as unfamiliar and curious.

We will begin by looking at two events that ushered in the great successes of Athens' Golden Age: the rise of democracy in Athens, and the jaw-dropping military encounters between Athens and the Persian Empire. We will then look at the rise of the Athenian empire and the relations between democracy and empire. The golden age of Athens is associated above all with Pericles. We will consider not only his political leadership, but also his magnificent building program on the Acropolis, and its embodiment of the distinctive classical style in architecture and sculpture.

At the same time as Athens was enjoying its greatest political, military and economic successes, Athenian poets composed profound and heart-wrenching dramas for performance at their annual dramatic festivals in honor of the god Dionysus. We will consider the invention and rise of tragedy at the hands of such masters as Aeschylus and Sophocles, as well as the rollicking comedies of Aristophanes. Comedy was perhaps one of the less-celebrated glories of ancient Athens, but it continues to amuse, provoke and amaze, and it is certainly worth getting to know. The Athenians thought provocatively about a host of still relevant issues-e.g., gender. We will have a look at gender relations in Athens and how the ancients presented gender in their imaginative works, especially in comedy.

Serving as faculty for the program will be faculty from the W&L classics department, including Kevin Crotty and Caleb Dance, along with a special guest from Athens, historian and archaeologist Anastasia Akrivakis, who will also serve as our guide for the W&L Traveller's visit to Athens in 2020.