History of Ancient Greece

HIA 320 – Fall 2017



“Be convinced that to be happy means to be free and that to be free means to be brave.
Therefore do not take lightly the perils of war.”

Course Details

History of Ancient Greece
HIA 320, section 81W
 Course code 55046
Blackboard page
HIA 720, section XH81
 Course code 55171
Blackboard page
Fall 2017
Thu 6:00 – 8:40 p.m.
Room: CA-211

 Printable Syllabus

 HIA 720 Requirements


More than any other ancient culture, the world of Hellas—the Greek-speaking lands and islands of the Aegean Sea and beyond—attempted to improve and perfect society and civilization, to such an extent that Hellas became a crucible for the fundamental ideas of the “western” world, ideas that formed the bedrock for nations disseminated far and wide across continents and oceans. What made the Greek ideas about how humans relate to the world and each other so elemental? How did the peoples of Hellas evolve their unique perspective?

Course Aims

In this course we will explore the beginnings of European civilization—its gradual unfolding and culmination in Greece, through examination of the key transformations of Greek culture and city-states from the Bronze Age up through the hellenization of the east by the Macedonians.

Specific Learning Objectives

In this course we’ll be pursuing a number of goals, including:

  • Exploration of the emergence of Greek civilization and its implications for humanity
  • Relation of the cultures and beliefs of other Eastern Mediterranean societies to those of Greece
  • Exploration of the transformation of Greek social, military, religious, and other norms from the rise of the Minoans to the Macedonian conquest of southwest Asia
  • Discussion of the relationship between the ideals of ancient Hellas and the modern Western ethos
  • Development of the skills associated with the study of history, including the interpretation of primary sources and other evidence.

Course Grade Components

Your grade for the course will be determined from the following:

  • Quizzes
  • Presentation & Write-Up
  • Two Short Interpretive Essays
  • Position Paper
  • Final Exam
  • 15%
  • 10%
  • 20%
  • 20%
  • 35%


We’ll have short quizzes at the start of most class meetings. These are to help gauge our relationship with the material in the readings. Quizzes are based on the material you’ve prepared for that class, including:

  • the textbook assignment for that meeting as listed in the Schedule,
  • the excerpt you read from the Reader for that meeting, and
  • Clouds, when it’s assigned.

If you did your reading for the class, you should be prepared for the quiz. Quizzes are always based on the materials assigned for that class meeting, even if I am slightly behind the syllabus in class. Make sure to always do the assigned readings.

Missed quizzes are not made up. If you come late to class and miss a quiz, you’ll get a zero for that quiz. Therefore, please make sure you come to class on time and prepared.

Presentation on a Primary Source

You’ll make a short presentation in class on one of the primary source excerpts assigned as class readings. Your presentation will give the class your perspective on (a) what this reading means, (b) the author’s perspective on the topics, and (c) how it relates to the material being discussed in the course. DO NOT merely describe the reading!

You’ll sign up for this in one of the first course meetings. Your presentation will be given the day that reading is assigned on the schedule. A 2–3 page written version is due by the next class meeting after your presentation.

Interpretive Essays

You’ll write two interpretive essays:

  • One on Clouds and its relationship with actual events in classical Athens; and
  • A response to your choice of nonwritten artistic depictions of the ancient world, including sculpture, painting, performance, or film, comparing the history that’s come down to us with how it has been represented.

We’ll talk in class about what’s expected. The specific assignments are given in the Writing Assignments tab.

Position Paper

You’ll write an essay discussing a turning point in Greek history of your choice, examining the source material, causes, and effects of the event or transformation and drawing your own conclusions about its meaning. We’ll talk about what’s expected. The requirements are given in the Writing Assignments tab.

Proposal. You will submit a proposal for the paper partway through the semester, so I can give you feedback on your plans.

Optional Draft. You can submit a draft of the paper to me up to two weeks before it’s due; I’ll give you some general feedback (but not a grade). Because I accept drafts, I do not allow students to submit revised versions of their final paper after the due date.

Course Readings

The following three books are required:

Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

Pomeroy, Sarah, et al.
Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History, 4th Edition.
Oxford University Press, 2017.
978-0-19-068691-8. $59.95.
Amazon link

  • Make sure you get the fourth or at least the third edition, especially if you’re buying a used copy. The second edition is significantly different, and page numbers will not match up with earlier editions.
  • There is a copy of the third edition on reserve in the library.
Four Texts on Socrates

West, Thomas G.
Four Texts on Socrates.
Ithaca: Cornell Press, 1998.
978-0-801-48574-9. $12.30
Amazon link

  • This has Aristophanes’s comedy Clouds, which we’ll be reading in class, but the other works may help your interpretation of the play, and also your essay.
  • There are versions of Clouds online. But the intro and notes will be vital to your appreciation of the play, so you should use this book, or another print edition.
Epic of Gilgamesh

Wilson, Mark (Ed.).
Readings from Hellas: Sources for the Exploration of Ancient Greece, 2nd edition.
978-1-490-42458-3. $8.00.
Amazon link

  • The excerpts contained in this Reader are also available online here.

All three books are available from Lehman College Bookstore, either in person or online. (The website URL for the Lehman College bookstore is http://www.lehmancollege.bkstr.com.)

All three are also available from Amazon and other online retailers. If you order online, make sure you do so enough in advance that you’ll receive the books in time for the assignments.

Writing Assignments

Remember that, as always, I am looking for your opinion and how well you support it with evidence; these essays are less about “right answers” than they are about well-supported ideas.

Position Paper

Write a 6–8 page position paper in which you express an opinion about a topic related to Aegean history, and use evidence to back up that opinion. In other words, you’re taking a side on some question or controversy, and you use reasoning and research to support your side of the argument.

  • Choose one of the 13 meeting topics for the course and decide on a controversy or debate pertaining to that topic.
  • You can choose something that the people at the time might have debated — e.g., “Who was truly to blame for the Peloponnesian War?” as a debate arising amongst the Greeks during or after the war, or a question arising among modern historians — e.g., “Was the Athenian Empire an actual empire?” In each case you need to outline both sides of the question in your paper and then provide evidence why you think one side was right.
  • Choose a topic you’re interested in and have fun with it. Make it wacky, make it provocative — anything is fine as long as you make an argument regarding your chosen topic and support it with facts.
  • You must use at least three sources. Ideally you should have a mix of primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources are not allowed.

Proposal You must submit a proposal with a provisional topic and thesis. (See next section for more.)

Optional draft You may submit an optional draft two weeks before the final due date. It should include most of your paper (at least two thirds of the final content, with sections to be written described in square brackets). I’ll give feedback, but not a grade, to help you refine your final paper.

Because I accept optional drafts, I do not accept revisions of content after the final paper has been submitted and graded—though some formatting and citations errors can be corrected and resubmitted. (See “Requirements for All Papers” on the Requiorements tab for more.)

You are strongly advised to use the Elephant Pamphlet as a stage-by-stage guide to preparing this assignment.

Position Paper Proposal

The proposal is just a brief one-page preview of your position paper. It should include:

  • The topic you think you’ll want to write about and the problem you’re interested in addressing. You should be able to delineate the problem by describing the opposing views people might take. To make sure you have two clear opposing opinions, you might want to express them in the form “Some say… . Others say… .”
  • Your preliminary thesis statement—in other words, what you think you might be arguing in your paper.
    • Your thesis statement, both here and in the final paper, should be a statement of opinion that someone could disagree with. It can take the form of following up the description of the opposing opinions with your own: “I believe… .”
    • Remember that your thesis is provisional. You can change anything about your approach and interpretation after the proposal; in fact, uncovering information as you do your research makes refining or changing your initial assessments very likely.

These items are essentially the model for your introduction, as you can see from this sample intro that I've broken into the important parts that make it up:

Sample Introduction


Hannibal Barca, the great Carthaginian general, brought 37 war elephants with him over the Alps into Italy, and at the climactic Battle of Zama they had a front line that included 80 elephants. Did Hannibal’s elephants really make a difference? Some say that Hannibal’s elephants were crucial in establishing the morale of his troops against the legendary Roman legions and in intimidating other armies along the way into alliances; but others say that Hannibal’s elephants did the Carthaginian side more harm than good in their fight with Rome. I believe that Hannibal’s use of elephants was a mistake, not because war elephants were a dumb idea in general, but because Roman adaptability meant that the Romans would inevitably find a way around them.

Opposing Sides

Thesis Statement

In addition, in the proposal you should also outline any thoughts you have so far on what kinds of evidence you think will help you make your case in the paper. I’ll respond to the proposal with feedback and suggestions to help you map out your research and writing.

Essay on Aristophanes’s Clouds

Write a 3–4 page essay taking a position on ONE of the following topics:

  1. Right and wrong in Clouds. Some say that Clouds, by emphasizing traditional values throughout the play and then ending with violence, offers an inconsistent message on morality. Make an argument for the consistency of the moral argument of Clouds by comparing it with a tragedy from the Greek classical period in which morality is a key issue. (Options include Medea by Euripides; Elektra by Euripides or Sophocles; and Antigone by Sophocles; but there are other possibilities as well.)
     Build your case using three key incidents from Clouds, comparing each one in turn with a relevant incident in the tragedy. Where do both plays stand with regard to the Athenian debate on relative morality (nomos vs. physis)?
  2. Aristophanes’s agenda. The surviving plays of Aristophanes range over a long and turbulent period of Athenian history. Compare Clouds to another play by Aristophanes. (Popular choices include Frogs, mounted in 405 BCE, 11 years after the revised version of Clouds; Birds (414); and Wealth (388); but any of the 11 surviving plays is fair game.)
     Compare three moments in Clouds with moments from the other play that represent similar or contrasting ideas. What themes and ideas are present in both plays? Is his approach, methodology, or agenda different in the other play? What conclusions can you draw about Aristophanes’s approach to writing, and the evolution of his overall philosophy?
  3. Socrates vs. Socrates. Compare the “Socrates” found in Aristophanes’s Clouds with the one depicted in works by Socrates’s student, Plato. (Possibilities for the work from Plato include: Phaedo, which has Socrates discussing life and afterlife on the brink of his execution; Apology, a version of Socrates’s self-defense against charges of irreligion; or any of the other dialogs that focus on how Plato wanted to show Socrates’s methods and beliefs.)
     What’s important to remember is that both Aristophanes and Plato had an agenda with respect to how they wanted to show Socrates. That means that both authors offered a distored picture of Socrates that separates us from the real-life man.
     What characteristics of Socrates and his philosophy were most exaggerated by the two authors (either in ridicule or praise), and why? On the basis of these depictions, using importabt moments from both sources, make a detailed argument for why exactly some Athenians feared Socrates so greatly.

Presentation Write-Up

For your presentation on a primary source from the Reader, write a 2–3 page essay that does the following:

  • Briefly summarizes what the document says and, more importantly, analyzes what the author is trying to say about the subject at hand. In other words, you need to identify and discuss what you believe is the author’s interpretation, bias, and point of view and how it affected the author’s treatment of the topic. Give examples from the document that illustrate your assessment of the author’s spin.
  • Provides perspective by relating the material in the document, and the author’s bias on it, to the bigger picture—the material being discussed in class.
  • Incorporates any responses that came up in class after your presentation, and your own reactions to them.

The main point of the presentation and the write-up is NOT to summarize the reading. Summary should be less than 25% of your presentation and your write-up. The main point is to analyze the reading and talk about what it means and what it tells us about that place and time in Greek history.

Due at the class meeting after your presentation. Note: Many students write the essay first, and read from it for the presentation. If you do that, you should still consider how the class discussion impacts on what you’ve written, and add things that came up in discussion before submitting the write-up for the following class.

Essay on Representations and Images

Write a 3 page essay based on ONE of the two following topics.

R&I Essay – Option 1

Visit any museum exhibition or collection of art, architecture, or other artifacts of the ancient world. Choose two or three comparable artworks from different eras, from different places, or both and discuss the artists’ intent regarding what he or she wanted to emphasize about his or her culture and values.

Your question is this: If art is an expression of cultural values, what do the differences between these works tell you about the respective cultures they come from? What do their similarities tell you about what these ancient societies have in common?

  • Make sure to look for items with the similar subjects, but that come from different times or from different places. For example: an Athenian statue of a young man and a Corinthian statue of a young man, or a decorated vase from the Greek Archaic period and one from the Classical or Hellenistic period.
  • Describe in detail how what you see leads you to concrete conclusions about these ancient peoples. Be bold, be provocative, and be specific.
  • Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of each work, the artist, the approximate date it was created, and the name of the museum gallery where the work can be found.
  • Also on the “Works Discussed” page, paste in photographs of the items. If it’s permitted at the museum, take a picture of the items while you’re there. If it’s not, find pictures of those specific items on the museum’s web site or via a Google Images search.

Possible venues for the artifacts comparison option include:

You are, of course, not limited to these venues, and you are not limited to New York.

R&I Essay – Option 2

Watch any feature-length film that seriously depicts the ancient Greek or Hellenistic world and compare it with a primary source—ancient written evidence about that society or those events.

Use at least two specific events or characters to compare the filmmakers’ intent and message with the intent and message of the writers of the source material. What do they want you to believe? What conclusions can you draw about how these stories were being used to shape the audience’s perception of that culture and society?

  • Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of film, year, director, stars and studio. Then list the book or books you drew your written evidence from, using standard citation style.
  • You may also employ secondary sources to help you interpret the film, the primary source, or both.

It’s absolutely crucial to remember that the ancient source material is not “fact” or “what really happened”. Both the movie AND the written source are artistic interpretations of an event. The writer of the source material wanted to shape the reader’s understanding, and had opinions about the events and about the cutural values at play in those events that he or she urgently wanted to impose on the readers or listeners to his tale.

In other words, both the film and the ancient source material are distortions of what really happened. Both were designed to use those events to drive home a message about the filmmakers’ or writer’s deeply held beliefs about the cultures and societies involved. Your job is to expose the agendas of the filmmakers and of the ancient writers, and talk about what their intent reveals to us about what these events meant to those that were affected by them.

Whichever option you choose, the purpose of this essay is NOT to describe the works in question, but to interpret the creators’ agendas and discuss analytically what they tell us about how and why different kinds of artists and creators represent ancient peoples and their world. For some suggested possibilities for both options, see below.

Some possibilities for the film and sources option include (this list is not exhaustive; I can give you specifics on where to look in the primary sources on request):

300 (2007) or The 300 Spartans (1962) Herodotus, The Histories book 7
Agora (2009) Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 7.15; John of Nikiû, Chronicle 84.87-103; The Suda, Life of Hypatia
Alexander (2004, 1956) Plutarch, Alexander; or Arrian, Anabasis
Barefoot in Athens (1966) Plato, Phaedo, Apology
Clash of the Titans (1981, 2010) Plutarch, Theseus; Ps.-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca; Ovid, Metamorphoses
Cleopatra (1963) Plutarch, Caesar and Antony
Electra (1963) Euripides, Elektra; Sophocles, Elektra
Helen of Troy (1956) Homer, Iliad 3, Odyssey 4, 23; Euripides, Helen; Ovid, Heroides 16; Isocrates, Helen
Iphigenia (1977) Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis
Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Ovid, Metamorphoses; Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica
The Odyssey (1997) or Ulysses (1955) Homer, Odyssey
Fellini Satyricon (1969) Petronius, Satyricon
The Trojan Women (1971) Euripides, The Trojan Women
Troy (2004) Homer, Iliad

Links to many of these primary sources are available here on the ancient texts page.