Sappho's poem on old age

Topics of Study of The Greek Seminar

A. LOVE (EROS) IN ANCIENT GREEK LIFE AND LITERATURE
Eros Farnese

Eros Farnese, thought to be a copy of the original by Praxiteles.

What were the attitudes of the ancient Greeks towards love, marriage, sexuality, prostitution? What was the erotic life of gods and goddesses? What was the importance of Aphrodite as goddess of love, and of her divine attendant Eros? How free were women compared to men? How were erotic ideas and ideals expressed in the works of epic and lyric poets, tragedians, comedians, historians and philosophers?

Such questions we will discuss through the study of selected passages from Homer, Hesiod, Alcaeus, Anacreon, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Thucydides, Plato and Plutarch.

B. SAPPHO AND HER ‘BITTERSWEET LOVE’

Sappho was one of the greatest poets and song-writers of antiquity. She composed her poems as songs and sang them to the accompaniment of her lyre. This is why she was termed one of the ‘lyric’ poets.

Aphrodite of Knidos

Aphrodite of Cnidus. Copy of the famous original by Praxiteles.

She was also one of the earliest Greek poets, as she was born about 630 BCE, in Eresos of Lesbos. Lacking firm evidence for her life, we should concentrate our attention on the internal evidence of her surviving poems. They show a woman devoted to her female friends, often tormented by erotic separation and seeking consolation in happy memories.

In this Sappho was unique: she was the first poet to devote the greatest part of her poetry to her own intimate feelings. It has been maintained that European personal poetry begins with Sappho!

C. MODERN GREEK CULTURE AND LANGUAGE

Modern Greece is extraordinarily rich in folk poetry, traditional music and dance. The island of Lesbos (or Mytilene as it is commonly called by the Greeks) has been an important centre of literature and music, both in antiquity and in modern times.

In this part of the course we will study sample poems by important Greek poets and will listen to the musical settings of these poems by famous composers. We will also listen to urban folk songs ‘Rembetika’ and to folk songs of Mytilene, after reading their texts. We will also do a short story by a modern writer.

You will learn the origins of important ancient words which are still used today in European languages. You will also memorize each day a short list with useful words and phrases of modern Greek, which you will be able to use in your contacts with the village.

 D. ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY AND SOCIETY (to be offered in the future)
Pericles, Athenian political leader

Pericles, Athenian political leader. Roman copy of a Greek original.

The ancient Athenians invented a political system which they called democracy: ‘government by the people’. In this, large assemblies of citizens met every nine days to debate and decide with their vote all matters of internal and external policy, and vote all the laws of the state.

Moreover, many thousands of Athenians were chosen annually by lot in order to serve for one year as higher and lower officials, as well as judges in their large jury courts. And it was the body of citizens which constituted the city’s army.

Aspasia of Miletus. Pericles' companion.

Aspasia of Miletus. Pericles’ companion.

Along with democracy, the Athenians invented the ideals which inspired it: freedom of speech and the right to participate in politics, equality before the law, freedom of private life and entertainment, freedom of education and fulfilment of each one’s personality, tolerance and intellectual curiosity, open society and cosmopolitanism. In other words, they developed the western values.