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Empires: The Greeks - Crucible of Civilization
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Dramatic storytelling and state-of-the-art computer animation re-create Classical Greece of the 4th and 5th centuries, B.C, founder of modern science, politics, warfare, philosophy, and source of breathtaking art and architecture. This dazzling production charts the rise, triumph, and eventual decline of the world's first democracy. Witness it all through the eyes of Pericles, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
- Director's commentary
- Additional scenes not included in the PBS broadcast
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Top Customer Reviews
The DVD focuses on four men and the eras they represented. Beginning with Cleisthenes, who is viewed as the "father" of Greek democracy, the video tells the story of how the small farming village began and how it evolved into a democracy. It does tell the story of the tyrants and rebellion against Athens' early rulers and the part played by Cleisthenes who, though he was a nobleman, chose to side with the common freeman and develop the system of government that was the forerunner of all democracies.
The video then turns a spotlight on Themistocles and the struggle against the mighty Persian empire. The video tells of the first incursion culminating in the battle of Marathon - a signal victory for the Hellenes. It shows the part played by Themistocles in the preparation for the coming, larger struggle with Persia which Themistocles correctly foresaw. Covers the battle of Salamis where the fruits of Themistocles' preparations for war ripened in the form of an effective navy of triremes that formed the core of Greek strength at sea.
The DVD then moves on to the parallel lives of two men: Pericles and Socrates. Pericles was the noble who convinced Athenians to create the great works of art and architecture which showed that Athens was an up-and-coming player on the world stage as well as his decision to make war on Sparta and her allies. Socrates, living at the same time, was the rational, logical examiner of everything he saw. The DVD introduces the viewer to some of the Greek advancements in science and mathematics which would form the core of western ideals on science and logical thought.
The DVD does deal with Athens' decline and defeat in the Peloponnesian war. It examines some of the mistakes made by Athenian leadership and how the Sicilian venture sealed their fate.
Though this is generally a good video, I have some very sharp criticisms. Firstly, the video tells that before the battle of Marathon, Athens had sought help from Sparta only to be refused. This is wrong! The Spartans told the Athenians that they would come to their aid when their religion permitted them to march. As a point of fact, the Spartan army reached Athens the day after the battle after force marching 140 miles in only three days - an amazing feat for the time.
Secondly, Pericles gets off pretty easy for his imperial ambitions for Athens and championing making war on Sparta. Not only was it hubris, but it was an offensive act of an "imperial" leader interested in glory and empire. This is the antithesis of the democracy that fights for homeland and people. He was the one who convinced Athenians to abandon their farms and homes to "hide" behind their impenetrable walls of the city thus making them dangerously crowded - just the conditions for plague and disease to run rife. If the Athenians had fought the Spartans on their own soil - even in a defeat - the Spartans would not have imposed the harsh peace that they later did impose after years of war and destruction when attitudes could only harden toward an enemy.
Thirdly, the DVD focuses entirely on Athens, rather than the Classical Greek civilization, politics and culture in general. The many contributions in these areas by other city-states are ignored completely. The Spartans, with their radically different culture, could have been the counterpoint to the culture of other Greeks, Athenians as well as others.
In short, I think this DVD is well-made, richly filmed with good re-enactments and cinematography but missing the boat on many points of fact. I give it three stars.
What this video lacked was analysis of the democratic system that Athens used as it's primary form of government. For American audiences this would have been quite helpful. We tend to throw around the term "democracy" a lot in America, yet technically the United States is not officially a democracy, but a constitutional republic. One needs to notice that when Athens adopted their democratic system they had no means of checks and balances, they had no executive officer (president) even though someone with leadership skills rose to the top in directing and advising. This is why at one point Athens experienced mob rule. It is amazing that they did not experience this more often. So more could have been said on their form of government.
Other resources may be needed to supplement this video. But for a basic short history this video does the job--sorting through the line of leaders and the historical events that brought about the rise, the fall, and the existence of Athens in the ancient world.
My only quibble is the underplaying, in fact the abnegation really of Sparta's role in turning back Xerxes invasion. While all beneficiaries of democracy ought to be partial to Athens, as I am, it doesn't seem fair to deny Sparta any worthwhile accomplishments. It makes this
production seem more like propaganda than history.
Nevetheless it's a very interesting introduction to the rise of Athenian power.
The Educated Mind. A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, by Susan Wise Bauer.
The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Understanding the Nature and Function of Language, by Sister Miriam Joseph, C.S.C., PhD. Edited by Marguerite McGlinn
Most Things Steinbeck, all of the Harvard Classics and in your spare time ZEALOT, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, author of No god but God.