Program Highlight

Working near the Hexamilion Wall in Isthmia, 2008

One of our early evening seminars in the village of Ancient Korinth, at Café Marinos, overlooking the Korinthian Gulf, while discussing Aeschylus' plays.

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Photo Galleries

Students on SMP Presentation Day

Although clothed and with shoes, we recreate a footrace at the original stadium at Nemea.  Professor Taber did retain from ancient times, however, the threat that cheaters would be beaten. Click here to see photos from previous tours.

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Theme--Tyrants, Trials, and Triangles: From Ruthless to Rules in Ancient Greece

Back in the day--in, literally, the Archaic period (which was just prior to the Classical period)--rulers often ruled simply as they saw fit. The only checks and balances were the fear of being overthrown or assassinated. Though often effective motivators for reining in one's power, history--and myth, as well--is replete with those who overshot their rightful place and forgot that their feet were indeed made of clay. This heedlessness of limits is what many of you know as the Greek word hubris.

Whether it's Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, the collective Athenians during the Peloponnesian War, or Nero--one of history's most memorable wack-jobs--we see in the movement from the late Mycenaean times (about 1200 BCE) through the late Roman times an uneven and imperfectly developing consensus against autocratic leadership in favor of a legal system binding universally, even on rulers.

Through the Classical and then the Hellenistic periods, the Greeks started to figure this out, and we have accounts of some very intricate trials. And then the Romans are justly famous for extending the subtleties of the law much further.

The move from a system based on vengeance and tribalism (or polis-ism, as in, for example, "My polis, right or wrong") to one based on the impartial application of justly approved laws was, despite its imperfections, a huge step in human cultural development. (And this is true--in fact, even more clearly true--if Greece and Rome weren't the first to have figured it out. If China, the Incas, or the Kush came to this development too, then that speaks to the adaptiveness of the development, like the convergent evolution of flight among insects and birds.)

One aspect of this development was the starting of a worldview in which phenomena like weather, eclipses, and cycles of growth and decay came to be seen as having natural explanations--not happening due to the power of a ruling deity, but rather due to rules. We call them laws of nature. 

So Thales supposes that everything is made of water--that water is the sole constituent of matter. There are problems with this answer, but it's his question that's revealing. Even to think that there IS a uniform constituent of reality is a huge cognitive step for humans. And it was taken by Thales. Of Miletos. Where we're going.

This way of thinking also led some to consider the regularities underlying even mathematical phenomena. Enter Pythagoras and his theorem. From his hometown. On the island of Samos. Where we're going.

So there is a line from the escalating cycles of vengeance in the House of Atreus (Agamemnon, Clymnestra, et al.) to the settled cool of contemplating the relation between the hypoteneuse of a right triangle and its two other sides. And there is more to all of these examples, as well as there being many other examples.

We will have the opportunity to explore these in this memorably and most appropriately situated course.