An Interview with Louis Markos: Classical Greece

Jun 10, 2020 by

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Louis Markos

1) Louis, first of all can you tell us a bit about yourself- your education and experiences?

I am an English Professor and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University where I have taught since 1991. I specialize not only in British Romantic and Victorian Poetry and Prose (my PhD Thesis at the University of Michigan was on Wordsworth), but in all aspects of ancient Greece and Rome. I particularly love teaching the epics of Homer and Virgil. I am also the grandson of four grandparents who were all born in Greece and immigrated to America around 1930.

2) Now –why “Classical Greece” and is there a difference between ancient Greece and classical Greece?”

Ah, you caught me on that one. I would have said “ancient Greece” in my subtitle had I not already used the word “ancient” in the title. As an English professor I scold my students for giving way to vocabulary repetition, and so I felt I had to use “classical” lest I use the word “ancient” twice in the same title! Still, classical is in some ways more accurate than ancient, since my book covers the period after Alexander the Great which is known as the Hellenistic Age and which overlaps with the rise of Rome.

3) Years ago, when I had a good instructor for World History – he said that MOST of our western civilization came from Greece- your thoughts on that?

At the risk of sounding a bit ethnocentric, it is true that Greece, particularly Athens, is the birthplace of humanism in the West. She not only gave us democracy but laid the foundation for many literary genres (epic, tragedy, lyric) and for the writing of history, anthropology, philosophy, and political science. She helped give birth to freedom and to individualism and to the idea that the proper study of man is man. Whereas many other ancient civilizations did a lot of thinking, the Greeks excelled at thinking about thinking.

4) We have all heard of the ancient city states of Athens and Sparta- how influential were these cities?

They were influential not only for their government structures but because they were able to bind together to fight off the aggression of the Persian Empire. Sadly, that same love of freedom and refusal to bow to other nations led the Athenians and Spartans to engage in the disastrous Peloponnesian War, which brought an end to the Golden Age of Greece and might have snuffed out the legacy of Greece had Alexander the Great not conquered the world and spread throughout it the Hellenic ideals he had learned from his teacher, Aristotle, in whom all of the wisdom of Greece had found its culmination.

5) Art, dance, music, theatre- all seem to have come from Greece- or am I off on this?

You are right. The Greeks, or, to be precise, the Athenians, gave us tragedy, which combined dance, music, and poetry into a unique fusion that the world had never seen before. Indeed, only in Athens, and not in the other Greek city-states, were tragedies performed. The Athenians also gave birth to comedy. In many ways, tragedy found a middle point between epic and lyric poetry, bringing the two together in such a way that it embodied the soul of Athenian democracy.

6) Now literature—Homer, the Iliad, the Odyssey- and many others are linked to Greece- why has Greece contributed so much to our literature?

Homer’s epics were actually composed in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), though they likely found their final form in Athens and were also likely written down there (Homer was an oral poet and, as such, illiterate). It is no exaggeration to say that the Athenian democracy grew strong and had the courage to fight off Persia because her citizens grew up studying Homer! Out of the well spring of Homer came all the other great Greek literature, with the poets after Homer trying to find niches for themselves. Greek literature was also strong because it was built on the raw material of her myths.

7) Sculpture- what were Greece’s contributions?

In Greece, sculpture went from being very stiff and unnatural, as it was in Egypt, to being smooth and supple and realistic. The Greeks who made statues and built temples like the Parthenon understood optics and the way the eye sees and reacts to surfaces and angles. Their sculpture is strong and firm but is also alive and dynamic.

8) Mythology- inextricably linked to Greece-why?

Yes, mythology is the backbone of Greek culture because it rose up from a people who wanted to know why things were the way they were, and how they fit in to those things. All the greatest poets of Greece worked with the same raw material but found ways to mould it in such a way that it could serve diverse themes and genres. Those myths would go on to provide the raw material for European literature, art, and music for the next 2000 years, though it tended to do so through the Roman channel of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

9) How and where can interested readers get a copy of your book?

The book is available at my amazon author page and a description of the book on my YouTube channel:

https://www.amazon.com/author/louismarkos

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1mcYKcQaJDA_a7sFVsHSgg

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