Classical Mythology [TTC Video]
18 April 2016, 02:15
Course No 243 | AVI, XviD, 560x416 | MP3@128 kbps | 24x30 mins | 2.25GB
From Athena to Zeus, the characters and stories of classical mythology have been both unforgettable and profoundly influential. They have inspired and shaped everything from great art and literature, to our notions of sexuality and gender roles, to the themes of popular films and TV shows.
Classical Mythology is an introduction to the primary characters and most important stories of classical Greek and Roman mythology. Among those you will study are the accounts of the creation of the world in Hesiod's Theogony and Ovid's Metamorphoses; the gods Zeus, Apollo, Demeter, Persephone, Hermes, Dionysos, and Aphrodite; the Greek Heroes, Theseus and Heracles (Hercules in the Roman version); and the most famous of all classical myths, the Trojan War.
How Should We Study Mythology?
Professor Elizabeth Vandiver anchors her presentation in some basics. What is a myth? Which societies use myths? What are some of the problems inherent in studying classical mythology? She also discusses the most influential 19th- and 20th-century thinking about myth's nature and function, including the psychological theories of Freud and Jung and the metaphysical approach of Joseph Campbell.
You consider the relationship between mythology and culture. What are the implications of the myth of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades—as recounted in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter—for the Greek view of life and death, marriage and gender roles?
What are the origins of classical mythology? Professor Vandiver examines similarities between the Theogony and Mesopotamian creation myths and considers the possible influences that the prehistoric Greek cultures, the Minoans and Mycenaeans, may have had on classical mythology.
She also cautions you about the dangers of probing for distant origins. For example, there is little evidence, as many today believe, that a prehistoric "mother goddess" lies at the heart of mythology. This notion may simply be wishful thinking—a modern myth about ancient myth.
In addition, Professor Vandiver explores the challenges we face in studying mythology—which is rooted in oral tradition and pre-literate society—through the literary works that recount them. How do we disentangle the original myth from its portrayal in Aeschylus's The Oresteia, or Sophocles's Oedipus the King? The more renowned the author, the more difficult this task becomes.
From the "Truth" of the Minotaur to Ovid's Impact on Shakespeare
Professor Vandiver's approach makes classical mythology fresh, absorbing, and often surprising. The many such topics you will consider include:
- The fact that most scholars see significant flaws in the work of Joseph Campbell, one of the best-known and most popular theorists of myth. They believe he makes a variety of assumptions—that myth has a spiritual meaning, or that certain narrative elements are the same in all cultures—that he fails to support, or that are highly questionable.
- The differences between the classical notion of the gods and our concepts of what gods, or God, should be. The ancient gods did not create the universe or earth, were not omniscient or omnipotent, were not consistently good, and did not even care much about humanity.
- The absence of a well-defined belief in the afterlife in Greek mythology and religion. In general, it was the opposite of what we believe: both less important and less pleasant than this life.
- The small kernel of truth, as represented in the "bull-leaping" fresco of Knossos, that may lie at the heart of the myth of the Minotaur, the half-man, half bull-like monster.
- Chronological inconsistencies in mythology. For example, in the story of Theseus, characters interact who in other stories did not even live at the same time.
- The way various mythological depictions of females—the Amazons, the myth of Medea, and such monsters as Medusa and Scyllare—present Greek males' anxiety about women's power, particularly their sexual power. This theme is embodied in Medea's name, which means both "genitals" and "clever plans."
- The Romans' near wholesale "borrowing" of Greek mythology, in the context of their ambivalent view of Greek culture. They considered the Greeks to be better artists, poets, and rhetoricians than they were, but also saw them as decadent, "soft," and treacherous.
- The extensive influence of Ovid's Metamorphoses on the works of William Shakespeare. Because of this relationship, Ovid has had an incalculable effect on English literature.
In her final lecture, Professor Vandiver surveys aspects of the enormous influence that classical mythology has had, and still exerts, on Western Civilization. She offers her opinions as to why this is the case. She also demonstrates that the ancient gods, monsters, and heroes are very much alive and active today in contemporary beliefs in UFOs and visits from extraterrestrials and in popular entertainment such as Star Trek and films such as the Road Warrior and the Terminatorseries.
Understanding Japan: A Cultural History [TTC Video]
17 April 2016, 05:40
Course No 8332 | M4V, AVC, 1700 kbps, 640x360 | AAC, 128 kbps, 2 Ch | 24x30 mins | + PDF Guidebook | 7.66GB
Japan’s extraordinary culture is like no other in the world. The 2,000-year-old civilization grew through periods of seclusion and assimilation to cultivate a society responsible for immeasurable influences on the rest of the world. What makes Japan so distinctive? The answer is more than just spiritual beliefs or culinary tastes. It’s the ongoing clash between tradition and modernity; a conflict shaped by Japan’s long history of engagement and isolation.
We’re all aware of Japan’s pivotal role in global economics and technological innovation. We know that the future of the West (and the entire world) is inextricably linked with the island nation’s successes and failures. But Japanese culture—its codes, mores, rituals, and values—still remains mysterious to many of us. And that’s unfortunate, because to truly understand Japan’s influence on the world stage, one needs to understand Japan’s culture—on its own terms.
Only by looking at Japan’s politics, spirituality, cuisine, literature, art, and philosophy in the context of larger historical forces can we reach an informed grasp of Japanese culture. One that dispels prevalent myths and misconceptions we in the West have. One that puts Japan—not other nations—at the center of the story. And one that reveals how this incredible country transformed into the 21st-century superpower it is today.
In an exciting partnership with the Smithsonian, The Great Courses presents Understanding Japan: A Cultural History—24 lectures that offer an unforgettable tour of Japanese life and culture. Delivered by renowned Japan scholar and award-winning professor Mark J. Ravina of Emory University, it’s a chance to access an extraordinary culture that is sometimes overlooked or misrepresented in broader surveys of world history. Professor Ravina, with the expert collaboration of the Smithsonian’s historians, brings you a grand portrait of Japan, one that reaches from its ancient roots as an archipelago of warring islands to its current status as a geopolitical giant. The journey is vibrantly illustrated with stunning images from the Smithsonian’s vast collections of Japanese artwork and archival material. Here for your enjoyment is a dazzling historical adventure with something to inform and delight everyone, and you’ll come away from it with a richer appreciation of Japanese culture.
Uncover How History Shapes Culture
Japan’s cultural history, according to Professor Ravina, is something of a paradox. It’s insular. It’s exclusive. It prides itself on adhering to traditional ways of life. And yet it also owes much to historic interactions with other countries, from China and Korea to Great Britain and the United States. Professor Ravina guides you through landmark periods of Japanese history, from the struggle between ancient Japan and the Asian mainland, through the long peace of the Tokugawa Dynasty, to the totalitarian nightmare of World War II. This approach illustrates in vivid detail how broader events and movements introduced, innovated, and revised everything from spirituality to popular entertainment. Tour Japan’s rich history through:
- Early mainland influences (700 A.D. to 900 A.D.): Travel back to the formative centuries of Japanese history, where you’ll bear witness to the codification of ancient mythologies, the rise of Confucianism and Buddhism, and early styles of statecraft and writing—all of which, in some manner, were adapted from those of mainland China and Korea.
- First contact with the West (1300 to 1600): Discover the roots of Japan’s complicated relationship with Western civilization by getting the full story on how Japan established international trading posts, how it engaged in its first contacts with Europe, and the surprising effect of guns and Christianity on Japanese life.
- The Meiji Restoration (1868 to 1905): Visit the revolutionary years that gave birth to the modern Japan we’re familiar with today, and learn how this iconic period of imperial rule was the catalyst for modern approaches to everything from clothes and food to educational policies and human rights.
- Global war and defeat (1931 to 1945): Get a perspective on World War II that goes beyond kamikaze pilots and Pearl Harbor (which Professor Ravina considers a defeat for the Japanese military) and reveals how a cacophony of political voices and a lack of military planning led to a crushing defeat for a once-powerful nation.
In exploring these periods and others (including the rise of the first warrior dynasties and the economic miracle years of 1955 to 1975), each lecture has the feel of a journey into the past with an expert guide right by your side. Instead of just being told a litany of facts, you’ll actually make connections between history and culture, time and place—and how they’ve all come together to shape the millennia-long story of Japan.
From Food to Art to Philosophy
One of the greatest joys of Understanding Japan: A Cultural History is what Professor Ravina reveals about Japan’s culture, covering everything from food to art to philosophy. His lectures masterfully introduce you to cultural practices you never knew of—and add new levels of understanding to ones you may already be familiar with, such as:
- Myths and legends: How was Japan created? Who were the nation’s foundational heroes, divine beings, and natural spirits? Join Professor Ravina for an unforgettable walk along the “way of the gods” (Shinto)—Japan’s indigenous religion.
- Art and architecture: Learn what defines a Japanese aesthetic by strolling through transcendental gardens (including Kyoto’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and poring over Katsushika Hokusai’s massive collection of sketches (manga).
- Religion and philosophy: Several lectures take you inside Japan’s spiritual history, including intricate Buddhist schools of thought and the warrior ideology of bushido, which, it turns out, is less about the fire of war than nostalgia for the past.
- Novels and poetry: From Lady Murasaki’s epic novel The Tale of Genji to the haiku of Basho, read between the lines of excerpts from Japan’s rich literary heritage and see how novels, poems, and plays cemented cultural norms—and changed them.
And there’s so much more to enjoy in these lectures, including:
- the daily lives of freelance samurai (known as ronin) coping with political changes;
- the distinct eating and cooking rituals of foods like tempura and yakitori; and
- the international appeal of Akira Kurosawa and other Japanese filmmakers.
Fascinating Visual Archives
Every lecture of Understanding Japan: A Cultural History draws extensively from the Smithsonian’s vast collection of art, photography, and artifacts, making this cultural journey come to life in lavish visual detail. Instead of relying on mere description, Professor Ravina lets the country’s art, architecture, landscaping, literature, and food speak for itself. Along with helpful maps and timelines, hundreds of carefully curated images from the Smithsonian give you the chance to examine Japan’s cultural history up close, including:
- terracotta figures recovered from royal burial grounds;
- Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print The Great Wave of Kanagawa; and
- historic photographs of samurai dressed for battle.
Encounter the Soul of Japan
The cultural exactitude in these lectures is impressive; so much so that the attention to detail goes right down to the design of our studio set (which itself pays homage to Japanese aesthetics).
With the same superb lecturing ability he’s demonstrated during public appearances on CNN, NPR, and The History Channel, Professor Ravina knows how to make Japan accessible and familiar to you—while at the same time honoring and respecting cultural traditions. You’ll come away from Understanding Japan: A Cultural History with a stronger sense of this one-of-a-kind nation—its history, its attitudes, its very soul.
The World of Byzantium [TTC Video]
16 April 2016, 14:49
Course No 367 | AVI, XviD, 640x480 | MP3, 128 kbps, 2 Ch | 24x30 mins | + PDF | 4.73GB
Try this thought experiment: Mentally chart the main phases of European history to 1500. If you're like most of us, you probably hopscotched from classical Greece through Alexander the Great, from the Rome of the Caesars to the Renaissance, with a detour into the long post-Roman hiatus known as the Dark and Middle Ages.
But this storyline is woefully incomplete, even misleading.
Why? It leaves out Byzantium.
And you're not alone. The mental charts drawn by most educated people would show the same gap.
As Professor Kenneth Harl notes:
"Far from being merely the eastern rump of the old Roman Empire, Byzantium was without a doubt the greatest state in Christendom through much of the Middle Ages.
"This story is far more important than any number of tales of palace intrigue, and is not as well known as it deserves to be.
"These lectures are a small attempt to help redress the balance."
Curious and Even Unsettling Civilization
The civilization of East Rome, or Byzantium, is seldom studied on its own merits because this seemingly remote world is a curious, even unsettling, mix of the classical and medieval.
Byzantine arts and letters, deeply steeped in traditional orthodoxy, seldom appeal to the modern Westerner, a product of the Enlightenment and the changes wrought by modernization. And the same can be said for Muslims, as well, whose own civilization owes much to Byzantium.
These lectures by Professor Kenneth W. Harl are designed to fill that gap. You come away with a widened perspective on everything from the decline of imperial Rome to the rise of the Renaissance.
Professor Harl's tellingly detailed lectures show how the Greek-speaking empire of Byzantium, or East Rome, occupied a crucial place in both time and space that began with Constantine the Great and endured for more than a millennium.
A Crux of Civilizations
You can take the word "crucial" literally.
Centered on its magnificent fortified capital at the lucrative crossroads of Europe and Asia, Byzantium was a crux of civilizations.
It was a colossus that bestrode two continents: a crucible where peoples, cultures, and ideas met and melded to create a world at once Eastern and Western, Greek and Latin, classical and Christian.
It was truly a fulcrum of world history.
A Grandeur That Still Awes
Byzantium's spiritual grandeur and mystical vision of humanity, God, and the cosmos can still be glimpsed. You can see them in:
- the awesome, soaring dome of the Hagia Sophia, 100 feet across and tall enough to hold a 17-story building, still the greatest domed building in Istanbul and the model for the great domed churches of the empire
- the luminous mosaics of San Vitale at Ravenna, Italy
- countless Orthodox churches on several continents.
For century after century, the Byzantines kept alive Hellenic arts and letters and Roman legal-political achievements over a vast arena of space and time.
The influence of this grand Orthodox Christian state was felt in Russia and southeastern Europe and throughout the Islamic world. And it influenced the Italian Renaissance, as well.
Renaissance scholars would name this powerful and brilliant civilization "Byzantium" after the ancient town that occupied the strategic spot where Constantine built his new capital.
The Byzantines called themselves simply hoi Romaioi—Greek for "the Romans."
An Empire of Accomplishment
A list of the achievements of Byzantium's emperors, patriarchs, priests, monks, artists, architects, scholars, soldiers, and officials would have to include:
- actively preserving and extending the literary, intellectual, and aesthetic legacy of Classical and Hellenistic Greece (the Byzantine patriarch Photius was doing serious Platonic scholarship at a time when only three of Plato's dialogues were even known in the Latin West)
- carrying forward pathbreaking Roman accomplishments not only in law and politics but in engineering, architecture, urban design, and military affairs—at a time when these had mostly been forgotten in the West
- deepening and articulating Christian thought and belief through church councils and the work of brilliant theologians such as St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Gregory of Nazienzus while spreading the faith to Russia and the rest of what would become the Orthodox world
- developing the Christian monastic institutions whose eventual diffusion from the deserts of Egypt to the shores of the Irish Sea would help to sustain faith and learning through centuries of hardship and peril
- shielding the comparatively weak and politically fragmented lands of western Europe from the full force of eastern nomadic and Islamic invasions
- fusing classical, Christian, and eastern influences to create an art and culture of stunning beauty and splendor
- helping to shape the course of the humanist revival and the Renaissance in Western Europe through the writings of the Greek Fathers of the church, the preservation of classical texts, and the example of church mosaics and the work of El Greco.
Three Chapters of the Byzantine Story
To tell this pivotal story, Professor Harl has divided his lectures into three conceptual phases.
Lectures 1 to 12 provide you with essential background as they explain how the Roman world slowly gave way to distinct new blended cultures in the Latin, Celtic, and Germanic north and west, the Greek-speaking east (Byzantium), and later the Islamic south and east from Morocco to India.
You learn how the later Roman Empire under the forceful soldier-emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305) responded to political and military crises, setting the stage for Constantine (r. 306-337), whose conversion to Christianity would point the Roman world in new directions.
You also meet the amazing emperor Justinian (r. 527-565).
This brilliant visionary built the Hagia Sophia, sponsored the magnificent codification of Roman law that bears his name, and sought to restore the entire Mediterranean world to his vision of a Christian and Constantinian empire.
But even the brilliant generalship of Belisarius and Narses could not make Justinian's policies a success. In the end came fresh crises that ended the classical world forever.
Lectures 13 to 21
deal with the achievements of medieval Byzantium, familiar to poets and novelists.
Its emperors warded off new invaders, checked the power of Islam, and directed a transformation of government, society, and culture.
The Byzantine State went through downs and ups of crisis and recovery, the latter sometimes directed by remarkable emperors like Alexius I Comnenus and the dynasty he sired (r. 1081-1185).
But the pressures from the Seljuk Turks and others were relentless and eventually triggered the Byzantine cry for help that led to the First Crusade (1095-99).
Lectures 22 to 24
run from the Fourth Crusade's horrifying sack of Constantinople (1204) to the Ottoman triumph of 1453. They tell a tale of political decline but enduring cultural and spiritual achievement.
Each in its own way, the Italian quattrocento and the Orthodox realm of Russia and Eastern Europe emerged as a legatee of Byzantium's mind and spirit.
Indeed, even the Ottoman sultans, creators of the last great Islamic empire, owed a huge debt to their vanquished foes.