Lecture 3 – Historical Background & Cultural Context
Herodotus: Although myth can exist outside religion, myth is heavily intertwined with religion.
Scholars have been returning to the idea that the 2 great pillars of Western civilization are the
ancient and modern world.
o 3 great periods of western civ: Ancient world, medieval world, modern world (1453 )
o Civilization fell apart in the middle ages and then returned with the modern world.
Our sense of the individual (civil rights, human rights) come from the ancient world
o Out reckoning of time and laws come from the Romans, and our architecture comes from
the Greeks and Romans
o The modern world is shaped by the Industrial Rev and French Rev, but these all have their
seed in ancient civ.
Ancient Greeks believed they were superior in intellect to the Romans, but difficult to say this after
the Romans conquered the Greeks. And Romans believed the Romans to be more thinkers than
o This is reflected in religion. Much of Romans religion was Greek and many Roman myths
were Romanized version of Greek myths. The Romans did emphasize different things:
religion less developed than the Greeks and different values societal values (military).
o Greek is a much more flowery and abstract language, while Latin is a language of power
o The Mediterranean was 1 culture. By the 1 c. BC almost everyone spoke Greek and Latin
(Latin in West and Greek in East). Through the foundation of a series of colonies around the
Mediterranean and various series of conquest, the Greeks spread their culture everywhere.
Greek became the language of everything in terms of literature (history, prose, drama).
o A good modern comparison is the language of science. Anything in science must be written
o The Romans composed a native literature for themselves (Latin literature). It followed very
strict Greek models since they were seen as leaders in culture.
The Mediterranean becomes unified by many things: Its economy, fashion, sports, the theatre,
religion, myths, but most of all Greek culture.
Certain truths: Rome conquered Greek military but Greece conquered Rome culturally. Romans
disseminated Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean by force. GREEK HISTORY
Greece is almost completely covered in mountains. Thus civilization, agriculture, urbanization,
theories developed in small areas between in mountains in isolation. Greek had very un-navigational
Greek history doesn’t begin in 776 BC but the