Athens: Dawn of Democracy [DVD] [English]

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Athens: Dawn of Democracy
If contemporary views of ancient Athens, Greece emphasize the peaceful and harmonious nature of that polis's democratic system, historian Bettany Hughes begs to differ. Hughes asserts that the West's establishment of Athens as the platonic ideal of democracy is hugely ironic, for that classical society in fact employed rules, regulations and traditions deemed unthinkable, even barbaric, in our modern age - from the widespread practice of black magic; to the view of women as demonic, fourth or fifth-class citizens forced to wear public veils; to the proliferation of slavery. Most incredibly, Athens relied on inner bloodshed, tumult and strife to perpetuate its existence and strength, declaring war every two years or so. Such practices were commonplace, even as the community soared to new intellectual heights and created wondrous sociopolitical ideals for itself that it strove to live up to and that would later form the basis of contemporary political thought. The PBS documentary Athens: Dawn of Democracy revisits this society for a sobering revisionist look at what actually transpired there. In the first half, Hughes ventures underground for a look at Athenian artifacts excavated by archaeologists, and a discussion of what these objects tell us about the society in question; subtopics include Athenian voting systems; silver's precedence in forming the economic backbone of Athenian society (and sustaining it almost single-handedly); and the pivotal nature of the Salamis victory in establishing Athens as a paragon of democracy, plus Pericles's erection of the Parthenon as a hotbed of Athenian power. Part two explores the collapse of embryonic Greek democracy as new and foreign ideas infiltrated the system, touching on such subtopics as Socrates's trial for free speech, the democratic ideals inherent in the limitless array of subjects explored by Greek theater, and - perhaps most importantly - the defeat of Athens by Sparta, which scoffed at its political notions and put an antithetical system of government in place. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Bettany Hughes
    Bettany Hughes - Host
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