Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor
High-Tech Breathes Life into Ancient Greece
Socrates, Pericles, Athens, Sparta, the Battle at Marathon. These names float deep in the collective consciousness of Western culture, but few outside academia think about their impact on modern times.
Now, thanks to the design team that re-created World War II in the Oscar-winning movie "Saving Private Ryan," Greek leaders of some 2,500 years ago seem as relevant and three-dimensional as any presidential contender in this election year.
The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization, An Empires Special (Wednesday, Feb. 9, PBS, check local listings), uses cutting-edge technology and special effects to put the viewer into key battles, in the private chambers of politicians, and beside the deathbed of philosopher Socrates after he drank his deadly hemlock potion. The point: to bring the foundations of democracy to life.
"There is something in this deep, deep past that is profoundly exciting and interesting and that matters," says Josh Ober, a professor of ancient history and chairman of the classics department at Princeton University in New Jersey. "We are the people we are today because of things that happened 2,500 years ago."
Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, against a backdrop of war and feudalism, the ancient Greeks developed democracy and built an empire that stretched across the Mediterranean from Asia to Spain. They laid the foundation of modern science, politics, warfare, and philosophy, and created a body of literature, drama, art, and architecture that still moves and inspires.
The key to penetrating to the reality of such a distant time was to get past stereotypical images that have come down through the years. "We always start with this image of this pure-white sculpture, of this idealized vision of a world that is dead and distant and yet all marble," Dr. Ober says. In this series, he adds, "you begin to imagine the Greeks as flesh and blood. …