magellan | Santa Clara, CA | 05/20/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"As much as I respect PBS for their many quality programs, this video isn't one of them. I agree with a couple of previous writers here that the information density is very low, with many inexplicable omissions for anyone who knows anything about Greek history--and I don't claim to be an expert--but I know the basics. The educational level and intended audience of this video seems to be about junior high school level.
For example, it's mentioned that Athens went to war with Syracuse one time, but no mention is made of really why; it was actually the completely wacko idea of the Greek general and traitor Alcibiades, one of the most colorful military commanders in all of Greek history, and even of the world, and yet no mention is made of that fact. Also, no mention is made of the fact that Athens was oddly enough attacking another democracy like themselves, not an oligarchical dictatorship like Sparta, with whom they had much more serious ideological issues. All that's said is that the Greeks invented politics and democracy and yet very little is actually said about important political and historical points like this.
The philosopher Socrates gets a good deal of play, but most of that is describing how ugly he was! What about his philosophy and what he actually taught? Very little is said of that--just that he was the most famous philosopher ever. At least they could have mentioned that Socrates's philosophy marked the beginnings of the influential concept of humanism, that "man is the measure of all things," and how that idea has influenced western civilization ever since. And no mention is made of his famous student Plato, without whose famous dialogs we would know almost nothing about Socrates.
To give some credit, the trial of Socrates is described in some detail, and what he said in his defense, and how that offended the jury, who voted for his death. But very little is actually said of the accusations and charges that actually landed him in such trouble, which were "...the corruption of the young, and making the worse seem the better cause..." The only thing that's mentioned is Socrates's famous quote about being a social gadly and critic during the trial, which doesn't explain what the actual charges were and why he was such a threat to the establishment.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. There are a few useful tidbits of information, certainly, but as I and others have said, the signal to noise ratio is pretty low. I think the Greeks themselves would have given this one the thumbs down.
For a better video on Greek history, check out the History Channel offerings, "The Last Stand of the 300," and "The Rise and Fall of the Spartans," etc. Not only are they better from an information standpoint, but the realistic battle re-enactments are truly impressive to watch. As a long time martial arts instructor who has taught Hollywood actors martial arts for their movies, I was impressed with the quality and realism of the action, given the many extras involved, and how long it takes to train people. So pass this one up and check out the History Channel videos on the Greeks instead."