Ancient Greeks: The Age of Expansion


February 23-24, 2018

Marines’ Memorial Theatre, San Francisco

Influential cultures never arise ex nihilo. Before Athens’ Golden Age, the ancient Greek economy had already expanded dramatically and Greeks had colonized lands on the shores of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. They began to create communities of citizens, to frame laws and develop institutions to govern themselves, which became the context for the development of Greek political thought. Homer immortalized the Trojan War and the adventures of Olympian gods and goddesses. Lyric poets sang of love and political intrigue. The Olympic Games rewarded physical fitness and mental discipline. New forms of scientific reasoning were pioneered in Greek cities on the Anatolian coast, and students of Pythagoras then brought science to southern Italy, where the Sybarites were famed for their pursuit of pleasure. These vibrant cultural strands make the Greek Age of Expansion one of history’s most intriguing eras.

Friday, February 23, 2018

7:30 – 9:30 pm

The Rise of the Ancient Greeks / Josiah Ober (Classics, Stanford) After the fall of the Bronze Age Kingdoms, Greece was impoverished, under-populated, and isolated from the wider Mediterranean world. By the classical era, Greece was rich, densely populated, and the bustling center of Mediterranean trade and culture. How and why did the Greek city-states rise, in just a few hundred years, from poverty to wealth, from stagnant backwater to booming metropolis? The “Greek miracle” has long fascinated students of history. It can be explained by applying the methods of modern social science. The creation of new forms of citizenship revolutionized the Greeks’ attitudes towards investment, education, and risk-taking. Competition with fellow Greeks and with neighboring civilizations promoted a cycle of institutional and technological innovation. When citizens gained reasons to invest in themselves, and to defend those investments with laws and arms, a new age dawned. And the world was changed forever.

Orpheus’s Lyre. Music selections from Gluck and Philip Glass; poetry of Rilke and Art of Rodin, Moreau, Cortot. Performed by Kayleen Asbo (story and piano) and Evan Kahn (cello). In 1922, the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke arrived at a chateau in Switzerland in a state of profound depression and grief with a case of writer’s block so intense that it had lasted almost ten years. Over just three weeks, the image of the mythic figure of Orpheus, combined with the sound of violin music played by a young girl, kindled the creative fire within Rilke that gave way to an astonishing series of masterpieces: the Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus. This story of how music opened the doorway to transformation and healing will frame a musical voyage from grief to grace and joy.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

10 am – noon and 1:30 – 4:00 pm

Homer and the Hero / Richard Martin (Classics, Stanford). Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, Agamemnon—when moderns think of Homer, they think “heroes.” But what were the Greeks thinking about these characters in the period that the Homeric poems took shape (roughly 800-500 BCE)? What did it mean to be a hero (or heroine—also a Greek word)? How can heroes also be killers, cheats, and liars? This illustrated talk will explore the idea of the hero as a religious, social, and poetic category, while interpreting the two great epics attributed to the mysterious composer Homer. The Panhellenic nature of the hero and the poems will be investigated in relation to several other major phenomena that had their start in archaic Greek culture—among them, colonization from the Black Sea to the western Mediterranean, the spread of localized shrines to heroic figures, and the Olympic games.

Harmonic Proportions: Pythagorean Architecture in Greek Italy / Margaret Miles (Classics and Art History, UC Irvine). In this lecture we explore the impact of Pythagoras, the Greek sage, seer, and philosopher who taught Greeks in southern Italy how number, proportion and musical harmonics are built into the universe, how life and death are cyclical, and how best to live life accordingly. Pythagoras was born about 530 BC on the island Samos, where Ionian Greek literary and artistic culture flourished. After some travels in the eastern Mediterranean, Pythagoras settled in southern Italy, at Greek Croton and Metapontum. Pythagoras and his students Empedocles and Archytas had enormous influence on subsequent philosophies, and their ideas had visible expressions in art and architecture. We consider here some of Pythagoras’ scientific and religious teachings, and how architects in southern Italy and Greek Sicily included Pythagorean harmonic proportions in Greek temples.

Performance / The Odyssey: A Modern Folk-Opera / Joe Goodkin. Joe Goodkin’s Odyssey is an original musical composition for solo acoustic guitar and voice. A performance of 24 original songs with lyrics inspired by Odysseus’ famous exploits, it represents in a contemporary musical mode both the abridged plot and the performance circumstances of Homer’s original oral composition of The Odyssey. Joe’s Odyssey is intended to highlight a broad range of classical and literary issues including: oral tradition, local variation, identity, and classical reception.

The Making of States and Citizenship in Archaic Greece / Emily Mackil (History, UC Berkeley). The Archaic Period was an age of political experimentation and struggle. Rising social stratification led to fierce political battles over the distribution of power and privilege within communities, and it was in this fiery crucible that the Greeks forged a world of micro-states and a distinctive notion of citizenship. In this lecture we will consider a series of phenomena that contributed to the formation of the distinctive micro-states of the Archaic Greek world: the entanglement of private wealth and public power, the emergence of written law, the importance of status, the value of collective deliberation, and the struggle for justice in the distribution of power. In the process we will examine how and why the privileges and obligations associated with citizenship changed over the course of the Archaic period.

Panel Discussion: Q&A with presenters

Download our postcard here: HW Ancient Greece Postcard

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Presenters & Resources


Kayleen AsboKayleen Asbo (PhD, Pacifica Graduate Institute) is a cultural historian, musician, writer and teacher who weaves myth, music, psychology, history and art with experiential learning. A faculty member of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Kayleen also teaches regularly for Osher Life Long Learning Institutes at UC Berkeley, Sonoma State University and Dominican University on a wide array of topics ranging from Depth Psychology to Dante to Contemporary Classical Music. Educated at Smith College, Mills College, San Francisco Conservatory, Pacifica Graduate Institute and UC, Kayleen also holds three master’s degrees: in music (piano performance), mythology and psychology. Kayleen has presented and lectured at Oxford University, Assisi Institute of Depth Psychology Conference in Italy, Houston Jung Institute, Chartres Cathedral, Grace Cathedral and Graduate Theological Union. A pre-concert lecturer with San Francisco Opera and Santa Rosa Symphony, she is also Creative Director for the Mythica Foundation for Education, Contemplation and the Arts.

Joe GoodkinJoe Goodkin is a Chicago-based singer/songwriter with an educational background in the Classics.  He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Classics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and for years has written and recorded original rock music under the name Paper Arrows as well as his own name. Joe has been performing his unique interpretation of The Odyssey since 2003, some 200 performances in 29 states. The Odyssey was honored in 2003, 2004, and 2012 with an American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Award. Joe has published an essay on his Odyssey with the journal Eidolon at:

His work can be seen and heard at and

vEvan Kahn (cello) attended Aspen Music Festival was one of two cello fellows in the Center for Orchestral Leadership in 2016. Also in 2016, he served as one of 40 student fellows in the Piatigorsky Cello Festival. Evan has served as principal cellist under the batons of Gustavo Dudamel, Robert Spano, Manfred Honeck, Mei-Ann Chen, Barry Douglas, and Andrés Cárdenes. He is pursuing a master’s in chamber music at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Having won the Conservatory’s Low Strings Concerto Competition, he performed Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 with the SFCM orchestra in 2016. He graduated with honors from Carnegie Mellon University, where he served as principal cellist of CMU orchestras. At CMU, he received awards such as The Harry G. Archer Award for Outstanding Senior, Presser Scholarship, four years’ worth of the Wilkins Cello Scholarship, and first prize in the Carnegie Mellon Concerto Competition. Evan also works with the multidisciplinary Mythica Foundation,

Emily MackilEmily Mackil is Associate Professor of History at University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Creating a Common Polity: Religion, Economy, and Politics in the Making of the Greek Koinon (Berkeley, 2013) as well as numerous articles on a wide range of topics including the abandonment of cities, the politics and economics of coin production, the role of ethnicity in the creation of federal states, and the history of calls for the cancellation of debts and redistribution of land in the Greek world. She is currently working on the social and political implications of ancient Greek property regimes.

Before assuming the Antony and Isabelle Raubitschek Chair in Classics at Stanford in 2000, Richard P. Martin taught Classics for eighteen years at Princeton University. He holds an A.B. (Classics and Celtic studies) and PhD (Classical Philology) from Harvard. To interpret Greek poetry in the light of performance traditions and social practices, he uses, among others, oral traditions in contemporary Crete and studies in medieval Irish literature. His interests in Homer, Aristophanes, mythology, and religion all involve the notion of the “hero.” Among his major publications are Healing, Sacrifice, and Battle (1983) and The Language of Heroes: Speech and Performance in the Iliad (1989). He has also published books for general audiences (Classical Mythology: The Basics, 2016; Myths of the Ancient Greeks, 2003; Bulfinch’s Mythology, edit. 1991) and a number of articles on Greek, Latin, and Irish literature. Currently he is completing volumes on Homeric epic and on Athenian comedy.

Margaret Miles is an archaeologist, currently Professor of Art History and Classics at the University of California, Irvine. She served a six-year term as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Classical Studies at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (2008-2014). Her publications include a study of the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous (Hesperia 1989), Agora Excavations XXXI: The City Eleusinion (Princeton, 1998), Art as Plunder: the Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property (Cambridge, 2008), and three edited volumes: Cleopatra: A Sphinx Revisited (Berkeley 2011), Autopsy in Athens. Recent Archaeological Research in Athens and Attica (2015), and Blackwell’s Companion to Greek Architecture (2016). She began new fieldwork at Segesta in Sicily in June, 2016.

Josh-OberJosiah Ober is Professor of Classics, Stanford, where he is Constantine Mitsotakis Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Political Science. He studies the political thought and practice of the ancient Greek world and its contemporary relevance. He is the author of many articles and a number of books, including The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Princeton, 2015), winner of the Douglass North Research Award from the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics and a finalist for Phi Beta Kappa’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. The book documents and explains the remarkable Greek efflorescence of ca. 800-300 BCE, the Macedonian conquest of the late fourth century, and the persistence of economic flourishing into the Hellenistic era and Demopolis: Democracy Before Liberalism in Theory and Practice (2017).

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