Emeritus College 


The Humanism of Aeschylus
Thinking Critically about the Tragic Dramas of an Architect of Western Humanism

Bill Garrett, PhD


Greek thought has profoundly influenced the human agenda in the West. It has configured our ideas on what it is to be human, and what assumptions about human society are realistic. Over the course of 2.5 millennia, these assumptions have changed, but a central disposition has persisted. The ancient Greeks, beginning with Homer, felt that they needed to constantly remind themselves that they were NOT gods. From Achilles to Prometheus, the assertion of human dignity and human capacity was central to Greek thought, and find echoes in the Enlightenment insistence on the human right to define themselves and their society.


The results have not always been happy. The eugenics movement, the technology of gene-editing known as CRISPER-cas9, and the hotly contested debates over human-generated climate change these are disparaged as examples of a lamentable “Prometheanism” in Western culture. The term is used to describe brassy certainties and swagger of modern Western culture as well as its brilliant successes; successes like the space-program and dazzling medical miracles. All these are seen as rooted in Greek origins of Humanism, of the disposition to set Humanity at the center of the human project.






#1: The Persians

#2: Prometheus Bound

#3: Euripides: Iphigenia at Aulis (in-class film)

#4: The Agamemnon

#5: The Eumenides