Ancient Greece: The Greatest Show on Earth

BBC 4 (3 x 60 mins)

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Ancient Greece: The Greatest Show on Earth is a three-part historical series written and presented by classicist Dr Michael Scott.

This series examines the extraordinary career of Athens in the ancient world from the 6th century BC to the 2nd century AD through the prism of one of its most important and culturally crucial spaces: the theatre.

The home of democracy, the creator of empire, the builder of architectural greats like the Parthenon, Athens was a city that in its time saw it all, did it all, lost it all and strained every sinew to get it all back again. As Athens played its life out on the Mediterranean stage, the Athenians were regularly sitting down to watch tragedies and comedies in their theatres. These plays spoke to their audiences in a very different way to theatrical performances today. Rather than providing pure 'entertainment', 'distraction' or 'diversion' from reality, they were sharply focused on reality. For the Athenians, theatre was not simply a mirror of their present, it was itself a stage on which that present could be played out.

Athens' story is one of survival in a difficult and changing world. This series follows that astonishing and dramatic story from the inception of theatre in the 6th century BC through to its place in the Roman Empire of the 2nd century AD, and reveals how Athenian tragedy and comedy not only reflected the intricacies of that survival, but were also critical reasons for it. A seat in the theatre, it turns out, is the perfect vantage point

In Episode 1 of 'Ancient Greece: Greatest Show on Earth' classicist, Dr Michael Scott journeys to Athens to explore how drama first began. From the very start it was about more than just entertainment - it was a reaction to real events, it was a driving force in history, and it was deeply connected to Athenian democracy. In fact, the story of theatre, is the story of Athens - the cultural hub of ancient Greece.

In Episode 2 of 'Ancient Greece: The Greatest Show on Earth' classicist, Dr Michael Scott looks at the dramatic decline of Athens and the remarkable triumph and transformation of theatre. During the fourth century Athens would lose its Empire, its influence and even its democracy. But theatre, the most Athenian of inventions, would thrive. Tragedy and comedy would spread throughout the Greek world and beyond giving rise to a new kind of comedy, one so popular and prevalent that it is still at the heart of our comedy today.

In Episode 3 of 'Ancient Greece: The Greatest Show on Earth' classicist, Dr Michael Scott examines the vital role played by the Romans in the preservation of Greek drama and in the history of theatre. He explores how this famous Empire provides one of the crucial connections between our modern drama and the great plays of the ancient Greeks.