Taught course

The City and the Theatre

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens · National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Entry requirements

This programme is addressed to anyone with an interest in archaeology and particularly in the formation of the ancient Greek city-state.It also concerns everyone with a particular interest in ancient theatre and ancient Greek civilization in general.

Months of entry

September, February

Course content

The programme “An Itinerary from Classical Past to Future: The City & the Theatre” is a journey in the history and civilization of Greece, seen through the prism of the classical city- state and ancient theatre.

Programme Description

An Itinerary from Past to Future: The city

Lesson 1 Why is the Classical modern and useful?
In this lesson, issues of use and value of the Classical Greek legacy in contemporary life are addressed. The impact of the Classical Greek legacy on modern society is assessed in terms of its usefulness, its dynamics and its misuse. A great number of ideas and practices conceived and elaborated in Ancient Greece continue to play an important role in modern life. Classical antiquity remains on the other hand active in modern life as a fund of human experience and inspiration. There is an interactive approach of modern writers, poets, artists, actors, cinematographers, sportsmen and others to the Classical heritage, who reform or study inherited images and ideas of the past and use them as vehicles with which to express modern experiences and quests. A characteristic case is the tradition of ancient Greek theatre as space and function.

Lesson 2 The Greek city – state. Development and Structure
The Greek city-state was a singular political structure and became the nucleus of ancient Greek life. There were hundreds of city-states in Ancient Greece and its colonies. They consisted of an urban center with a more or less restricted rural area around it. Despite of differences, life in all city states was based on an essential common principle: Their citizens were all active in common affairs and at the same time responsible of the fate of their city. It is the function of this principle that led to the birth of democracy in Greece. In this lesson students will study the major institutions of the Greek city-states, the state sanctuaries, the Agora (center of political life), the Council, the Assembly of citizen, the courts, the various officers, the army, but also the alliances, leagues and hegemonies of city-states. Many of these institutions were inherited to the modern world.

Lesson 3 The Greek city – state. City planning and architecture
The urban center of the city-state was the theatre of common life in Ancient Greece. Space was foreseen in every city for the veneration of the patron gods of the city and for political and economic activity. Special buildings were developed for the meetings of deputies or the citizen, for archives, for sports and so on. Many of these structures became typical for the housing of democratic institutions, as for example the parliament buildings, the theaters and the stadia. Since the 7th century BC an urban planning concept, which organised the layout of cities into a system of separate public and private space traversed by straight roads and streets, developed gradually in Greece, especially in colonies, where the city was organized from its beginning. The roads and streets intersected each other at right angles, creating equal plots for private dwelling. So town planning came to reflect the feeling of equity in the Greek city. The more complex town planning of Hellenistic cities is also discussed.

Lesson 4 Greek Mythology: Gods and Heroes
Religion had a decisive role in Greek political life. All decisions for common activity and life were taken in the name of the gods. Each city had one or more patron gods. Also heroes, immortalized men of divine ancestry, played an important role in the life of city-states. They were also thought as protecting cities or different places in Greece. Gods and heroes were often used in the political propaganda of the city-states. Theseus for example expressed the identity of the Athenians and Heracles did the same for Dorians. This lesson examines myths of gods and heroes related to the identity and the policy of Greek cities. The mythical characters of Greek mythology continue to be used broadly as symbols of ideas and actions in our days: Best example Europe on the Bull as symbol of the European Union.

Lesson 5 Meaning and Values of private life through ages
This unit examines various aspects of the daily lives of ancient Greeks, namely all stages of their lives, birth, childhood, adulthood, marriage, old age, death, as well as ways of making a living in antiquity. The study of the finds of antiquity that come to light, we know customs and traditions that have been preserved and consolidated in the Greek world over the years. Specifically, vases, sculptures, written sources and other archaeological finds outline the profile of the ancient Greek husband, family man, citizen, and therefore the profile of ancient Greek society. The unit also examines how many of the lifestyles of ancient Greeks survive with stunning continuity in modern society.

Case Studies

This section discusses the study of five archaeological sites that combine the image of the ancient city, of temples and theaters in Ancient Greece. On the basis of texts and audiovisual material (videos + photos), the reader is guided to the area: following an electronic tour he learns more on each monument but also gets an overview of the historical context of the site. Participants can, also, watch interviews with professors and experts in the field of archaeology, that animate the excavation and the subsequent restoration of the archaeological sites. These case studies provide participants with the practical knowledge complementary to the theoretical aspects already explored in previous units. In that way, participants feel part of this archaeological journey.

Lesson 1 Athens
These are applicable in Athens, considering separately the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and the site of Sounion in Attica.

Lesson 2 Epidavros
The following case study is Ancient Epidavros, the sacred space of the Healing God Asclepius and finally the Ancient Messene.

Lesson 3 Ancient Olympia and Ancient Elis
Subsequent study area is Ancient Olympia, Ancient Elis, under control of which stood the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, where the Olympic Games took place.

Lesson 4 Ancient Messene
The final case study is Ancient Messene one of the best preserved examples of an ancient Greek city.

Ancient Greek theatre in 5th Century BC

An attempt to re-create the theatre-going experience of an average Athenian citizen in the 5th century BC

Lesson 1 Recomposing a theatrical event
Theatrical practice in classical Athens was primarily a public institution. All extant dramatic plays were composed and performed within the framework of religious festivals in honour of Dionysus under the auspices of the city-State and with the participation of its citizens. Placing our focus on the performance and not the texts, we attempt to reconstruct the classical theatre-going experience based on the fragmentary material at hand. Thus, we offer an account that is narrative and descriptive, attempting a re-composition which is based on scholarly research combined with fictional supplementations. Instead of describing the general physiognomy of the theatre-going public in classical Athens, we introduce Anthemokritos an average Athenian citizen who attends the dramatic competitions at the City Dionysia sometime in fifth century BC.

Lesson 2 Attending a performance
We follow Anthemokritos as he makes his way through Athens to attend the dramatic competition at the theatre of Dionysus and share with him the experience of watching a performance in classical Athens. He serves as a proper guide offering a wealth of information about every aspect of the ancient Greek theatrical practice, from the people involved to the elements of the performance and the institutional context in which they were presented.

Performing Ancient Greek Drama in modern times I: Europe (16th-21st centuries)

Tracing the landmarks in the modern performance history of ancient Greek drama across Europe

Lesson 1 Ancient Greek drama emerging anew in Europe (16th-19th cent.)
Fifth-century Athenian drama was given a new lease of life in the Renaissance with the printing of the surviving texts of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. We take a brief look at the fascinating journey of these dramatic texts through the centuries until the time of their editiones principes, which ignited a new interest in this ancient art form. At first, ancient Greek drama attracted the interest of humanists for educational purposes, thus amateur and school productions offered the occasional opportunity for the presentation of ancient Greek drama at the time. However, there are two interesting exceptions which can, in retrospect, be regarded as inaugural events in the history of staging ancient Greek drama in modern times: Aeschylus’ Persians in Zante in 1571 and Sophocles’ Oedipus King in in Vicenza on March in 1585. Α renewed admiration for antiquity triggered by archaeological findings in the middle of the 18th century, in combination with prominent writings on classical art created an idealized image of ancient Greek culture that would prevail in the German-speaking countries and beyond throughout the 19th century. Thus, beginning from Germany in the late 18th century, Greek tragedy came to be regarded as the supreme achievement of Hellenic culture prompting an intense academic interest, which combined with theatre-related demands created a fertile ground for the establishment of a performance practice of ancient Greek drama, which was to spread across Europe. In this respect, we selectively look into theatre practitioners and performances that help us outline the context and aesthetics of ancient Greek drama performance in the 19th century.

Lesson 2 Contemporary European productions of ancient Greek drama: From revival to repertoire (20th-21st cent.)
Since the beginning of the 20th century, performances of ancient Greek drama have attracted the vivid interest of theatre practitioners and have enjoyed a remarkable popularity among contemporary audiences, proven by the sheer volume of productions mounted annually across Europe. In this respect, any aspiration for a comprehensive account would be almost impossible. Therefore, in this part we attempt to illustrate trends and point to tendencies that have shaped the modern European performance history of ancient Greek drama. Based on an indicative selection of path-breaking performances, we shall try to summarize the contribution of ancient Greek drama in the development of European theatrical practice and culture, highlighting its role as a means of experimenting, proposing or affirming concepts, ideas, values and aesthetics.

Performing Ancient Greek Drama in modern times: Greece (20th-21st cent.)

Tracing the landmarks in the history of ancient Greek drama performances in modern Greece.

Lesson 1 Ancient Greek drama emerging anew in modern Greece (19th cent.)
As one can imagine, the volume of ancient Greek drama productions in modern Greece has been utterly impressive, reflecting their key place in the country’s theatrical practice. And even though one might be tempted to highlight the ‘organic relation’ with this ancient Greek art form as a contributing factor for its modern performance history, in reality the practice of staging ancient Greek drama is intrinsically linked with the establishment of the Greek State in the 19th century and efforts to consolidate the national identity of the people of this newly-founded national entity. In this part, we will outline the first attempts to produce ancient Greek drama in this context, while exploring the impact of a Western European performance tradition that had been developing independently on the modern Greek approach to ancient Greek drama.

Lesson 2 Contemporary Greek productions of ancient Greek drama: From revival to repertoire (20th-21st cent.)
Given the impressive number of ancient Greek drama performances in modern Greece that have been proliferating since the beginning of the 20th century, we shall attempt to outline the staging practice that has been established in Greece guided by the most influential Greek theatre practitioners whose work reflects the most significant trends in the modern Greek staging approach to ancient Greek drama. As pointed out, modern Greek performances of classical drama in all their artistic variations have always been associated, in a sense, with ideological issues. In this regard, special emphasis will be placed on the establishment of the Epidaurus Festival (existent until today), as part of the State’s official cultural policy, and its impact on both the local staging practice and the audience reception of ancient Greek drama in Greece.

Fees and funding

UK students
International students

Qualification and course duration


distance learning
3,5 months

Course contact details

Admissions Office