Classical and Biblical



Western Literature





Brother Anthony, of Taizé



Published by Sogang University Press

Sogang University

CPO Box 1142

Seoul 100-611

Republic of Korea



2002, Brother Anthony of Taizé







1  Mesopotamia

Sumerian Culture

The First Assyrian Empire

Mesopotamian Mythology

A summary of Gilgamesh


2  Egypt


3. Israel

Early History: The Patriarchs

Moses and the Exodus

The Jerusalem Kingdom

Exile and Return


4. Greek History

Early Greek History



The Dorians, Ionia, and Heroic Legend

The First Named Poet : Homer

The Iliad

The Odyssey


From the Theogony

The Phoenicians, the Greek Alphabet

Greek Colonies

The City-State

Social Change



The Persians

Victory at Salamis

From 480 until the Fall of Athens


5  Greek Philosophy

The Early Greek Philosophers

Quotations from Xenophanes

Quotations from Heraclitus

Quotations from Parmenides

Quotations from Zenon

The Sophists


From Socrates' Defense

The Death of Socrates


Plato's Teaching

Texts from Plato5

The Image of the Cave

Diotima's speech


Aristotle on Tragedy

Later Philosophy

Quotations from Epicurus


Hellenistic Philosophy


6  Greek Drama & Poetry





Prometheus Bound


Oedipus the King



Greek Comedy


Greek Lyric Poetry






7  Alexander and Hellenism

After Alexander

The Culture of the Hellenistic Age

Asia Minor and Israel

The Greek Novel


8  The Gods of Greece and Rome


9  Greek Mythology


Perseus & Theseus

The Trojan War

The Argonauts

Ovid's Metamorphoses



Pyramus and Thisbe

Baucis and Philemon

Echo and Narcissus


Pan and Syrinx

Diana and Actaeon


Venus and Adonis

Hero and Leander

Orpheus and Eurydice


10  Rome and the Roman Empire

Early Roman History

The Civil War

Plutarch : The Death of Julius Caesar



Cicero's De Officiis

Lucretius: De Rerum Natura

Augustan Literature

From Virgil's "Pollio"  

The Aeneid

The Emperors after Augustus

Literary Figures of the Post-Augustan Period

The Later Empire  

The Writers of the Silver Age

The Decline and Fall


11  The Bible: The Old Testament

The Text of the Old Testament

The Books of the Old Testament



The Rest of the Pentateuch

Early History of Israel


Poetry: Wisdom Literature

The Prophets



The "Minor" Prophets

The Social Vision of the Prophets



12  The Bible: The New Testament

The Four Gospels





The Acts of the Apostles

The Epistles


English Translations of the Bible


13 The Early Christian Church

Persecutions and Martyrdom

Early Christian Thinkers

Persecutions and Victory

The Teaching Church

Ambrose and Augustine

Augustine's Conversion  

Into the Middle Ages


Major Dates







"Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, - that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.  "

(John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn")


History, theory, politics, economy, dialectic, democracy, tyrant, anarchy, alphabet, cosmos, tragedy and comedy, idea, philosophy, theology, geometry, atom, ode: when we realize that each of these words is Greek, borrowed directly into English, French and the other European languages, we may begin to sense what is special about a culture which is at the origin of so many different human activities that have continued from then until today.  Out of Greece the modern world received both philosophy and science.

The Bible continues to challenge and puzzle the world; the Christian faith has marked Western culture so deeply that it is still not easy to separate the two; yet why should texts, some written three thousand years ago, remain alive with meaning today?  And not only texts, for millions of people look beyond the texts to the Living God and the Risen Christ in whom they find the origin and the goal of human history, at a time when there are more Christians in Latin America, Africa and Asia than in Europe and North America.

Rome, too, has left its mark in words: republic, empire, urban, justice, dictator, liberty, university, humanity, religion, and in whole languages too, since French (from which many current English words are derived), Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian derive directly from Latin.

These two great cultural streams combine fruitfully, but confusingly, to give Western culture: the Graeco-Roman and the Judaeo-Christian. Put as simply as this, the reader may not realize the full scope of what is being said.  The Jewish religion and people, the Christian religions in all their variety, all that has been thought and written in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the centuries since then until today in philosophy, poetry,

fiction, drama, history, social theory, ideology, the Humanism which is at present fiercely contested in parts of the West, certain aspects of modern science, and much of the dialectics called Marxism, to say nothing of the art and the architectural design of many countries, all these have their historical roots here.  What follows in this book is designed to introduce some of the main background to these.



The Origins of Culture


While people were nomads, living in tents, always travelling, or settled alone in family farmsteads, they had to plant their own food and do everything for themselves.  With the rise of sophisticated technology, this was no longer possible.  Specialists were needed.  Urban society gives rise to an economy based first on exchange (barter), then on money.  Money means records and contracts, archives and a collective memory.

In most early societies there was a ruling, royal class or family, within a sacral vision of kingship.  Certain people, close to the king, had responsibility for public law, order, prosperity.  Each society had its religious observances, which were institutionalized in public temples of many kinds, with castes of priests and traditions of mythical stories to be transmitted.

Among the ordinary people, who as "citizens" had a greater or lesser role in the democratic running of the city-state, there were responsibilities for the defense of the city against enemies.  Military activity gave rise, in some cases, to a professional military class; in other places, the male citizens were all obliged to contribute military service, while they were able to, and according to their wealth and position in society.

Older forms of living continued in the farms outside the cities.  There was thus a relationship between city and countryside to be developed, since the city needed food.  The other aspect of this new world was the possibility it offered for exchanges of technology, culture, religions, between different cities.  This was often done in the course of exploring another aspect of inter-city living, as people from one city tried to exercise power over other cities by attacking them and making them pay regular tributes in taxes or raw materials.

All of this gives rise to the need for permanent records, a collective memory for future generations.  The origin of writing, probably in a religious context, is only the beginning of the story.  It quickly becomes normal to use writing for financial records of taxes, of imports and exports, of debts and promises.  Each society generates its own laws, which are also recorded, often in public places so that all can know them.  Contracts between cities are necessary for peace; diplomacy needs correspondence.

Humanity must be supposed to have sung its joys and its pains, its memories and its hopes, from the moment it began to communicate in words.  Songs and stories, great events to be remembered in a people's history, as in a family's, or a religion's.  There is a beginning of literature, when these songs and stories were found to be worth writing down, as alphabets developed.

Skills, too, must be transmitted to new generations.  Writing (and therefore reading) must be learned.  Some kind of schooling arises.  And since nothing is fixed, there are people who begin to ask questions, to challenge old ideas, to suggest new ways of thinking.  Technology gives rise to science, religion gives rise to philosophy, all of it the fruit of a restless curiosity driven by practical necessities.  From the earliest times, people in different countries, China, Babylon, Egypt, measured the movements of the sun and stars.  They discovered, slowly, the ordered universe, the possibility of measuring time in years, centuries.  Chronicles of the great events of a city's life could be fixed by dates.

All of this is a matter of communication.  Languages are means of communicating with others, but also obstacles, since there are so many different languages.  The history of human communication is one of constant fusion, change and exchange, words from one city passing to another, one group of people giving up their former language to blend with another group.  The history of language is the history of encounters, with the need to understand one another.

Another great question in the world of business, particularly, was the possibility of recording numbers.  How many ships?  How much grain?  In some ways, the difficulty of precise numerical writing has been much greater than that of phonetic alphabet.  In an age dominated by 1, 2, 3... it is good to think of humanity's struggles to count and compute before the age of the computer.  How did a Roman add XXXVIII and CCCLXXIV?

The history of human culture is also written in brick and stone.  Each culture leaves its traces in buildings which survive, whole or in ruins, or excavated from beneath more recent layers of civilization.  Temples (the Parthenon), tombs (the Pyramids), theatres (Athens), palaces (the centre of Rome), homes (in Pompeii).

Inside these buildings, and outside too, artisans placed what we now call "works of art", products of the visual arts of sculpture, painting, furnishing.  And in many such buildings, for various purposes, people came to make music with voice and instruments.  This too is part of the history of human culture, as is the study of the simple tools the workers used, the crops the farmers planted, and the clothes people wore.

All of this, applied to the Middle East and Egypt, to North Africa, to Greece, to Rome, and to Western Europe from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, and followed through from the earliest days, perhaps 3000 years before Christ, until today, goes to make up the Backgrounds of Western Culture, which is the material of this book.


Those using this book for teaching will need to develop their course according to the level, capacity and interest of their students. In this Second Edition, over a hundred pages of primary texts have been added in order to illustrate more fully what is being said by way of introduction. Needless to say, it may somteimes be found helpful to have students read entire works, be it in Greek drama, literature, or the books of the Bible.

One major lack is the absence of pictures. This can easily be overcome by giving students 'Scrapbook' assignments in which they find pictures in the library or on the Internet and compose their own visual presentations.

Both texts and illustrations can now be found in considerable quantities on the Internet, although the quality is sometimes not good, and the more modern translations of classical texts are mostly, for copyright reasons, not available. Since Internet addresses are notoriously unstable, it is not realistic to include lists in this book. At the time of publication, the author's Home Page includes lists of links to useful resources:


It is assumed that the reader is able to refer to a Bible.  For further information, readers are directed to the many Encyclopedias and standard works that exist, and in particular to such works as the following, which have been of immense assistance in preparing this book:


Edith Hamilton Mythology

Pierre Grimal, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology (Blackwell).

Thomas Bulfinch, The Age of Fable (Dent).

The Oxford Classical Dictionary ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church ed.  F. L. Cross.

The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature ed.  Sir P. Harvey.

The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, ed.  P. E. Easterling and E. J. Kenney.  Vol. 1, Greek Literature.

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich. OUP, 1995.

The Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation, ed. Adrian Poole & Jeremy Maule. OUP, 1995.

M. Noth, The History of Israel (2nd ed., Harper & Row, 1960)

A. R. Burn, The Pelican History of Greece.

A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (Nelson, 1975).

Latin Literature: An Anthology ed.  M. Grant (Penguin Classics)

R. Warner, The Greek Philosophers (Mentor, 1958)





Major Dates


2560   B.C. Cheops of Egypt dies (Great Pyramid).

1500   Minoan culture in Crete.

1350   Tutankhamen.

1250   Ramses II of Egypt; Moses.

1200   Destruction of Troy.

1012   David becomes King.

972-931   King Solomon; Jerusalem Temple built.

800-700   Homer.

750-700   Greeks adopt alphabet.

722   Destruction of Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria).

700   Hesiod.

600-500   Zoroaster, Confucius, Buddha, Pythagoras, Lao Tzu,

Second Isaiah, Jeremiah, Parmenides, Heraclitus...

587   Nebuchadrezzar takes Jerusalem, Jewish Exile in Babylon.

536   Jews return to Jerusalem.

490   Battle of Marathon.

480   Persian invasion; Thermopylae; Athens burnt; Salamis.

500-420   Anacreon, Pindar, Parmenides & Zeno, Phidias, Herodotus.

470-400   Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes.

460-429   "Age of Pericles" in Athens.

437   Parthenon dedicated.

404   Athens surrenders to Sparta.

403   Popular uprising restores Democracy in Athens.

399   Trial and Death of Socrates.

347   Death of Plato.

322   Death of Aristotle.

336-323   Alexander the Great conquers Middle East, reaches India.

323   Death of Alexander in Babylon.

323   Ptolemy family begins to rule Egypt from Alexandria.

264-227   Asoka first King of united India, Buddhist art begins.

218-203   Hannibal (from Carthage) in Italy.

200-160   Plautus (d. 184), Terence (d. 159).

146   Romans destroy Carthage; Roman Empire begins to grow.

100-44   Cicero, Marius, Cato, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Julius Caesar.

55   Julius Caesar first lands in Britain.

44   Julius Caesar killed in Senate by Brutus, Cassius.

31   Battle of Actium; deaths of Antony and Cleopatra.

27   Octavian given title "Augustus."

27-A.D.14   The Augustan Age: Virgil, Horace, Ovid.

5 / 4 B.C. Jesus born.

A.D. 33? Jesus crucified; Resurrection proclaimed; Church begins.

54-68   Nero.

64   Fire of Rome; Peter and Paul martyred.

65   Seneca ordered to commit suicide.

65-90   Gospels written.

70   Titus captures Jerusalem, destroys it.  Jewish "Diaspora" complete.

212   Persecution of Christians intensifies.

284-305   Diocletian Emperor; final persecution.

306-337  Constantine the Great.

313   Edict of Milan, Christianity accepted.

325   Council of Nicea; Arianism rejected.

331   Constantinople becomes main capital of Empire.

374-397   Ambrose, of Milan, influences Augustine

387   Augustine baptized; Bishop of Hippo 396-430.

381-395   Theodosius makes Christianity the state religion.

404   Legions leave Britain.

410   Alaric (Visigoth) captures Rome.

453   Attila the Hun sacks Rome, dies.

800   Charlemagne crowned Holy Roman Emperor .



Abraham                                26, 235

Academy                                       93

Achilles                                        172

Acropolis                                       70

Acts of the Apostles                 283


Agamemnon                107

Coephori                      113

epitaph of                      69

Eumenides                   118

life & works                 106

Prometheus Bound    119

The Persians                 66

Aethiopica (by Heliodorus)      151

Agamemnon                                107

Agora (Athens)                            63

Akhenaton                                    22

Alaric                                            221

Alexander the Great             23, 145

Alexandria                                   147

Alkibiades                                     71

Ambrose                                      307

Anacreon                                     141

Anaxagoras                             69, 84

Anaximander                                 76

Anaximenes                                  76

Andromache                                 38

Antigone                                     134

Aphrodite                                    157

Apocrypha                                  225

Apollo                                          158

Apollonios                                  148

Apostles' Creed                          296

Archilochus                                138

Archon                                           60

Areopagus (Athens)                   60

Ares                                              156

Argonauts                           148, 173

Argos (Odysseus' dog)               52

Ariadne                                        170

Arianism                                      306

Aristarchos                                 147

Aristophanes                        89, 136

Aristotle                                         99

Artemis                                        159

Asoka                                           146

Assyrian Empire                           15

Assyrians                                      28

Athena                                         158

Athenian Democracy                   63

Athens, history of                        62

atomic theory                                85

Atreus                                          171

Attila                                            221

Augean Stables                          169

Augustine                                   307

City of God                 311

Conversion of             308

Augustus                                    195

Aurora                                          163

Baucis and Philemon                 179

Beatitudes                                   268

Benedict                                       317

Bible in English                           292

Boethius                                      313

Boule (Athens)                             60

Bronze Age                                   22

Byblos                                            58

Cain and Abel                             231

Caligula (emperor)                      212

Cambyses                                      23

Canaan                                           25

Carthage                                        59

Cassiodorus                                317

Catacombs                                   302

Catullus                                        199

Cerberus                                      160

Ceres                                            160

Charlemagne                               222

Charon                                         160

Cheops                                           21

Choregus                                     105

Chorus                                         105

Chronicles, Books of                 244

Cicero                                           196

Claudius                                       213

Cleisthenes                                    63

Cleopatra                                       23

Clovis                                           221

Cnossos                                         33

codex                                            150

Coephori                                      113

Comedy                                        136

Consolation of Philosophy       313

Constantine (emperor)               220

Constantinople                           220

Cosmogonical myths                 165

Crete                                               33

cuneiform                                       14

Cupid                                            157

Cynics                                          102

Cyrus                                              64

Daniel                                           257

Daphne                                        175

Daphnis and Chloe                    151

David                                              27

Dead Sea                                        25

Death of Julius Caesar               193

Death of Socrates                        91

Deianira                                        169

Delphi                                           159

Demeter                                        160

democracy                                     64

Democritus                                    85

Deucalion                                    176

Diana                                            159

Diana and Actaeon                    184

Didache                                        297

Diocletian (emperor)                  220

Diogenes                                     102

Dionysius the Areopagite        104

Dionysus                                     161

Diotima                                           97

Donatism                                     305

Dorians                                          35

Draco                                              63

Drama                                           105

Echo and Narcissus                   181

Edict of Milan                             305

Egypt                                              21

Ekklesia                                          60

Eleatic School                               82

Eleatics                                           77

elenchus                                        88

Elgin Marbles                                70

Elysian Fields                              160

Emmaus                                        279

Empedocles                             82, 84

Epistles                                        285

Colossians                   288

Ephesians                    287

Galatians                      286

Hebrews                       289

I Corinthians               285

II Corinthians              286

James                            289

John                              289

Jude                              290

Peter                             289

Philemon                      288

Philippians                   287

Romans                        285

Thessalonians            288

Timothy, Titus            288

Eratosthenes                               148

Eros                                              157

Eschatological myths                165

Etiological myths                        166

Etruscans                                     189

Eucharist                                      297

Eumenides                                   118

Euphrates                                      13

Euripides                                      136

Eusebius                                      305

Exile                                                29

Exodus                                         240

Fates                                             162

fertility religion                             15

First Dynasty                                21

Flood myths                                167

Forms, theory of                           95

four elements                                84

Four Gospels                               266

Furies                                           163

Gaea                                              162

Gaeseric                                       221

Galilee                                             25

Genesis                                  28, 226

Gilgamesh                                      16

Gods                                             153

Golden Fleece                             175

Good Samaritan                          275

Graces                                          162

Great Pyramid                                21

Greek Alphabet                             58

Greek Colonies                              59

Greek Lyric Poetry                      138

Greek Novel                                 151

Hades                                           160

Hadrian's Wall                            217

Hannibal                                      190

Hebrew                                           26

Hecate                                          159

Heliodorus                                   151

helots                                             62

Hephaestos                                 157

Hera                                              156

Heraclitus                                      80

Hercules                                       167

Hero and Leander                       186

Herod the Great                          150

Herodotos                                     70

Hesiod                                            55

hieroglyphics                                22

History of Israel                          243

Homer                                             35

Horace                                          206

Horae                                            164

Hyksos                                           22

Icarus                                           182

Ideas, theory of                            95

Iliad                                                 37

Ionia                                               35

Iphigenia                                      172

Irenaeus                                       303

Isaac                                               26

Isaiah, book of                            254

Isidore of Seville                         318

Isokrates                                        99

Israel                                               25

Jacob                                              26

Jehovah                                         27

Jeremiah                                       256

Jerome                                          312

Jerusalem                                       25

Job                                               246

John, Gospel of                           280

Joseph                                          236

judgement of Paris                     171

Julius Caesar                               192

Juno                                              156

Jupiter                                          155

Juvenal                                         218

Kallimachos                                 148

Kandahar                                     145

Kings, Books of                          244

Kronos,                                        162

Labyrinth                                     170

Last Supper                                 277

Leonidas (king of Sparta)            66

Lethe                                            160

Leukippos                                      85

Linear B                                          33

Livy                                              208

Longinus                                     104

Lucretius                                      198

Luke, Gospel of                           270

Lyceum                                        100

Maccabees                                  150

Macrobius                                   313

Marathon                                       65

Marcus Aurelius                        219

Mark, Gospel of                          269

Mars                                             156

Martial                                          218

Martianus Capella                      313

Matthew, Gospel of                   268

Medes                                            28

Menander                                    138

Mesopotamia                                13

Metamorphoses (Ovid)             175

Middle Kingdom                          22

Milesian school                            75

Minerva                                       158

Moses                                            26

Mother Goddess                          16

Muses                                          163

Mycenae                                        33

Mythology                                  165

Nebuchadrezzar                            28

Nefertiti                                          22

Neo-Platonism                            104

Neptune                                       156

Nero (emperor)                            213

New Kingdom                               22

New Testament                           263

Nicene Creed                               306

Noah                                             232

Odyssey                                        48

Oedipus the King                       125

Old Kingdom                                 21

Old Testament                            223

Olympic Games                             59

Oresteia                                        107

Orosius                                        312

Orpheus and Eurydice               187

Ovid                                              208

Pan                                                161

Pan and Syrinx                            183

Parmenides                                    82

Parthenon                                      70

Pasiphae                                      170

Patriarchs                                     235

Peloponnesian League                62

Penelope                                        53

Pentateuch                                  225

Pergamum                                    149

Pericles                                           69

Peripatetics                                  100

Persecutions                               299

Persepolis                                      65

Perseus                                        169

Persians                                         64

Personifications                          162

Peter and Paul                             213

Philippides                                     65

Philistines                                23, 27

Phoebus                                       158

Phoenicians                                   58

Pindar                                           142

Pisistratos                                      63

Plato                                               93

Platonism                                       94

Plautus                                         138

Plotinus                                        104

Plutarch                                  70, 219

Pluto                                             160

Polycarp                                       299

Poseidon                                      156

Prodigal Son                                276

Prometheus                                 162

Prometheus Bound                    119

Prophets                                      253

Protagoras of Abdera                  87

Prudentius                                   318

Ptolemaic model                          148

Ptolemy                                  23, 146

Punic War                                    190

Pygmalion                                    185

Pyramus and Thisbe                  177

Pythagoras                                    79

Quintillian                                    217

Rameses II                                     23

Revelation                                   290

Rhea                                             162


Augustan                    195

Civil War                      191

founding of                 189

Later Empire                216

republic                        189

sacked                          221

Silver Age                    217

Romulus                                       189

Salamis                                           66

Sallust                                          200

Samaria                                           25

Samuel                                            27

Samuel, Books of                        243

Sappho                                         139

Scholasticism                              101

Selene                                           159

Seleukos                                      147

Semitic languages                        15

Seneca                                          214

Sennacherib                                  28

Septuagint                           149, 224

Sinai                                                25

Socrates                                         88

Socrates, death of                        91

Socrates' Defense                         89

Solomon                                         28

Solon                                              63

Song of Songs                            252

Sophists                                         85

Sophocles                                    125

Antigone                     134

Oedipus the King       125

sings Paean                   70

Sparta                                             61

Sphinx                                            21

Statius                                          217

Stoicism                                       103

Strife                                             163

Styx                                              160

Suetonius                                    219

Suffering Servant                       255

Sumerian Culture                          14

Sumerians                                      14

Synoptic Gospels                       267

Tacitus                                         218

Tammuz                                          16

Tantalus                                       171

Tarquin the Proud                64, 189

Ten Commandments                  241

Terence                                       138

Tertullian                                     303

Tetragrammaton                           27

Thales of Miletus                         76

Thera                                              33

Thermopylai (battle of)                66

Theseus                                       170

Thomas of Aquinas                   101

Thucydides                                   71

Thyestes                                      171

Tiberias (emperor)                      212

Tigris                                              13

Titans                                           161

tragedy                                         105

Transfiguration                           275

transmigration                               79

trilogy                                           105

Trojan War                                  170

Tutankhamen                                22

Underworld                                 160

universal brotherhood               103

Uranos                                         162

Venus                                           157

Venus and Adonis                     186

Virgil                                             200

Aeneid                         202

Eclogues                      200

Georgics                       202

Pollio                            201

Vulcan                                          157

Winds                                          163

Wisdom Literature                     245

wooden horse                             172

Works and Days (Hesiod)          57

Xenophanes                                  77

Xerxes                                            65

Yahwist                                  28, 226

Zarathustra                                    64

Zenon of Elea                                83

Zenon of Kition                          103

Zeus                                             155

Zoroaster                                       64