among men by the Justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed [judged] I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven.

—Sophocles, Antigone (translated by Richard C. Jebb)

In Antigone (an TIG uh nee), Sophocles explored what happens when an individual's moral duty conflicts with the laws of the state. Antigone is a young woman whose brother has been killed leading a rebellion. King Creon forbids anyone to bury the traitor's body. When Antigone buries her brother anyway, she is sentenced to death. She defiantly tells Creon that duty to the gods is greater than human law.

Like Sophocles, Euripides survived the horrors of the Peloponnesian War. That experience probably led him to question many accepted ideas of his day.

His plays suggested that people, not the gods, were the cause of human misfortune and suffering. In The Trojan Women, he stripped war of its glamour by showing the suffering of women who were victims of the war.

Greek Comedy

Some Greek playwrights wrote comedies, humorous plays that mocked people or customs. Almost all the surviving ancient Greek comedies were written by Aristophanes (a rih STAHF uh neez). In Lysistrata, he shows the women of Athens banding together to force their husbands to end a war against Sparta. Unlike tragedy, which focused on events of the past, comedies ridiculed individuals of the day, including political figures, philosophers, and prominent members of society. Through ridicule, comic playwrights sharply criticized society, much as political cartoonists do today.

Ancient bust of bearded man, with Herodotus written in Greek capitals at the base.

Herodotus (c. 484 B.C.–c. 425 B.C.) was born under Persian rule at Halicarnassus, a Greek city in Asia Minor. His The Persian Wars is famous as the ancient world's first great narrative history.

Studying History

The Greeks also applied observation, reason, and logic to the study of history. Herodotus is often called the “Father of History” in the Western world because he went beyond listing names of rulers or the retelling of ancient legends. Before writing The Persian Wars, Herodotus visited many lands, collecting information from people who remembered the actual events he chronicled. In fact, Herodotus used the Greek term historie, which means inquiry, to define his work. Our history comes from this word, but its definition has evolved today to simply mean the recording and study of past events.

Herodotus cast a critical eye on his sources, noting bias and conflicting accounts. However, despite this special care for detail and accuracy, his writings reflected his own view that the war was a clear moral victory of Greek love of freedom over Persian tyranny. He even invented conversations and speeches for historical figures.

Another historian, Thucydides, who was a few years younger than Herodotus, wrote about the Peloponnesian War, a much less happy subject for the Greeks. He had lived through the war and vividly described the war's savagery and corrupting influence on all those involved. Although he was an Athenian, he tried to be fair to both sides.

Both writers set standards for future historians. Herodotus stressed the importance of research. Thucydides showed the need to avoid bias.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments