The Great Persian War: Ancient Greek Influence on Modern Attitudes of War

The Great Persian War: Ancient Greek Influence on Modern Attitudes of War
Instructor: Dr. Thomas Banchich, Professor Emeritus,
Departments of Classics and History
2017 Kenneth L. Koessler Distinguished Faculty Award Recipient

Professor Banchich has taught courses in Greek, Latin, and Greek and Roman literature, history, religion, and philosophy for the past thirty-three years at Canisius College. He is especially interested in the worldwide reception of Greek and Roman culture throughout history. In 2009, Banchich was the recipient of the Canisius College Faculty Scholarship Award for his book The History of Zonaras: From Alexander Severus to the Death of Theodosius the Great. His most recent book is The Lost History of Peter the Patrician.


Between 490 and 479 BCE, the Greeks met and repulsed the westward expansion of the Persian Empire. The overarching theme of this course is the influence of ancient Greek views of this “Great Persian War” on modern attitudes towards war and the memory of war. Individual meetings will focus on what may be at stake in a war, on war as the victory of right over might, on warfare as moral reckoning, on notions of courage and sacrifice in war, on representations of war in art and film, and on the commemoration of battles, heroic actions, and war dead. Course participants will be asked to read short selections from ancient and modern writers, consider assigned images, and view excerpts from online videos before each class. Meetings will begin with a brief presentation by the instructor to be followed by discussion of one or more of the themes of the course.

Theme 1:  Why We Fight

Readings: selections from Herodotus, The Persian Wars
poems of Byron and Tyrtaeus
Video: Capra, “Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike”



Theme 2:  Lift Up Your Hearts


Reading:  Herodotus
Videos:  Churchill, Roosevelt


Theme 3:  Go Tell the Spartans

Readings: Herodotus, Levene, “Xerxes Goes to Hollywood”
Speech:   Reichsmarschal Hermann Göring
Videos: “300 Spartans”
“The 300”
President Clinton, dedication of United Flight 93 Memorial
“Davey Crockett at the Alamo” (1954)
Recording:  Last transmission from Corregidor, Philippines


Theme 4:  Nemesis

Readings:  Herodotus, Aeschylus
Hastings, Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45
Videos:  Truman addresses Japan
Truman announces atomic bomb on Hiroshima
Japanese Surrender. August 14, 1945


Theme 5: Know Your Enemy

Images: Greeks and Persians
modern depictions of “The Enemy” in art and film
Videos:  Spike Jones, “The Fuehrer’s Face”
“Know Your Enemy: Japan”
“Momotarō: Divine Sea Warriors”


Theme 6:  Like a War Movie

Readings: Herodotus, Aeschylus
Brugger, Memories of Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944
Videos:  Olivier in Shakespeare’s Henry V 4.3
“The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”