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Ancient Literature, Culture, and Society

The cultures of the ancient Middle East and the Mediterranean laid much of the foundations for our society. The origins of Western Civilization, Judaism, and Christianity can all be traced back to the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean. This course will introduce you to the history and culture of the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome 3000 BC through ca. 300 AD. The study of ancient culture is the study of ancient peoples. We will be looking at how ancient peoples lived, how they interpreted the world around them, what they believed in, how they ruled, what they considered “good and beautiful” and “bad and ugly,” etc. The study of ancient culture is a multifaceted and interdisciplinary subject encompassing religion, philosophy, politics, literature, art, and archaeology. 

Knowledge of ancient culture is attained by looking closely and carefully at the materials which ancient peoples produced and left behind, both written and material. Thus, we will read original or primary written sources, and carefully look at material and archaeological sources– monuments, art and objects – to also see what they can tell us about the societies and people from whom we can trace our cultural and religious heritage.

Some of the themes we will be looking at in our study of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean are:

  • Divinity: How ancient peoples conceived of, and interacted with, the divine. Religious ritual and worship.
  • Cosmology: How ancient peoples explained the existence of the universe and understood their place within it.
  • Humanity: How ancient peoples dealt with and perceived good and evil, justice and injustice, life and death, emotions, sexuality, etc. Appropriate and inappropriate conduct and behavior.
  • Polity: How ancient peoples governed themselves. What types of states did they form? Types of government? What types did they considered ideal? What was the nature of political legitimacy?
  • Creativity: How ancient peoples perceived beauty and harmony, and how they were presented in art, architecture, and literature.


By the end of this course, you will be able to demonstrate:

  • Knowledge of ancient cultures of the period ca. 3,000 BC-300 AD covered in the course, with particular reference to select works of secular and religious literature, drama, history, philosophy, and law, and to key monuments of art and architecture.
  • The ability to explain, compare and contrast key ancient concepts of divinity, cosmology, humanity, polity, and artistic creativity; to trace the influence of one ancient culture upon another, and to reflect on our own cultural debt to the cultures of the ancient world.
  • Enhanced skills of critical thinking, reading, writing, and communication by training in the interpretation of ancient primary sources the execution of writing assignments, and oral presentations.    

High School Credit: The modern subjects of “history” and “literature” do not do justice to the rich variety of works represented in the great books of civilization.  Successful students will nonetheless gain both an understanding of ancient history and a facility in the art of reading ancient literature. Thus, graduates of St. Raphael School history/literature courses may list this course as one credit—1/2 English and 1/2 History (Social Studies)—on their high school transcript.


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Enuma Elish: The Babylonian Creation Epic: Also Includes Atrahasis, The First Great Flood Myth translated by Timothy J. Stephany ISBN-13: 978-1493775033

The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by Andrew George ISBN-13: 978-0140449198

Hesiod’s Theogony and the Works and Days translated by M. L. West ISBN-13: 978-0199538317

Homer’s Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles ISBN-13: 978-0140268867

Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis translated by Holly Eckhardt ISBN-13: 978-1107601161

Plato’s Symposium translated by Robin Waterfield ISBN-13: 978-0199540198

Ovid’s Metamorphosis translated by A. D. Melville ISBN-13: 978-0199537372

Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations translated by Gregory Hays ISBN-13: 978-0812968255

Early Christian Fathers edited by Cyril Richardson ISBN-13: 978-0684829517

Additional texts will be provided as PDFs

Note: Required texts are not included in the purchase of the course

Nickolas Karagiannis joins Saint Raphael School as an Upper School Humanities and New Testament Greek teacher. Nickolas holds a B.A. in History and Classics from Montclair State University in New Jersey, a M.A and a M.Phil. in Ancient and Medieval History from the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate working on a dissertation on early Byzantine hagiography.

Nickolas has taught various history and humanities courses at both two-year and four-year colleges throughout New York City. He is very excited to join Saint Raphael School and share his love of history, literature, the Greek language, and his Orthodox faith with Saint Raphael’s students.

Nickolas currently lives in New York City with his lovely wife Marianela. In his spare time he enjoys reading history, theology, and mythology, visiting the museums, parks and churches in New York City, traveling to his wife’s beautiful home country of Panama, watching NFL football, and drinking far too much

Red checkmarkComputer: You will need a stable, reliable computer, running with processor with a speed of 1 Ghz or better on one of the following operating systems: Mac OS X with MacOS 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or later; Windows 8, 7, Vista (with SP1 or later), or XP (with SP3 or later). We do NOT recommending using an iPad or other tablet for joining classes. An inexpensive laptop or netbook would be much better solutions, as they enable you to plug an Ethernet cable directly into your computer. Please note that Chromebooks are allowed but not preferred, as they do not support certain features of the Zoom video conference software such as breakout sessions and annotation, which may be used by our teachers for class activities.

Red checkmarkHigh-Speed Internet Connection: You will also need access to high-speed Internet, preferably accessible via Ethernet cable right into your computer. Using Wi-Fi may work, but will not guarantee you the optimal use of your bandwidth. The faster your Internet, the better. We recommend using a connection with an download/upload speed of 5/1Mbps or better. You can test your Internet connection here.

Red checkmarkWebCam: You may use an external webcam or one that is built in to the computer.
WebCam Recommendations: Good (PC only) | Best (Mac and PC)

Red checkmarkHeadset: We recommend using a headset rather than a built-in microphone and speakers. Using a headset reduces the level of background noise heard by the entire class.
Headset Recommendations: USB | 3.5mm

Red checkmarkZoom: We use a web conferencing software called Zoom for our classes, which enables students and teachers to gather from around the globe face to face in real time. Zoom is free to download and easy to use.
To download Zoom:

  1. Visit
  2. Click to download the first option listed, Zoom Client for Meetings.
  3. Open and run the installer on your computer.
  4. In August, students will be provided with instructions and a link for joining their particular class.


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