The Roots of Western Civilization: The Ancient World from Gilgamesh to Augustine is a series of eight video lectures presented online by Anthony Esolen. These lectures explore the roots of western civilization in both ancient civilizations and the Bible, with a focus on questions about the nature of God, the nature of creation, man’s relationship to God, and the meaning of life—the most foundational worldview questions.
Esolen is a gifted teacher with broad historical knowledge and a talent for reciting poetry and dramatic readings from ancient writings and the Bible. He has a Ph.D. in renaissance literature and has translated both ancient and medieval works such as Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and Lucretius' De rerum natura into English. His mastery of numerous languages is evident in these lectures as he sometimes reads the original language and other times explains the roots and meanings of English words.
The intended audience is college level and above, but mature eleventh and twelfth graders should have the requisite background knowledge of ancient civilizations and the biblical narrative, as well as the maturity, to find the course valuable. Be aware that Esolen candidly discusses topics, such as sexual relationships between the gods and the rape of the Sabine women.
Each lecture runs a little over 30 minutes, and the eight titles give you an idea of what is covered:
- Civilization as Presented in The Epic of Gilgamesh
- Hesiod’s Theogony and the Greek Polis
- Rome: The Imperial Ruler of the Western World
- Israel and Divine Revelation
- Messianic Prophesies and God’s Overarching Plan of Salvation
- Virgil’s Aeneid and Roman Piety
- The Wisdom of Jesus’ Teaching
- The Confessions of St. Augustine
The course is presented through Esolen’s lectures, but images are frequently shown on the screen, many from classical artworks, and some from photos that show geographic features, sculptures, and other illustrations related to the content.
Esolen begins the series by exploring the story of Gilgamesh to show how ancient pagan cultures viewed the gods, the value of the individual, and the organization of their communities. He continues through the Greek and Roman cultures. In contrast, he presents a biblical view of history beginning with Genesis and focusing particularly on God working through His chosen people.
Students should glean intriguing insights regarding ancient civilizations from this series, but half of the course focuses on the biblical story leading up to Jesus and the Christian worldview.
The course is obviously designed for Christians, as evidenced by his inclusion of such topics as the messianic expectations of the Israelites, the story of salvation, the trinity, the message of the New Testament, and much more. Esolen pulls these elements together so that his viewers hear the message of salvation within the context of history and philosophical ideas. Esolen makes occasional comments that reflect his Catholic faith—a brief mention of the Catholic Church, a reference to saints, and a reference to the Eucharist, but the course should appeal to a broad Christian audience.
There are no ancillary materials for the course at this time, but parents of homeschoolers might have their students write summaries of the lectures, write one or more papers on selected topics, do further reading or research, or complete other assignments they devise.
The Roots of Western Civilization course provides students with an opportunity to learn from a brilliant teacher as he explores philosophical and theological ideas essential for understanding worldviews.