The Owl's Legacy

The Owl's Legacy

13 Episodes

Directed by enigmatic and brilliant documentary essayist Chris Marker, THE OWL’S LEGACY is an intellectually agile, engaging, and sometimes biting look at ancient Greece, its influences on Western culture—and how many eras have reinterpreted the Greek legacy to reflect their own needs.

Each of the 13 episodes is centered on a potent Greek word: from “democracy” and “philosophy” to “mythology” and “misogyny”. Marker convenes and films symposia—meals featuring wine and thoughtful conversation—in locales including Paris, Tokyo, Tbilisi, Berkeley and an olive grove on the outskirts of Athens. Footage from these banquets is interspersed with archival materials and interviews (often featuring a stylized or distorted owl image looming in the background). Marker’s diverse group of informants includes composers, politicians, classicists, historians, scientists, writers, filmmakers, and actors. Together their contributions form a compelling (and sometimes contradictory) cultural and historical exploration for each theme.

After screening on European television, THE OWL’S LEGACY was unavailable for decades—the result of objections from funders the Onassis Foundation, who took offense at comments made in the series about modern Greece. Now it has been restored and is finally being released. THE OWL’S LEGACY continues to serve as a powerful reminder of the ongoing impact of ancient Greek culture and the ways in which we continually recast it to suit our beliefs.

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The Owl's Legacy
  • The Owl's Legacy: Symposium, or Accepted Ideas

    Episode 1

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “The wake of our dreams is Greek” --George Steiner

    This episode sets the tone for the rest of the series, introducing the fundamental idea Marker and his participants explore: For centuries, we’ve used Greek civilization as a touchstone...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Olympics, or Imaginary Greece

    Episode 2

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “Every European era has formed its own image of Greece made up from its own imagination. There is so much self-projection and misinterpretation.” -- Cornelius Castoriades

    We begin with the personal. In interviews, classicists Manuela Sm...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Democracy, or City of Dreams

    Episode 3

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “Modern and ancient democracy have no genetic relationship” -- Mihalis Sakellariou

    An in-depth—but not overly dense—exploration of how Athenian democracy worked, and the key ways it differs from modern states using the word. Ancient Gre...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Nostalgia, or The Impossible Return

    Episode 4

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “It’s the most Greek word I know. In a sense, it defines Greece.” --Vassilis Vassilikos

    Nostalgia is there right at the start of the Greek literary tradition. Odysseus, after a decade of fighting the Trojan War, must wander another deca...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Amnesty, or History on the March

    Episode 5

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    Western history is said to begin with the Greeks—more specifically, with Herodotus, credited as the first historian. But the ancient Greek conception of history, based on the idea of self-examination, is very different from current conce...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Mathematics, or the Empire Counts Back

    Episode 6

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “Historians say Utopia doesn’t exist. It does! It’s the geometric space where everything is proven.” --Michel Serres

    There is a narrative about ancient Greece and math: That the Greeks invented mathematics as we know it, that men such a...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Logomachy, or the Dialect of the Tribe

    Episode 7

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “The adventures of language may be the most meaningful thing in world history.” -- Nikos Svoronos

    The word “logos” stands at the start of Greek philosophy. A word that defies simple translation, it lies at the root of terms including lo...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Music, or Inner Space

    Episode 8

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “The word was music before all else” -- Angelique Ionatos

    What defines music? Soldiers marching in tandem create rhythms; Orthodox priests don’t simply speak when performing the liturgy, they chant and sometimes sing; the hammer banging...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Cosmogony, or the Ways of the World

    Episode 9

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “Harmony can only be divine and it is Man... who makes it go berserk.” -- Iannis Xenakis

    This episode is classic Chris Marker, tying together an abandoned Athenian power plant turned cultural center, ancient Greek statuary, a department...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Mythology, or Lies Like Truth

    Episode 10

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “Myths fuel history.” --Mario Ploratis

    A small number of Greek myths—Oedipus, Antigone, the Gorgon who turns people who gaze on her to stone—have fed our understandings of ourselves and each other through literature, religion, philosoph...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Misogyny, or the Snares of Desire

    Episode 11

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “Greek love, Greek eroticism, is a paradigm for us. But it’s something about which we are very hypocritical.” --John Winkler

    Classicist Giulia Sissa takes center stage in this episode, which explores desire in ancient Greece (primarily ...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Tragedy, or the Illusion of Death

    Episode 12

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “The institution of tragedy plays a fundamental role in a democracy.” --Cornelius Castoriadis

    Greek tragedies were originally like TV shows before the age of streaming. They were performed once, and only once says scholar Oswyn Murray. ...

  • The Owl's Legacy: Philosophy, or the Triumph of the Owl

    Episode 13

    Directed by Chris Marker • Documentary • 1989 • 26 minutes

    “The owl? What about it?” --Theo Angelopoulos

    After a dozen episodes that begin and end with the image of an owl, PHILOSOPHY begins with the owl and its symbolism, and shows us how many of the participants in the series react to the bir...