Peter Smith graduated from Harvard University in 1961 and stayed in Cambridge for his graduate work as well (Ph.D. ’70), including two welcome years at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The School did not convert him to archaeology, but it did lead to invaluable chances to work at Pylos with Carl Blegen and later at Porto Cheli with Michael Jameson and Thomas Jacobsen. In both college and graduate school, his primary commitment to literature and to Greek was inspired and guided by John Finley, Cedric Whitman, Steele Commager, and Charles Segal. A growing interest in philosophy and the history of ideas led to a Ph.D. thesis on thought-patterns shared by Aeschylus and the earlier Pre-Socratics; it was jointly supervised by Whitman and G.E.L. Owen. Beginning in 1967 he taught at Indiana University and at Bryn Mawr College before coming to Chapel Hill in 1977.
His undergraduate teaching included Greek language courses at all levels and also ‘Classics’ courses on varied facets of Greek civilization, from a large introductory course called “The Greeks” (CLAS 20) to upper-level courses on Greek Tragedy, the Age of Perikles, and the Ancient Theater. In 1995 he introduced the Classics Department’s Junior Seminar (CLAS 90), taken by all classics majors, on the cultures of ancient Sicily. In 1985 he began a freshman seminar on Greek epic and tragic poetry in UNC’s Honors Program (CLAS 29), a seminar which he and several colleagues have offered regularly since then. In UNC’s graduate program, he taught courses on Homer, Lyric Poetry, Aeschylus, Plato, and Aristotle.
His primary research interest lies in the nature of early Greeks’ understanding of their world and of themselves–their ‘world-view’–especially in how writers of the Archaic and early Classical periods show a sense of the world, and of how human experiences within it are to be explained, which is different from ours and deserves to be analysed and understood in its own terms. He is currently working on the evolution between Homer and the end of the fifth century of Greek notions of time and chance, of obligation and necessity, of fate and the nature of human knowledge. In the past he has published a historical and literary analysis of the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Nursling of Mortality, Frankfurt 1981), a psychological interpretation of the Five Races Myth in the Works and Days (in CW ’81), and a fairly hard-core philological study On the Hymn to Zeus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (American Classical Studies, 5; published by the American Philological Association on 1980).