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Greek and Roman Mythology

This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations.

Sessions

Course at a Glance

Categories

About the Course

Myths are traditional stories that have endured over a long time. Some of them have to do with events of great importance, such as the founding of a nation. Others tell the stories of great heroes and heroines and their exploits and courage in the face of adversity. Still others are simple tales about otherwise unremarkable people who get into trouble or do some great deed. What are we to make of all these tales, and why do people seem to like to hear them? This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths. Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Are they a set of blinders that all of us wear, though we do not realize it? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.

Course Syllabus

  • Week 1: Homer, epic poetry, and Trojan legends
  • Week 2: Heroes and suffering
  • Week 3: This World and other ones
  • Week 4: Identity and signs
  • Week 5: Gods and humans
  • Week 6: Religion and ritual
  • Week 7: Justice
  • Week 8: Unstable selves
  • Week 9: Writing myth in history
  • Week 10: From myths to mythology

Recommended Background

No special background is needed other than the willingness and ability to synthesize complex texts and theoretical material. Due to some explicit subject matter, however, the class is not suitable for students under 16 years old.

Suggested Readings

We will be covering the following in class:

  • Homer, Odyssey
  • Hesiod, Theogony
  • Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Demeter
  • Aeschylus, Oresteia
  • Sophocles, Oedipus the King
  • Euripides, Bacchae
  • Vergil, Aeneid
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses.

I strongly recommend purchasing or borrowing from a library the English translations mentioned in the welcome email and listed below. These versions are a pleasure to work with, in any format you like (hard copy or digital). I will also be making references to texts in class using the reference systems (page/line numbers) in the following editions:

  • Greek Tragedies, Vol. I, ed. by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992)
  • Greek Tragedies Vol. III, ed. by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992)
  • Hesiod, Theogony, M. L. West, trans. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 or 2009)
  • Homeric Hymns, Sarah Ruden, trans. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2005)
  • Homer, The Odyssey, Robert Fagles, trans. (New York: Penguin, 1997 or 2006)
  • Virgil, The Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald, trans. (New York: Vintage, 1990)
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses, David Raeburn, trans. (New York: Penguin, 2004)

For those unable to obtain the recommended translations, the most useful English versions available freely on the internet tend to be found on the Perseus website at Tufts (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/).

Course Format

The class will consist of a series of lecture videos (10 per week) that are paired with the course texts. In addition, students will complete brief quizzes based on the videos and texts, along with writing assignments that are designed to let students engage with the major themes surrounding mythology.

FAQ

Q: Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

A: Upon successful completion of the course, you will receive a Statement of Accomplishment. 

Q: What texts will I need for this class?

A:
◦ Greek Tragedies, Volume 1, ed. by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992)
◦ Greek Tragedies, Volume 3, ed. by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992)
◦ Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, M. L. West, trans. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 or 2009)
◦ Homeric Hymns, Sarah Ruden, trans. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2005)
◦ Homer, The Odyssey, Robert Fagles, trans. (New York: Penguin, 1997 or 2006)
◦ Virgil, The Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald, trans. (New York: Vintage, 1990)
◦ Ovid, Metamorphoses, David Raeburn, trans. (New York: Penguin, 2004)

Q: Will I need to purchase the versions of the texts you mention in the welcome email? Can they be digital copies, or will they need to be hard copies?

A: We strongly recommend that students obtain the English translations mentioned in the welcome email and listed above. These versions are a pleasure to work with, in any format you like (hard copy or digital). During class, the reference systems (page/line numbers) will be based on those editions.

For those who are unable to locate the versions listed above, the most useful English translations available freely on the internet tend to be found on the Perseus website at Tufts (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/).

Q: What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

A: We'll glimpse the sublime peaks and dark underbelly of mortals and gods in action, as the Greeks and Romans communicate, through their myths, their version of what it means to be human.



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