Course Description

When it comes to studying Greek mythology, we are in a peculiar position: we have no ancient “catalogue of Greek myths” earlier than the turn-of-the eras Library of Pseudo-Apollodorus. The paucity of written catalogues is understandable, though; people living in the ancient Mediterranean world had no need of them—they shared the tales of gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines with each other in conversation and in creative accounts of their life together so routinely that those tales were safely stored in their memories. The same is true of the Greek religion that was deeply connected to the way ancient peoples related to those heavenly beings and earth-bound actors; they had no need to record their faith and practice in books of ritual and theology because they enacted their rites and shared their thoughts and beliefs amongst themselves, where such things mattered to them as ordinary people making their way in the ancient world.

But we are not completely without help in regard to understanding Greek myth and religion. The authors of lyric and epic poetry, tragedy and comedy, and philosophy and history composed their works to shape the imagination of their target audiences—those who reveled in hearing their poetry, laughed and wept at viewing their plays, and were challenged to embrace new ideas and ways of being by their philosophical arguments and accounts of the recent and distant past. And to accomplish their goal of shaping the imagination of their audiences, the poets, dramatists, philosophers, and historians invoked and reworked the content they trusted their audiences to know and have a stake in—the stories of the gods and goddesses and heroes and heroines (myth), and ritual practices and beliefs (religion) that guided the ordinary person’s life. Time and again these intellectuals invoked, retold, and interpreted anew these core traditions, knowing that in doing so they would provoke their auditors to new ways of thinking, being, and acting in the world.

So, to study Greek myth and religion is to read these great works. And we get double the insight from this: we don’t just learn the contents of Greek myth and religion; we also see how these two critical components of Greek identity were molded time and again to rework that identity. Studying Greek myth and religion through these texts, therefore, gives us a deep understanding of Greek myth and religion and of ancient Greek history and identity over time. This exercise also equips us to see similar dynamics in our own time and place.
Examination of six epic poems (in translation), from Classical antiquity: Homer's Iliad, and Odyssey, Apollonius', Argonautica, Virgil's Aeneid,, Lucan's Civil War, and Statius', Thebaid. Focus on the traditional themes, of the epic genre, including the nature of, heroism, the relationship between mortals and, gods, issues of peace and war, and the conflict, of individual and communal goals; how ancient, authors adapted epic conventions to suit their, own artistic goals; how these epics reflected the, values and history of contemporary Greco-Roman, civilization; and their influence in antiquity, and beyond.