Why do some stories get told over and over for thousands of years, and how do those ancient tales still shape (and get shaped by) us today?
The myths of ancient Greece and Rome embody both our worst nightmares and our most fabulous fantasies. Heroism, happy endings, and everlasting love blend with disturbing themes of parricide, cannibalism, incest, misogyny, and unthinkable violence. The resulting stories have fascinated generations of artists, writers, and thinkers, and this course will serve as an introduction to this distant but strangely familiar world. We will move from the very first works of Greek literature through the classic Greek tragedies and the Roman tales in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Along the way, we will ask these fundamental questions: What is “mythology”? What can these ancient stories tell us about ourselves as human-beings, and why are they still so resonant thousands of years later? And how does mythology both ancient and modern continue to reflect and shape our world view today? We will use examples from classical mythology to see how a society can re-remember and revise traditional stories to fit changing cultural circumstances and political ideologies. Our discussions will consider ancient rationalizations of myth, psychoanalytic approaches to myth, the use of myth in politics, and the reception of classical myth in the modern world.