Greek and Roman Mythology

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About this 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…

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When you enroll for courses through Coursera you get to choose for a paid plan or for a free plan

  • Free plan: No certicification and/or audit only. You will have access to all course materials except graded items.
  • Paid plan: Commit to earning a Certificate—it's a trusted, shareable way to showcase your new skills.

About this 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 SCHEDULE • Week 1: Introduction Welcome to Greek and Roman Mythology! This first week we’ll introduce the class, paying attention to how the course itself works. We’ll also begin to think about the topic at hand: myth! How can we begin to define "myth"? How does myth work? What have ancient and modern theorists, philosophers, and other thinkers had to say about myth? This week we’ll also begin our foray into Homer’s world, with an eye to how we can best approach epic poetry. Readings: No texts this week, but it would be a good idea to get started on next week's reading to get ahead of the game. Video Lectures: 1.1-1.7 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 2: Becoming a Hero In week 2, we begin our intensive study of myth through Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey. This core text not only gives us an exciting story to appreciate on its own merits but also offers us a kind of laboratory where we can investigate myth using different theoretical approaches. This week we focus on the young Telemachus’ tour as he begins to come of age; we also accompany his father Odysseus as he journeys homeward after the Trojan War. Along the way, we’ll examine questions of heroism, relationships between gods and mortals, family dynamics, and the Homeric values of hospitality and resourcefulness. Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 1-8 Video Lectures: 2.1-2.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 3: Adventures Out and Back This week we’ll follow the exciting peregrinations of Odysseus, "man of twists and turns," over sea and land. The hero’s journeys abroad and as he re-enters his homeland are fraught with perils. This portion of the Odyssey features unforgettable monsters and exotic witches; we also follow Odysseus into the Underworld, where he meets shades of comrades and relatives. Here we encounter some of the best-known stories to survive from all of ancient myth. Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 9-16 Video Lectures: 3.1-3.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 4: Identity and Signs As he makes his way closer and closer to re-taking his place on Ithaca and with his family, a disguised Odysseus must use all his resources to regain his kingdom. We’ll see many examples of reunion as Odysseus carefully begins to reveal his identity to various members of his household—his servants, his dog, his son, and finally, his wife Penelope—while also scheming against those who have usurped his place. Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 17-24 Video Lectures: 4.1-4.8 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 5: Gods and Humans We will take a close look at the most authoritative story on the origin of the cosmos from Greek antiquity: Hesiod’s Theogony. Hesiod was generally considered the only poet who could rival Homer. The Theogony, or "birth of the gods," tells of an older order of gods, before Zeus, who were driven by powerful passions—and strange appetites! This poem presents the beginning of the world as a time of fierce struggle and violence as the universe begins to take shape, and order, out of chaos. Readings: Hesiod, Theogony *(the Works and Days is NOT required for the course)* Video Lectures: 5.1-5.9 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 6: Ritual and Religion This week’s readings give us a chance to look closely at Greek religion in its various guises. Myth, of course, forms one important aspect of religion, but so does ritual. How ancient myths and rituals interact teaches us a lot about both of these powerful cultural forms. We will read two of the greatest hymns to Olympian deities that tell up-close-and-personal stories about the gods while providing intricate descriptions of the rituals they like us humans to perform. Readings: Homeric Hymn to Apollo; Homeric Hymn to Demeter (there are two hymns to each that survive, only the LONGER Hymn to Apollo and the LONGER Hymn to Demeter are required for the course) Video Lectures: 6.1-6.7 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 7: Justice What counts as a just action, and what counts as an unjust one? Who gets to decide? These are trickier questions than some will have us think. This unit looks at one of the most famously thorny issues of justice in all of the ancient world. In Aeschylus’ Oresteia—the only surviving example of tragedy in its original trilogy form—we hear the story of Agamemnon’s return home after the Trojan War. Unlike Odysseus’ eventual joyful reunion with his wife and children, this hero is betrayed by those he considered closest to him. This family's cycle of revenge, of which this story is but one episode, carries questions of justice and competing loyalties well beyond Agamemnon’s immediate family, eventually ending up on the Athenian Acropolis itself. Readings: Aeschylus, Agamemnon; Aeschylus, Eumenides Video Lectures: 7.1-7.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 8: Unstable Selves This week we encounter two famous tragedies, both set at Thebes, that center on questions of guilt and identity: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Eurpides’ Bacchae. Oedipus is confident that he can escape the unthinkable fate that was foretold by the Delphic oracle; we watch as he eventually realizes the horror of what he has done. With Odysseus, we saw how a great hero can re-build his identity after struggles, while Oedipus shows us how our identities can dissolve before our very eyes. The myth of Oedipus is one of transgressions—intentional and unintentional—and about the limits of human knowledge. In Euripides’ Bacchae, the identity of gods and mortals is under scrutiny. Here, Dionysus, the god of wine and of tragedy, and also madness, appears as a character on stage. Through the dissolution of Pentheus, we see the terrible consequences that can occur when a god’s divinity is not properly acknowledged. Readings: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex; Euripides, Bacchae Video Lectures: 8.1-8.9 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 9: The Roman Hero, Remade Moving ahead several centuries, we jump into a different part of the Mediterranean to let the Romans give us their take on myth. Although many poets tried to rewrite Homer for their own times, no one succeeded quite like Vergil. His epic poem, the Aeneid, chronicles a powerful re-building of a culture that both identifies with and defines itself against previously told myths. In contrast to the scarcity of information about Homer, we know a great deal about Vergil’s life and historical context, allowing us insight into myth-making in action. Readings: Vergil, Aeneid, books 1-5 Video Lectures: 9.1-9.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 10: Roman Myth and Ovid's Metamorphoses Our consideration of Vergil’s tale closes with his trip to the underworld in book 6. Next, we turn to a more playful Roman poet, Ovid, whose genius is apparent in nearly every kind of register. Profound, witty, and satiric all at once, Ovid’s powerful re-tellings of many ancient myths became the versions that are most familiar to us today. Finally, through the lens of the Romans and others who "remythologize," we wrap up the course with a retrospective look at myth. Readings: Vergil, Aeneid, book 6; Ovid, Metamorphoses, books 3, 12, and 13. Video Lectures: 10.1-10.9. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. *********************************************************************************************************** READINGS There are no required texts for the course, however, Professor Struck will make reference to the following texts in the lecture: • Greek Tragedies, Volume 1, David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, trans. (Chicago) • Greek Tragedies, Volume 3, David Grene and Richmond Lattimore , trans. (Chicago) • Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, M. L. West, trans. (Oxford) • Homeric Hymns, Sarah Ruden, trans. (Hackett) • Homer, The Odyssey, Robert Fagles, trans. (Penguin) • Virgil, The Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald, trans. (Vintage) • Ovid, Metamorphoses, David Raeburn, trans. (Penguin) These translations are a pleasure to work with, whereas many of the translations freely available on the internet are not. If you do not want to purchase them, they should also be available at many libraries. Again, these texts are not required, but they are helpful.

Created by:  University of Pennsylvania
  • Taught by:  Peter Struck, Associate Professor

    Classical Studies
Language English, Subtitles: Romanian, Chinese (Simplified) How To Pass Pass all graded assignments to complete the course. Travail en cours

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University of Pennsylvania The University of Pennsylvania (commonly referred to as Penn) is a private university, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. A member of the Ivy League, Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, and considers itself to be the first university in the United States with both undergraduate and graduate studies.

Syllabus


WEEK 1


Introduction



Welcome to Greek and Roman Mythology! This first week we’ll introduce the class, paying attention to how the course itself works. We’ll also begin to think about the topic at hand: myth! How can we begin to define "myth"? How does myth work? What have ancient and modern theorists, philosophers, and other thinkers had to say about myth? This week we’ll also begin our foray into Homer’s world, with an eye to how we can best approach epic poetry. Readings: No texts this week, but it would be a good idea to get started on next week's reading to get ahead of the game. Video Lectures: 1.1-1.7 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


8 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 1.0 Promo Video
  2. Video: 1.1 What is Myth?
  3. Video: 1.2 Course Overview
  4. Video: 1.3 Ancient Ideas on Myth
  5. Video: 1.4 Ideas on Myth from the Modern Era
  6. Video: 1.5 The Trojan War & The World of Homer
  7. Video: 1.6 Trojan War Aftermath and The Homer Question
  8. Video: 1.7 On Reading Homer
  9. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Ancient Ideas on Myth
  10. Lecture: Course Readings

Graded: Quiz 1: Introduction to the Course

WEEK 2


Becoming a Hero



In week 2, we begin our intensive study of myth through Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey. This core text not only gives us an exciting story to appreciate on its own merits but also offers us a kind of laboratory where we can investigate myth using different theoretical approaches. This week we focus on the young Telemachus’ tour as he begins to come of age; we also accompany his father Odysseus as he journeys homeward after the Trojan War. Along the way, we’ll examine questions of heroism, relationships between gods and mortals, family dynamics, and the Homeric values of hospitality and resourcefulness. Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 1-8. Video Lectures: 2.1-2.10. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


10 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 2.1 On Reading Homer, Part II
  2. Video: 2.2 Telemachus' Troubles
  3. Video: 2.3 Telemachus' Tour
  4. Video: 2.4 Odysseus on Ogygia
  5. Video: 2.5 Odysseus on Scheria
  6. Video: 2.6 Alcinous
  7. Video: 2.7 Knee-Grabbing
  8. Video: 2.8 Functionalism
  9. Video: 2.9 Reassembling the Hero
  10. Video: 2.10 Poetry and Demodocus
  11. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Becoming a Hero
  12. Lecture: Odyssey, books 1-8

Graded: Quiz 2: Becoming a Hero

WEEK 3


Adventures Out and Back



This week we’ll follow the exciting peregrinations of Odysseus, "man of twists and turns," over sea and land. The hero’s journeys abroad and as he re-enters his homeland are fraught with perils. This portion of the Odyssey features unforgettable monsters and exotic witches; we also follow Odysseus into the Underworld, where he meets shades of comrades and relatives. Here we encounter some of the best-known stories to survive from all of ancient myth. Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 9-16. Video Lectures: 3.1-3.10. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


10 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 3.1 Odysseus and the Cyclops
  2. Video: 3.2 Cycle Two: Circe
  3. Video: 3.3 The Underworld
  4. Video: 3.4 Cycle 3: The Cattle of the Sun
  5. Video: 3.5 Food/Not Food
  6. Video: 3.6 Structuralism
  7. Video: 3.7 Inner and Outer Worlds
  8. Video: 3.8 Extracting Knowledge
  9. Video: 3.9 Meanwhile Telemachus...
  10. Video: 3.10 Reunion: Father and Sons
  11. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Adventures Out and Back
  12. Lecture: Odyssey, books 9-16

Graded: Quiz 3: Adventures Out and Back

WEEK 4


Identity and Signs



As he makes his way closer and closer to re-taking his place on Ithaca and with his family, a disguised Odysseus must use all his resources to regain his kingdom. We’ll see many examples of reunion as Odysseus carefully begins to reveal his identity to various members of his household—his servants, his dog, his son, and finally, his wife Penelope—while also scheming against those who have usurped his place. Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 17-24. Video Lectures: 4.1-4.8. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


8 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 4.1 Odysseus Meets the Suitors
  2. Video: 4.2 Signs as a Way of Knowing
  3. Video: 4.3 What Does Penelope Know?
  4. Video: 4.4 The Scar
  5. Video: 4.5 Penelope's Dream
  6. Video: 4.6 The Bow
  7. Video: 4.7 Reunion (Almost)
  8. Video: 4.8 Reunion
  9. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Identity and Signs
  10. Lecture: Odyssey, books 17-24

Graded: Quiz 4: Identity and Signs

WEEK 5


Gods and Humans



We will take a close look at the most authoritative story on the origin of the cosmos from Greek antiquity: Hesiod’s Theogony. Hesiod was generally considered the only poet who could rival Homer. The Theogony, or "birth of the gods," tells of an older order of gods, before Zeus, who were driven by powerful passions—and strange appetites! This poem presents the beginning of the world as a time of fierce struggle and violence as the universe begins to take shape, and order, out of chaos. Readings: Hesiod, Theogony *(the Works and Days is NOT required for the course)*. Video Lectures: 5.1-5.9. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


9 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Video: 5.1 Introducing the Greek Gods
  2. Video: 5.2 Hesiod and Ancient Near East Connections
  3. Video: 5.3 Intro to Hesiod
  4. Video: 5.4 Hesiod's Opening Hymn to the Muses
  5. Video: 5.5 Earth and Sky
  6. Video: 5.6 Kronos and Rhea
  7. Video: 5.7 Humans and Sacrifice
  8. Video: 5.8 War, Cosmos, Reproduction
  9. Video: 5.9 Freud
  10. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Gods and Humans
  11. Lecture: Further Reading: Freud (et al.) on myth
  12. Lecture: Hesiod's Theogony

Graded: Quiz 5: Gods and Humans

WEEK 6


Ritual and Religion



This week’s readings give us a chance to look closely at Greek religion in its various guises. Myth, of course, forms one important aspect of religion, but so does ritual. How ancient myths and rituals interact teaches us a lot about both of these powerful cultural forms. We will read two of the greatest hymns to Olympian deities that tell up-close-and-personal stories about the gods while providing intricate descriptions of the rituals they like us humans to perform. Readings: Homeric Hymn to Apollo; Homeric Hymn to Demeter (there are two hymns to each that survive, only the LONGER Hymn to Apollo and the LONGER Hymn to Demeter are required for the course). Video Lectures: 6.1-6.7. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


7 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 6.1 Introduction to the Homeric Hymns
  2. Video: 6.2 Ritual and Religion
  3. Video: 6.3 The Hymn to Demeter
  4. Video: 6.4 Themes in The Hymn to Demeter
  5. Video: 6.5 The Hymn to Apollo: Delos
  6. Video: 6.6 The Hymn to Apollo: Delphi
  7. Video: 6.7 Myth and Ritual
  8. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Ritual and Religion
  9. Lecture: Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Graded: Quiz 6: The Homeric Hymns

WEEK 7


Justice



What counts as a just action, and what counts as an unjust one? Who gets to decide? These are trickier questions than some will have us think. This unit looks at one of the most famously thorny issues of justice in all of the ancient world. In Aeschylus’ Oresteia—the only surviving example of tragedy in its original trilogy form—we hear the story of Agamemnon’s return home after the Trojan War. Unlike Odysseus’ eventual joyful reunion with his wife and children, this hero is betrayed by those he considered closest to him. This family's cycle of revenge, of which this story is but one episode, carries questions of justice and competing loyalties well beyond Agamemnon’s immediate family, eventually ending up on the Athenian Acropolis itself. Readings: Aeschylus, Agamemnon; Aeschylus, Eumenides. Video Lectures: 7.1-7.10. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


10 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 7.1 Introduction to Tragedy
  2. Video: 7.2 Family Ties, Betrayals
  3. Video: 7.3 Introducing Agamemnon
  4. Video: 7.4 Agamemnon Themes
  5. Video: 7.5 Ideas of Justice
  6. Video: 7.6 Libation Bearers
  7. Video: 7.7 Intro to the Eumenides
  8. Video: 7.8 Measuring Evil
  9. Video: 7.9 Historical Background
  10. Video: 7.10 Readings of the Oresteia
  11. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Justice
  12. Lecture: Aeschylus, Agamemnon; Aeschylus, Eumenides

Graded: Quiz 7: The Oresteia

WEEK 8


Unstable Selves



This week we encounter two famous tragedies, both set at Thebes, that center on questions of guilt and identity: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Eurpides’ Bacchae. Oedipus is confident that he can escape the unthinkable fate that was foretold by the Delphic oracle; we watch as he eventually realizes the horror of what he has done. With Odysseus, we saw how a great hero can re-build his identity after struggles, while Oedipus shows us how our identities can dissolve before our very eyes. The myth of Oedipus is one of transgressions—intentional and unintentional—and about the limits of human knowledge. In Euripides’ Bacchae, the identity of gods and mortals is under scrutiny. Here, Dionysus, the god of wine and of tragedy, and also madness, appears as a character on stage. Through the dissolution of Pentheus, we see the terrible consequences that can occur when a god’s divinity is not properly acknowledged. Readings: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex; Euripides, Bacchae. Video Lectures: 8.1-8.9. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


9 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 8.1 Introduction to Oedipus
  2. Video: 8.2 Oedipus and Fate
  3. Video: 8.3 Oedipus and Oracles
  4. Video: 8.4 The Land and Identity
  5. Video: 8.5 Chthonic Identity
  6. Video: 8.6 Readings of Oedipus
  7. Video: 8.7 Greek and Dionysian Ritual
  8. Video: 8.8 Bacchae Themes
  9. Video: 8.9 Reading The Bacchae
  10. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Unstable Selves
  11. Lecture: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex; Euripides, Bacchae

Graded: Quiz 8: Unstable Selves

WEEK 9


The Roman Hero, Remade



Moving ahead several centuries, we jump into a different part of the Mediterranean to let the Romans give us their take on myth. Although many poets tried to rewrite Homer for their own times, no one succeeded quite like Vergil. His epic poem, the Aeneid, chronicles a powerful re-building of a culture that both identifies with and defines itself against previously told myths. In contrast to the scarcity of information about Homer, we know a great deal about Vergil’s life and historical context, allowing us insight into myth-making in action. Readings: Vergil, Aeneid, books 1-5. Video Lectures: 9.1-9.10. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


10 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Video: 9.1 Myth and History
  2. Video: 9.2 Myth, History, and Virgil
  3. Video: 9.3 Aeneid Opening
  4. Video: 9.4 On Reading Vergil
  5. Video: 9.5 Landing on an Unknown Shore
  6. Video: 9.6 Trojan War Again
  7. Video: 9.7 Retelling Tales
  8. Video: 9.8 Two Themes
  9. Video: 9.9 Dido and Marriage
  10. Video: 9.10 Funeral Games for Anchises
  11. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: The Roman Hero, Remade
  12. Lecture: Aeneid, books 1-5
  13. Lecture: Further Readings: Aeneas Before the Aeneid

Graded: Quiz 9: The Roman Hero, Remade

WEEK 10


Roman Myth and Ovid's Metamorphoses



Our consideration of Vergil’s tale closes with his trip to the underworld in book 6. Next, we turn to a more playful Roman poet, Ovid, whose genius is apparent in nearly every kind of register. Profound, witty, and satiric all at once, Ovid’s powerful re-tellings of many ancient myths became the versions that are most familiar to us today. Finally, through the lens of the Romans and others who "remythologize," we wrap up the course with a retrospective look at myth. Readings: Vergil, Aeneid, book 6; Ovid, Metamorphoses, books 3, 12, and 13. Video Lectures: 10.1-10.9. Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.


9 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: 10.1 The Afterlife and the Underworld
  2. Video: 10.2 Themes in the Underworld
  3. Video: 10.3 Vergil and the Theories of Myth
  4. Video: 10.4 Ovid—Background and Themes
  5. Video: 10.5 Re-visiting Thebes
  6. Video: 10.6 Trojan War Again
  7. Video: 10.7 Battle for the Arms of Achilles
  8. Video: 10.8 The Fall of Troy and the Founding of Rome
  9. Video: 10.9 Conclusion
  10. Demande de discussion: Discussion Question: Roman Myth and Ovid's Metamorphoses
  11. Lecture: Vergil, Aeneid, book 6; Ovid, Metamorphoses, books 3, 12, 13

Graded: Quiz 10: Roman Myth and Ovid's Metamorphoses
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