The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (Hours 6-11): Signs of the Hero in Epic and Iconography
Focusing on the interaction of Homeric epic and the visual arts, this is the second of five modules on the Ancient Greek Hero as portrayed in classical literature, song, performance, art, and cult.
About this Course
HUM 2.2x. The second of five modules in The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, “Hours 6-11: Signs of the Hero in Epic and Iconography” explores the interactions of text and image in a culture where the “text” is not a written document but a live performance and where the “image” is not based on anything that is written down but exists as a free-standing medium of the visual arts, expressing the same myths that are being systematically expressed by the medium of Homeric poetry. Almost all of the images we will be studying are samples of a form of vase painting known as the “Black Figure” technique. We will practice how to “read” such a medium, analyzing what it tells us about ancient Greek heroes like Achilles, in conjunction with our “reading” the performance tradition of the Homeric Iliad itself.
It is important to keep in mind, as we read these images and texts together, that the myths expressed by these media were meant to be taken very seriously. In the ancient Greek song culture, myth was not mere fiction. Just the opposite: myth was a formulation of eternal cosmic truths! So, the myths conveyed by the images of the paintings we will study are just as “truthful,” from the standpoint of ancient Greek song culture, as are the related myths conveyed by the Homeric Iliad. We need to read both the texts and the images of these myths as an accurate formulation of an integral system of thought the expresses most clearly and authoritatively all those things that really matter in life.
Additionally, this module foregrounds the historical fact, explored more fully in the third module (“Hours 12-15: The Cult of Heroes”), that the heroes who were characters in the myths of ancient Greek epic, lyric, and other verbal media were at the same time worshipped as superhuman forces by the communities where their bodies were thought to be hidden from outsiders. When we take for example the Homeric Odyssey, we find that the main hero of this epic, Odysseus, was a cult hero, not only an epic hero. And the agenda that center on the idea of a cult hero, like the prospect of immortalization after death, can be clearly seen in the overall plot of the odyssey, especially in the memorable scene where the hero experiences his homecoming to Ithaca at the same moment when the sun rises as he wakes from a mystical overnight sleep while sailing homeward.
Gregory NagyGregory Nagy is the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and is the Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC. In his publications, he has pioneered an approach to Greek literature that integrates diachronic and synchronic perspectives. His books include The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (Johns Hopkins University Press), which won the Goodwin Award of Merit, American Philological Association, in 1982; also Pindar's Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Homeric Questions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), Homeric Responses (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), Homer’s Text and Language (University of Illinois Press 2004), Homer the Classic (Harvard University Press, online 2008, print 2009), and Homer the Preclassic (University of California Press 2010). He co-edited with Stephen A. Mitchell the 40th-anniversary second edition of Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales (Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature vol. 24; Harvard University Press, 2000), co-authoring with Mitchell the new Introduction, pp. vii-xxix. Professor Nagy has taught versions of this course to Harvard College undergraduates and Harvard Extension School students for over thirty-five years. Throughout his career, Nagy has been a consistently strong advocate for the use of information technology in both teaching and research.
Leonard MuellnerLeonard Muellner is Professor of Classical Studies at Brandeis University and Director for IT and Publications at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies. Educated at Harvard (Ph.D. 1973), his scholarly interests center on Homeric epic, with special interests in historical linguistics, anthropological approaches to the study of myth, and the poetics of oral traditional poetry. His recent work includes "Grieving Achilles," in Homeric Contexts: Neoanalysis and the Interpretation of Oral Poetry, ed. A. Rengakos, F. Montanari, and C. Tsagalis, Trends in Classics, Supplementary Volume 12, Berlin, 2012, pp. 187-210, and “Homeric Anger Revisited,” Classics@ Issue 9: Defense Mechanisms, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC, September 2011.
Kevin McGrathKevin McGrath is an Associate of the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University. His research centers on the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata; he has published four works on this topic, The Sanskrit Hero, Stri, Jaya, and Heroic Krsna, and is presently concluding a study of epic kingship and preliteracy. McGrath is Poet in Residence at Harvard’s Lowell House, and his most recent publications are Eroica and Supernature, which are both I-books. He does fieldwork in the Kacch of Western Gujarat, studying kinship, landscape, and migration. The hero as a figure for humanistic analysis is the focus of much of McGrath's scholarly work, particularly as expressed in the poetry of Bronze Age preliterate and premonetary culture.
Claudia FilosClaudia Filos is Manager for Curriculum and Community Development at Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies. She holds an MA from Brandeis University, and her thesis is titled "Steadfast in a Multiform Tradition: ἔμπεδος and ἀσφαλής in Homer and Beyond". Her teaching and research interests include Homer, oral poetics, the cult of saints, and comparative work on the reception of classical themes and diction during late antiquity and the romantic period. She is committed to improving opportunities for meaningful research by undergraduates and nontraditional scholars and to promoting the study of classical languages and literature outside the university setting.
Jeff EmanuelJeff Emanuel is HarvardX’s inaugural Senior Fellow. As a founding member of HarvardX, Jeff brings a commitment to top-quality online education to his role managing the development and publication of, and conducting research into, the organization's online learning experiences in archaeology and the humanities. Additionally, as a nautical archaeologist, Jeff's academic research and publications focus on maritime affairs in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean during the transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age, with particular emphasis on naval warfare and the development and spread of maritime technology in this key transitional period, as well as its connections to ancient Greek epic. His recent publications include “Cretan Lie and Historical Truth: Examining Odysseus’ Raid on Egypt in its Late Bronze Age Context” (G. Nagyfestschrift, 2012), “Sherden from the Sea: The Arrival, Integration, and Acculturation of a Sea People,” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 4 (2013), 14-27, and “The Sea Peoples, Egypt, and the Aegean: Transference of Maritime Technology in the Late Bronze–Early Iron Transition (LH IIIB–C),” Aegean Studies 1 (2014), 13-51.
Natasha BershadskyNatasha Bershadsky recently received her Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago. Her thesis, Pushing the Boundaries of Myth: Transformations of Ancient Border Wars in Archaic and Classical Greece, explores the interconnections of history, myth, ritual, and politics. She is also interested in the Greek perception of poet as a hero, and the reverberations of this idea in the later conceptions of the figure of the author in poetry and fiction. Her publications include "The Unbreakable Shield: Thematics of Sakos and Aspis," Classical Philology 105 (2010): 1–24, and “A Picnic, a Tomb and a Crow: Hesiod's Cult in the Works and Days,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 106 (2011) 1–45.