The Ancient Greek Hero : Harvard edX

The Ancient Greek Hero

A survey of ancient Greek literature focusing on classical concepts of the hero and how they can inform our understanding of the human condition.

About this Course


What is it to be human, and how can ancient concepts of the heroic and anti-heroic inform our understanding of the human condition? That question is at the core of The Ancient Greek Hero, which introduces (or reintroduces) students to the great texts of classical Greek culture by focusing on concepts of the Hero in an engaging, highly comparative way.

The classical Greeks’ concepts of Heroes and the “heroic” were very different from the way we understand the term today. In this course, students analyze Greek heroes and anti-heroes in their own historical contexts, in order to gain an understanding of these concepts as they were originally understood while also learning how they can inform our understanding of the human condition in general.

In Greek tradition, a hero was a human, male or female, of the remote past, who was endowed with superhuman abilities by virtue of being descended from an immortal god. Rather than being paragons of virtue, as heroes are viewed in many modern cultures, ancient Greek heroes had all of the qualities and faults of their fellow humans, but on a much larger scale. Further, despite their mortality, heroes, like the gods, were objects of cult worship – a dimension which is also explored in depth in the course.

The original sources studied in this course include the Homeric Iliad andOdyssey; tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; songs of Sappho and Pindar; dialogues of Plato; historical texts of Herodotus; and more, including the intriguing but rarely studied dialogue “On Heroes” by Philostratus. All works are presented in English translation, with attention to the subtleties of the original Greek. These original sources are frequently supplemented both by ancient art and by modern comparanda, including opera and cinema (from Jacques Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffman to Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Blade Runner).

The true hero of the course is the logos (“word”) of reasoned expression, as activated by Socratic dialogue. The logos of dialogue requires both careful thought and close (or “slow”) reading, which is a core skill taught in this class. The course begins by considering the heroes of Homer’s epics and ends with Plato’s memories of the final days of Socrates — memories which can only be fully understood by a reader who has gained a thorough comprehension of the ancient Greek hero in all his or her various manifestations.

Using modern technology and engaging texts, The Ancient Greek Heroprovides students who have no previous background in classical Greek civilization with a fully engaging and immediately accessible introduction to the most beautiful moments in this ancient literature, its myths, and its ritual practices.

Before your course starts, try the new edX Demo where you can explore the fun, interactive learning environment and virtual labs. Learn more.

Earn academic credit for this course through Harvard Extension School

Academic credit can be earned for this course by completing additional work through Harvard Extension School in conjunction with the course materials on edX. Learn more…

WAYS TO TAKE THIS EDX COURSE:

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Course Staff

  • Gregory Nagy

    Gregory Nagy

    Gregory 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. Besides teaching at the Harvard campus in Cambridge, MA, Nagy is also the Director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.

  • Leonard Muellner

    Leonard Muellner

    Leonard Muellner is Professor of Classical Studies at Brandeis University and Director for IT and Publications at Harvard University’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,” [email protected] Issue 9: Defense Mechanisms, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC, September, 2011.

  • Kevin McGrath

    Kevin McGrath

    Kevin McGrath is an Associate of the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University. His research centers on the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, and he has published four works on this topic: The Sanskrit HeroStriJaya, and Heroic Krsna, and is presently concluding a study of epic kingship and preliteracy. McGrath is Poet in Residence at Lowell House and his most recent publications are Eroica and Supernaturewhich 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 Filos

    Claudia Filos

    Claudia Filos holds an MA from Brandeis University and is the Assistant Editor of Online Publications for the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. 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 Emanuel

    Jeff Emanuel

    Jeff Emanuel is Senior Fellow in the Humanities and Archaeological Sciences at HarvardX. As Harvard University’s inaugural HarvardX Fellow, and as a veteran of both “traditional” and “non-traditional” education, Jeff brings a commitment to top-quality online education to his role managing the development and publication of the organization’s online learning experiences in archaeology and the humanities. Additionally, as a nautical archaeologist, Jeff’s academic research focuses on maritime affairs in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean during the transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age (Late Helladic IIIB-IIIC), with particular emphasis on naval warfare, the development and spread of maritime technology, and the role of the so-called ‘Sea Peoples’ in this key transitional period.

  • Natasha Bershadsky

    Natasha Bershadsky

    Natasha Bershadsky recently received her PhD 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 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.

  • Glynnis Fawkes

    Glynnis Fawkes

    Glynnis Fawkes holds a joint MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) and Tufts University. Her paintings and cartoons have been exhibited internationally, and she has worked extensively as illustrator on archaeological projects in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel. A Fulbright Fellowship to Cyprus allowed her to publish Archaeology Lives in Cyprus(Hellenic Bank, Nicosia 2001), a book of paintings, andCartoons of Cyprus (Moufflon Publications, Nicosia, 2001). She teaches a course in Making Comics at the University of Vermont, and was named among the Best American Comics Notables in 2012. Her drawings for the Homeric Hymns seek to bring out the humor and pathos of the interactions between men and women, humans and gods. Her work may be seen at GlynnisFawkes.com.

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