Sep 2nd 2014

HUM2.1x: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (Hours 1-5): Epic and Lyric (edX)

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Focusing on Epic (Homer’s Iliad) and Lyric (Sappho’s poems), this is the first of five modules on the Ancient Greek Hero as portrayed in classical literature, song, performance, and cult.

HUM 2.1x. The first of five modules on The Ancient Greek Hero, “Epic and Lyric” looks at ancient Greek heroes from the perspective of two different but related media of poetry and songmaking, epic and lyric. The major focus is Achilles, especially as viewed through the lens of the Homeric Iliad and through the “rose-colored glasses” of Sappho’s songs. While the epic of the Iliad is typical of verbal art that is performed by and for men, the lyric songs of Sappho derive from traditions of singing performed mainly by women of all ages, including adolescents about to be initiated into womanhood. These “women’s traditions” are best known for two kinds of singing, laments and love songs, which are interchangeable in contexts that will surprise the modern mind. Another surprise, as we will see, is that the Iliad too contains embedded “quotations” of such laments and love songs, and that our first impression of this epic as a “men’s tradition” obscures the fact that Homeric poetry channels the songs of women as well as men. A perfect expression of such “channeling” is the figure of Achilles himself, who was admired by Greek song culture as a virtuoso singer of laments and love songs in his own right. An analysis of Homeric passages that “quote” the singing of Achilles will be an integral part of our overall experience in close reading.

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