University of Notre Dame

Ancient Heroes

Course Number: CLAS 20350-1

More than two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks and Romans developed very complex societies in which heroes played a very important role. Many of them are still remembered as heroes today.This class will explore the stories of some famous ancient Greek and Roman heroes and heroines, from Odysseus and Penelope to Jason and Medea, from Romulus to Aeneas and Dido, and compare these figures to heroes and heroines of our time, such as the Western hero, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia of Star Wars, and Clint Eastwood of Unforgiven. References to biblical, early Christian and medieval heroes will also be included, starting from Abraham and ending with Dante’s Ulysses. With the help of both literary and multimedial support, you will be able to feel the presence of these heroes in front of you, before turning to assess the heroism of these figures critically. First, we will focus on the medium by which the stories of ancient and modern heroes are conveyed. A long epic poem, a tragedy with only one setting, and a television series or film, all offer different kinds of narrative about heroes. Second, we will analyze the influence of the historical and cultural contexts on each given model of hero. Not surprisingly, the fame of the Homeric Odysseus relates to the glorious beginning of ancient Greek culture, while Neoptolemus’ desire to leave Troy forever reflects the complexity of Classical Greece, in which the paradigm of epic glory was challenged by the emergence of individual freedom within the city-states. Finally, we will reflect upon the definition of hero and the evolution of this notion from ancient to modern times. We will start from the combination of strength and sadness typical of Greek heroes, before switching to examine the close connection between heroism and history proper to the Roman world. Then we will conclude with the modern notion of the Hollywood hero.If you would like to discuss and reflect more on ancient and modern heroes in ways which can fill you with new ideals and ambitions, this is the course for you.