Introduction

Explore what it means to be human today by studying what it meant to be a hero in ancient Greek times.

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In this introduction to ancient Greek culture and literature, learners will experience, in English translation, some of the most beautiful works of ancient Greek literature and song-making spanning over a thousand years from the 8th century BCE through the 3rd century CE: the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey; tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; songs of Sappho and Pindar; dialogues of Plato, and On Heroes by Philostratus. All of the resources are free and designed to be equally accessible and transformative for a wide audience.

You will gain access to a supportive learning community led by Professor Gregory Nagy and his Board of Readers, who model techniques for “reading out” of ancient texts. This approach allows readers with little or even no experience in the subject matter to begin seeing this literature as an exquisite, perfected system of communication.

No previous knowledge of Greek history, literature, or language is required. This is a project for students of any age, culture, and geographic location, and its profoundly humanistic message can be easily received without previous acquaintance with Western Classical literature.

What you'll learn:

  • To read “out of,” rather than “into,” a literary text, which is the art of close reading
  • The definition of a “hero” in the Classical Greek sense, contrasted with modern concepts of heroism
  • The relationship between epic and lyric in the ancient Greek tradition
  • To explore the interaction of text and image in the ancient Greek tradition
  • About hero cult and the role of heroes as objects of worship in ancient Greece
  • About the connection between myth and ritual in ancient Greece
  • The concept of the hero as conveyed in dramatic performance and as activated through Socratic dialogue

Meet The Faculty

Gregory Nagy

Gregory Nagy

Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University

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.

Leonard Muellner

Leonard Muellner

Professor of Classical Studies, Brandeis University; Director of IT and Publications, Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies

Leonard Muellner is Professor Emeritus 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, “Homeric Anger Revisited,” Classics@ Issue 9: Defense Mechanisms, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC, September, 2011, and “Helen’s Fatal Attraction and its Inversion,” Classical Inquires, May 3, 2016.

Kevin McGrath

Kevin McGrath

Associate of the Department of South Asian Studies, Harvard University.

Kevin 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 six works on this topic, The Sanskrit HeroStriJayaHeroic Krsna, Arjuna Pandava, and Raja Yudhisthira (forthcoming). and is presently concluding a study of the authoritative hero Bhisma. McGrath is Poet in Residence at Harvard’s Lowell House, and his most recent publications are Eroica, Supernature, which are both I-Books, and Windward, and Eros(forthcoming). He does fieldwork in the Kacch of Western Gujarat, studying kinship, landscape, and migration; In the Kacch, is a personal memoir of this work. The hero as a figure for humanistic analysis is the focus of much of McGrath's scholarly research, particularly as expressed in the poetry of Bronze Age preliterate and premonetary culture.

Keith Stone

Keith Stone

CHS Fellow in Instructional Design and Comparative Ancient Texts, Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies

Keith Stone is the Head Teaching Fellow of the Harvard College course Culture and Belief 22: The Ancient Greek Hero and Fellow in Pedagogical Development and Comparative Study of Ancient Texts (Greek Septuagint and Hebrew Bible) at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies. He earned his PhD from Harvard University in 2013 with a dissertation titled "Singing Moses's Song: A Performance-Critical Analysis of Deuteronomy's Song of Moses." Within ancient Israelite literature, religion, and history, his research focuses on the dynamics of performing in traditional settings, particularly within traditions linked to founders. Among his secondary interests are Northwest Semitic languages and inscriptions, land ideology, the psychology of abuse and trauma in biblical texts, and ancient Greek myth and hero cult. Professionally, his experience and goals include undergraduate education (e.g., student life, advising), educational technology development, instructional design, and language instruction at all levels.

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