"Classical" Mythology & the Western Tradition
Instructor: Professor Ann Kuttner
"The difference between a historian and a poet is not that one writes, in prose, and the other in verse ... The real difference is this: the one speaks things that did happen, the other, those which can happen. That is why poiesis is and more serious than historia: for poiesis speaks a general truth, historia only particulars."
So says Aristotle about the stories - mythoi - in epic and dramatic representations of gods and humans of the very long ago, or of a fantasized present; and his statement also elevates mythological images over any historical narrative! For us, "mythology" usually means a story which engages the divine or supernatural, set long ago, and we group as "classical mythology" the traditions of a millenium of Mediterranean culture, Greek, Roman and Etruscan. This course explores and critiques the Greco-Roman mythological image, and our study of it. First, because of its overwhelming presence in the ancient past, in the arts of community and family, power and pleasure, belief and philosophy; second, because in the fateful European and now American fascination with the "classical" past, the classicizing mythological image is the badge of that fascination. How did the ancient world use similar forms for such different meanings and purposes, how did it come to live, and die, surrounded by mythological story in lifelike sculpture, overwhleming frescoes, floors underfoot, the very cloth on one's body? Why are we in the post-antique enthralled by these stories from alien races, alien ages, alien cultures?
This course will explore some of the varied ancient uses of myth, and some of the major story cycles like the battles of Gods and Giants and of Greeks and Amazons, the epics of city sack, voyage and colony in the Odyssey and the Aeneid, and the stories of monsters, loves, and fateful choices grouped around Dionysos, Apollo, Venus, Perseus and Hercules. The Roman fusion of history and myth will be exemplary - for instance, the salvific and nationalistic Lupa Romana story (Romulus & Remus nursed by the wolf), as displayed in the Republican and Imperial Forum, on Augustus' Ara Pacis, in Constantine's circus in Constantinople, and outside the popes' Lateran basilica in Rome! Later weeks will move into the post-antique, to examine medieval and Renaissance works of art, the Renaissance "rediscovery" of anicent images themselves, and later works of art which twisted the classical to a present identity. We will look at selected case studies, like Titian's Marsyas, Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, Burne-Jones' Pygmalion and Galatea, or Thomas Hart Benson's Rape of Persephone; and we will look at some sites where "classical mythology" was made to accumulate for civic and class identity, eg in the great piazzas of Florence and Venice, the Roman villa or the the English country house.
Students are invited to bring forward, now, their own topic suggestions, for the seminar is **meant** to be hospitable to students' larger or other projects, like senior theses in planning or in progress.
Enrollment by permission of the instructor, email@example.com. Of interest especially to students in ArtH, ClSt, RelSt, Anthro, and Renaissance studies. Junior-senior level advised. Art history is not a prerequisite.