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The Ancient Greek Hero – Hour Zero


Introduction to the course

I have started another new course. Just as I finished the Introduction to Philosophy I stared a new  one.

The Ancient Greek Hero
HarvardX, Spring 2013

Source : Richeast .org

ProfessorsGregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies.

Isn’t it wonderful to have all these eminent professors talking to us and teaching us for nothing? I can’t get enough of it (yet).

This course  centers on selected readings of texts, all translated from the original Greek into English. The texts include the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey; the Hesiodic Theogony and Works and Days; selected songs of Sappho and Pindar; selections from the Histories of Herodotus; the Agamemnon,Libation Bearers, and Eumenides of Aeschylus; the Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus of Sophocles; the Hippolytus and Bacchae of Euripides; and the Apology and Phaedo of Plato. Also included are selections from Pausanias and Philostratus.

In the first hour – hour zero  -was an introduction to the book and reading materials – all of them are free-source.

The introduction had some useful  vocabulary that will be used in the rest of the course which will cover the eight to fourth century BCE (Before the Common Era) although there will be some  later texts -eg Pausanias is dated to the second century CE (common era).

In the term”Ancient Greek History”  ‘ancient’ means three periods

archaic -8th to roughly the 5th

classical – roughly the 2nd half of the 5th

post-classical – fourth century to now (from about the death of Socrates in 399 BCE

There is no place where one really feels at home any more. So the thing that one longs to get back to, before anything else, is whatever place there may be where one could feel at home, and that is because it is in that place – and in that place alone – where one would really like to feel at home. That place is the world of the Greeks.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values (1885)

We first considered  the ancient world of the classical period. At that time “Greece” was not really a “country” or a “nation,”but city-states eith single language in common, Greek. In the classical period, speakers of the Greek language called themselves Hellēnes or ‘Hellenes’.

Ancient Greece didn’t only cover what we now of of as Greece but went all the way up into France (formerly Phoenician). Marseilles used to be Massalia.  I found this map of ancient Greece on Wikipedia. The one under it is a language map.

Source and links : Plato-dialogues.org

Source : Wipipedia

After looking at what ancient Greece included we then looked at an

Introduction to Homeric Poetry

Homer. Source : Wikipedia

Homeric poetry is a cover term for two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

They are both epics.  By force of its prestige, the Iliad sets the standard for the definition of the word epican expansive poem of enormous scope, composed in an old-fashioned and superbly elevated style of language, concerning the wondrous deeds of heroes.

The Greek word hero didn’t have the same meaning as it has today. They were men and women from the past with superhuman powers but not necessarily good. They had descended from the immortal Gods. A prime example is Achilles. This, the greatest hero of the Iliad, was the son of  Thetis, a sea-goddess known for her far-reaching cosmic powers. Achilles’ father is mortal and so is he.

Mortal is a dominant gene so if only one mortal is in your ascendants you will be mortal. The gods can bring these mortals back to life and then they will become immortal like  Hēraklēs whose farther Zeus brought him back to life after his death.

Mortality is the dominant theme in the stories of ancient Greek heroes, and the Iliad and Odyssey are no exception.The certainty that one day you will die makes you human, distinct from animals who are unaware of their future death – and from the immortal gods. All the ordeals of the human condition culminate in the ultimate ordeal of a warrior hero’s violent death in battle, detailed in all its ghastly varieties by the poetry of the Iliad.

For this reason the dominant theme in Greek heroes stories is Mortality.  Other themes are religion particularly in the worship of heroes and sacrifice.

Reading for this hour are passage A to H of Iliad.

1 Comment

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