Fall 2011

Heroes and Heroines in Ancient Athens

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-110


Rebecca H. Sinos (Section 01)


We will try to imagine the world of Athens in the fifth century B.C., a pivotal time for the course of western civilization. It was the time of great wars between Greece and Persia, of the development of democracy, and of Athenian prominence in literature and art as well as in politics.

The people of ancient Athens lived in a world full of gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, and the connections between their world and this mythic presence are evident throughout their artistic and literary creations. Our focus will be the heroic figures central to Athenian art and literature, and the ways in which these figures intersect with Athenian life, in recurrent ritual activities and in the patterns of daily existence. Readings will include tragedies by Aeschylus (Persians, the Oresteia), Sophocles (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus), and Euripides (Hippolytus, Ion, Iphigeneia among the Taurians), comedies by Aristophanes (Lysistrata, Clouds), selections from Plato’s dialogues (Apology, Symposium), and passages from the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. We will also examine the images visible on the architecture of fifth-century Athens, from the sculpture of the Parthenon to the paintings, now lost but described in ancient sources, which celebrated Athenian accomplishments in the presence of mythic heroes who appeared on earth to witness or join Athenian efforts. 

We will read slowly and carefully, considering the possible significance of brief references to mythic figures as well as the heroic characters (mythic and real) that receive more attention.  In examining the monuments of ancient Athens, we will become familiar with the conventions of Greek art as well as the details that might allow us to make connections to fifth-century events. 

Class time will be devoted to discussion of this material. We will often compare different sources, to gain a sense of the variety of the Athenians’ use of heroic imagery. Short (2-3 page) essays will be required throughout the semester, to facilitate thinking before class discussion as well as to develop ease in clear and cogent writing. By the end of the semester each student will be responsible for presenting to the class the results of the study of a particular monument or text and will submit a 5-7 page essay discussing its use of heroic imagery.

Fall semester.  Professor R. Sinos.

Cost: -0- ?


2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011