Tu/Th 9:30-11:00 4104 Dwinelle Instructor: Frank Bezner
This course revolves around the reception of classical myth and literature, focusing on what seems to be an unlikely mythical figure — Herakles.
Herakles, the slayer of men (and attacker of gods) may seem a simple, one-dimensional character, an embodiment of raw physical power triumphing over twelve nearly impossible labors. Liberating others, slaying monsters, and surviving sojourns to the underworld, he seems to be an Ancient super-man, whose strength can be reinterpreted as mental discipline and self-control: Herakles represents power, courage, control, heroism. This, however, is only one side of a hero who is more complicated than it seems. Situated in a hybrid realm between the gods and man, this demi-god was also an embodiment of excess, savagery, and arrogance: he looses his temper and sanity; kills and maims innocents, including his closest family; and can be weak: in comic portrayals he looses his dignity when drunken; he is falls desperately for women; and, despite being the “best of all men”, has to serve a much weaker relative. Full of tensions and ambiguities, this figure thus provokes complex questions about the ambivalences of heroism, power, trauma, desire, and gender.
In this course, we will study how Ancient and post-Ancient poets used the figure of Heracles to engage in such questions. Altogether we will read works by Pindar, Sophocles, Euripides, Vergil, Seneca; medieval and Renaissance poems about Herakles; and modern treatments by Hoelderlin, Ezra Pound, and Peter Weiss. Students will receive a thorough introduction into the epochs, genres and contexts behind our texts; and will learn how classical texts were read and re-interpreted within specific intellectual, aesthetic, institutional, and political frameworks, and as part of changing conceptions of what ‘Antiquity’ meant during different periods. All our texts will be made available via an electronic course reader.