Greek and Roman Myth: Source of Music, Poetry and Art (55+)

Of the countless sources that have inspired artists through the centuries, few are as enduring as the legends of Greek and Roman mythology.

We’ll discuss Homer’s Iliad, the first great poem in Western literature, in relation to Tennyson’s Ulysses and along with paintings that reflect the tumultuous Trojan War, the downfall of Troy and Odysseus’ tortuous journey to Ithaca. We’ll also look at Aeschylus’ tragedy recounting Agamemnon’s return to Argos. Many paintings, poems, dramas and musical works reflect the tragedies of Apollo and Daphne, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Aeneas and Dido. We’ll consider stories told by Virgil and Ovid, as well as fragments of Sappho’s beautiful poetry from the 7th century BCE.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

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What will I learn?

Week 1:

Homer’s Iliad (c. 800 BCE) opens with the feud between Achilles and Agamemnon in the ninth year of the Trojan War, and Vergil (70-19 BCE) gives many more details about the earlier events that triggered the war. We will consider the history, politics, religion and prevailing attitudes of the time gleaned from the poets about this Bronze Age story.

Week 2:

Odysseus’s journey from Troy inspired not just Homer, but later poets including Alfred Lord Tennyson. Written in 1833, Ulysses reflects Tennyson’s thoughts on Odysseus in later life. We’ll look at this as well as Homer’s rendition of Odysseus’s journey from Troy and the magic and myth involved in his odyssey.

Week 3:

Aeschylus in the 5th century BCE wrote the tragic drama of the great Agamemnon’s return to Thebes.  Agamemnon was a descendant of Tantalus, on whose house the gods wreaked revenge through the generations, for Tantalus’s murdering of his own son. Bitterness, anger and revenge are interwoven in this myth, reflecting the tremendous influence of the gods that had caused Agamemnon to sacrifice his beloved daughter for an army, victory or perhaps greed.

Week 4:

Aeneas, a Trojan hero and son of Aphrodite, was saved from the fires of Troy to fulfill his destiny of founding Rome. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas laments the tragic death of Dido, and the struggle of Aeneas to complete his mission. Orpheus and Eurydice is another love story about which music has been composed and we will look at paintings and stories around this beautiful myth also involving mortal and immortal lineage.

Week 5:

The Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Book 1, tells the story of the Greek gods Daphne and Apollo. The power of Greek immortals varied but, in the Greek myths, human emotions of love, jealousy and vengeance are ever present. The story of Daphne and Apollo has inspired paintings and music for centuries; we will look at some of these, and at other stories retold by Ovid.  

Week 6:

Sappho, the first known female poet, was born and lived on the island of Lesbos in the 7th century BCE. Much of her poetry has been lost or destroyed, but archeologists have found fragments on crumbling papyrus or broken pottery; few of her poems have been saved intact. A picture of her life has been put together from this meagre collection and we will consider these remnants in our last class.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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