Classics 430: Greek and Roman Mythology

Required Texts--these have been ordered and are available in our very own University Bookstore

Ovid, Heroides.  Translated with introductions and notes by H. Isbell.  (Penguin Books) 1990

Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) was a Roman poet born in Sulmona (modern Abruzzo, in Italy) on 20 March 43 BCE.*  He came from a fairly well-off family of high social rank, and--like most upper-class men of his day--was educated in rhetoric (the art of public speaking) in Rome.  After he finished his education and traveled a bit (he went to Greece when he got out of school--who wouldn't?), he returned to Rome, had a brief political career, and--finding it a bit unsatisfactory, no doubt--he finally turned his mind to literary studies, especially poems that centered around themes of love and mythology.

The Heroides (he-rO-i-deze) are a collection of poems in the form of letters (we call them 'epistolary poems,' which just means 'poems in the form of letters') which pretend to have been written by famous mythological women (or 'heroines'--the Latin word heroides just means, 'the heroines') to the men who abandoned, outraged, or otherwise wronged them.  These poems will provide interesting points of departure for our journey into Greek and Roman myth for several reasons.  First, they were written rather late (the 'single Heroides' [nos. 1-15] were probably written between 10, say, and 3 BCE*; the 'double Heroides' [nos. 16-21] were probably written between ca. 4 and 8 CE**), by which I mean toward the end of a long tradition of classical (Greek and Roman) mythological heritage.  Second, they are written in the (male-idealized) voices of women--although we must remember that we do not have in these poems the 'real' voices of mythological women, we do have a male attempt to 'give voice to' mythological and literary figures who had hitherto been silent (most literary representations of mythological topics are male-oriented); as such, they allow us to enter into the myths 'through the back door' and to approach centuries of mythological tradition from a relatively novel angle.  Finally, these poems do not 'tell one myth' so much as they open the doors to many myths--and mythological themes--at once and so will give us lots of 'room to move' as we proceed through the themes of this course.

B. P. Powell, Classical Myth (Third Edition).  (Prentice Hall) 2001

Powell provides a fine introduction to many of the basics of ancient and Classical myth and you will find it handy as a resource during the course of the Quarter.   Individual comments and / or observations re. specifics in Powell (I do not always agree with his reading of particular myths) will be given during the course of the term.

* BCE = "Before the Common Era":  this is a non-religion-specific way of providing a date for the years prior to the hypothetical year '0' (for instance, Caesar was murdered on 15 March, 44 BCEó44 years before the Christian-posited birth of Jesus and the beginning of the "Common Era"), but can be thought of as 'identical' to the B.C. ("before Christ") dating system.

** CE = "Common Era":  the 'Common Era' can be thought of as identical to the A.D. (anno domini = "in the year of our Lord") dating system.  Thus, the CE designation will be used for all years after the hypothetical year '0' (this course is being taught in 2002 CE).

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