John Singer Sargent, Chiron and Achilles

Greek Mythology: Order and Chaos

Instructor: Bruce King
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Greek myth stands at the origin of “Western” thought about the nature of the cosmos, the divine, the heroic, and the human. The myths, so familiar to the modern reader yet so uncanny, present a cosmological order that answers to the deepest questions of human experience: What is the origin of everything—of the universe, the gods, and humans? How, out of primal chaos, do we arrive at ideas of time, the seasons, and labor? Why are humans gendered, and what does it mean? How can we understand and articulate the origins and meaning of collective life, justice, and social structure and emotion?

In this course, we will pursue these questions as we closely read the earliest accounts of Greek polytheism: Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, as well as the great Homeric Hymns to Demeter, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hermes. We will discuss the evolution of Zeus’ cosmic rule, with its precedent violent usurpations of paternal power and its relegation of various “monsters” to the edges of the world. And within the myth of Zeus’ coming to power and structuring of the Olympian order, we will trace the creation and vicissitudes of humans: their division into male and female, their separation from an initial nearness to the divine, their creation of both secular and sacred space. As we follow out the making of Olympian and human order, we will also give attention to the polyvalence, the humor, and subversive potential of Greek myth. Our course will conclude with readings from fragments of the Dionysian-Orphic tradition, which presents an anti-Olympian cosmology, as well as of the first fragment of Parmenides, which both narrates a mythical vision-quest and breaks new philosophical ground in Western thought.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 05 — June 26, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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