In this class we move from the exceptional figures who follow the heroic pattern and receive immortality to the more ‘classic’ heroes who go through challenges, overcome them, and then live mortal lives. The narratives of Perseus and Oedipus exhibit two shared patterns: both are ‘exiled’ from their proper social positions because of prophecies and then returned through dramas of mistaken identity; both defeat monsters and receive princesses as prizes.
The pairing of these two figures is intentionally provocative. Perseus exemplifies the narrative patterns and traits most often associated with heroic myth; Oedipus is most well-known for killing his father and marrying his mother. Studying them together, however, can help us understand that Oedipus’ narrative is an extreme realization of the sub-theme of paternal replacement and his status as a ‘hero’ (that is, one whose narrative follows the so-called heroic pattern) does not prevent him from engaging in troubling activities. Even though he saves his community at one point in the narrative, he is responsible for its suffering later. Perseus’ tale also benefits from the comparison: readings of other ancient accounts give much more attention to the identity and importance of Medusa. From the perspective of gender especially, Perseus’ narrative can be understood as having much greater complexity.
Ancient Authors Discussed
Homer, Archaic Age
Hesiod, Archaic Age
Pindar, Early Classical Period
Sophocles, Greek Classical period
Ovid, Roman Imperial Period
Apollodorus, Roman Imperial Period?
Pausanias, Roman Imperial Period
Suda, Byzantine Period
Some Suggested Course Texts
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos
Homer, Odyssey Book 11.271-320
Links to Blogposts
Modern Authors Mentioned
Other Articles for Additional Reading
E. T. E. Barker and J. P. Christensen. 2008. “Oedipus of Many Pains: Strategies of Contest on Homeric Poetry.”LICS 8
Christobel Hastings. “The Timeless Myth of Medusa, a Rape Victim Turned Into a Monster.” Broadly.Vice.Com April 9, 2018.
Kate Topper. 2007. “Perseus, the Maiden Medusa, and the Imagery of Abduction.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, vol. 76, no. 1, 2007: 73–105.
Craig Chalquist. “Why I seldom Teach the hero’s Journey Any More.”Huffington Post, Dec, 6 2017.
Sarah Nicholson. 2011. “The Problem of Woman as Hero in the Work of Joseph Campbell.” Feminist Theology 19.2. Also try here.
Thomas Pavel. 2013. “reflections on the Oedipus Myth.” Yale French Studies 123, Rethinking Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) (2013), pp. 118-128.
Cynthia Chase. 1979. “Oedipal Textuality: Reading Freud’s Reading of Oedipus.” Diacritics, Vol. 9, No. 1, The Tropology of Freud (Spring, 1979), pp. 53-68.