Classical Mythology Class, Day 13

The ‘heroic’ narratives explored in today’s class are united thematically in their use of ‘coalitions’ of heroes to meet the challenges of the world. From the perspective of cosmic history, this moves us away from a pre-political world in which heroes simply make the world safe for human beings by killing the dangerous parts of nature and toward a more political world where exceptional individuals have to work together and live together to thrive rather than merely survive. The motif of a coalition combines with other narrative frames like the journey or the beast-hunt and, by focusing less on individuals and more on the groups they comprise, invites audiences to think about what it means to be part of a community. This is an important framework for the story traditions of the wars around Thebes and the Trojan War.

But just because a story is about a community does not mean that questions of the individual are left un-probed. Part of what makes coalition narratives engrossing is their ability to integrate single heroic narratives into more complex story-scapes. Many of the same structural, anthropological, and metaphysical concerns of individual heroic narratives, then, are also woven into the more complex tapestry of heroic narratives. The story of Jason and the Voyage of the Argo, for example, integrates metaphysical and historical concerns of geography and defining the Greek against the other which we find in the stories of Herakles (and which appear as well in the Odyssey). At the same time, these ‘heroes’ must still face issues of civilization and the domestic sphere. Medea, as a woman, sorceress and foreigner, becomes a central focus for misogyny, xenophobia, and replacement anxiety. Gender and mortality are no less pleasant in the narratives associated with Meleager and the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Here, we find a central story where conflict over a woman (Atalanta) and division of spoils leads to a civil conflict that brings death to the hero. 

Ancient Authors Discussed

Homer, Archaic Age

Hesiod, Archaic Age

Pherecydes, Classical Period

Pindar, Early Classical Period

Euripides, Classical Period

Aristotle, Classical period

Apollonius Rhodes, Hellenistic Period

Vergil, Roman Republican/Imperial Period

Ovid, Roman Imperial Period

Apollodorus, Roman Imperial Period?

Pausanias, Roman Imperial Period


Some Suggested Course Texts

Apollodorus on Jason and the Argonauts

Ovid on Jason and Medea

Apolldorus on the Calydonian Boar Hunt

Ovid on the Calydonian Boar Hunt


Links to Blogposts

Gender, Smell, and Lemnos

Medea, Jason and their Children

Korinthian Women and the Plot against Medea

More Alternative Facts for Medea

Medea’s Marvelous Magic

Some Fragments about Meleager


Modern Authors Mentioned


Other Articles for Additional Reading

Donna Zuckerberg, “Medea’s Post-Partum Depression.” Eidolon Dec. 14, 2016

Jonathan Burgess, “The Tale of Meleager in the Iliad” Oral Tradition 31.1 51-76.

Greg Nagy, “Homer and Greek Myth.”

Betine Van Zyl Smit. 2002. “Medea the Feminist.” Acta Classica, 45, 101-12

Violaine Huisman. “Women in Crises: What Medea and Phaedra Teach Us About Mental Illness.” The Guardian June 16, 2016

       Foley, Helene. “Medea’s Divided Self.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 8, no. 1,       1989, pp. 61–85


Similar Myths


Student Links

An Interactive Map of the Voyage of the Argo, Part 1

An Interactive Map of the Voyage of the Argo, Part 2


Meleager and Atalanta Setting Out to Hunt the Calydonian Boar
Renaissance Tapestry: Meleager and Atalanta heading out to hunt Boar
Image result for medea sarcophagus
Medea Sarcophagus Altes Museum, Berlin.

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