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
Links to Blogposts
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