The Ancient Greek Hero

A survey of ancient Greek literature focusing on classical concepts of the hero and how they can inform our understanding of the human condition.

About The Course

*Note - This is an Archived course*

This is a past/archived course. At this time, you can only explore this course in a self-paced fashion. Certain features of this course may not be active, but many people enjoy watching the videos and working with the materials. Make sure to check for reruns of this course.

What is it to be human, and how can ancient concepts of the heroic and anti-heroic inform our understanding of the human condition? That question is at the core of The Ancient Greek Hero, which introduces (or reintroduces) students to the great texts of classical Greek culture by focusing on concepts of the Hero in an engaging, highly comparative way.

The classical Greeks' concepts of Heroes and the "heroic" were very different from the way we understand the term today. In this course, students analyze Greek heroes and anti-heroes in their own historical contexts, in order to gain an understanding of these concepts as they were originally understood while also learning how they can inform our understanding of the human condition in general.

In Greek tradition, a hero was a human, male or female, of the remote past, who was endowed with superhuman abilities by virtue of being descended from an immortal god. Rather than being paragons of virtue, as heroes are viewed in many modern cultures, ancient Greek heroes had all of the qualities and faults of their fellow humans, but on a much larger scale. Further, despite their mortality, heroes, like the gods, were objects of cult worship – a dimension which is also explored in depth in the course.

The original sources studied in this course include the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey; tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; songs of Sappho and Pindar; dialogues of Plato; historical texts of Herodotus; and more, including the intriguing but rarely studied dialogue "On Heroes" by Philostratus. All works are presented in English translation, with attention to the subtleties of the original Greek. These original sources are frequently supplemented both by ancient art and by modern comparanda, including opera and cinema (from Jacques Offenbach's opera Tales of Hoffman to Ridley Scott's science fiction classic Blade Runner).

The true hero of the course is the logos ("word") of reasoned expression, as activated by Socratic dialogue. The logos of dialogue requires both careful thought and close (or "slow") reading, which is a core skill taught in this class. The course begins by considering the heroes of Homer's epics and ends with Plato's memories of the final days of Socrates -- memories which can only be fully understood by a reader who has gained a thorough comprehension of the ancient Greek hero in all his or her various manifestations.

Using modern technology and engaging texts, The Ancient Greek Hero provides students who have no previous background in classical Greek civilization with a fully engaging and immediately accessible introduction to the most beautiful moments in this ancient literature, its myths, and its ritual practices.

Before your course starts, try the new edX Demo where you can explore the fun, interactive learning environment and virtual labs. Learn more.

Earn academic credit for this course through Harvard Extension School: 

Academic credit can be earned for this course by completing additional work through Harvard Extension School in conjunction with the course materials on edX. Learn more...

Recommended Background

No previous knowledge of Greek history, literature, or language is required. All texts will be read in English translation. This is a course for students of any age, culture, and geographic... see more...