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GED/PHI2201 Gods and Humans——Greek Myths and Ethics: Home

Course Description

This course will introduce students to the culture of Ancient Greece, in the way of learning and reflecting the myths about the Olympian gods and heroes, which is always considered as the origins of western thoughts. To understand a culture better, we need to go back to its beginning period, the myths period. By doing so, we’ll learn not only interesting and mythical tales, but also the way of understanding the world and society among early humans. The topics shown in the tales are eternal, such as human nature and fate, conflicts between justice and law, which still deserve further discussion nowadays. Due to the characteristics of myths in all cultures (lack of systematic writing in early days), this course will involve many literary works, like ancient Greek dramas.

Recommended Books

The Iliad

Iliad is the tale of 51 days’ fighting in the tenth year of the Trojan War. The hero Achilles fell into anger with the Greeks, due to conflict with the king Agamemnon over a female slave. Achilles thus refused to go to the battlefield for the Greeks, and the Greeks suffered great loss during the war without the leadership of Achilles. Achilles returned to the battlefield only after the death of his closest friend Patroclus, who was killed by the Trojan leader Hector. Achilles killed Hector to revenge, but eventually returned Hector’s body to Hector’s father Priam, as Priam reminded him of his own father, another old man who will never see his son again.

The Odyssey

The Odyssey begins ten years after the end of the Trojan War, but Odysseus, king of Ithaca, has still not returned. In his absence, Odysseus is assumed to have died, due to which his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors. After ten years of adventure on the sea, experiencing Polyphemus- the one-eyed giant son of Poseidon, Aeolus- a king endowed by the gods with the winds, Laestrygonians- a tribe of man-eating giants, Circe- daughter of the sun-god Helios, Sirens, and Calypso, Odyssey finally returns to Ithaca, kills all the suitors, and reclaims his wife and household.

The Birth of Tragedy

Nietzsche published this book in 1872. This book is both a historical study of the origin and decline of Greek tragedy and a manifesto for the decadence and the regeneration of contemporary German culture. What links the two is the central role ascribed to music. Nietzsche argues that Greek tragedy is born of music, while his hopes for German cultural renewal look to Wagnerian opera for their fulfilment. Chapters 1-18 are devoted to an investigation of Greek tragedy, and Chapters 19-25 proceeds to examine the development of opera and modern German music.


This book narrates the story of Antigone addressed by Sophocles. Oedipus's sons, Eteocles and Polynices parts with each other on the issue who reigned the kingdom. Polynices gathers an army and attacks the city of Thebes. Both brothers are killed in the battle. King Creon, who has ascended to the throne of Thebes after the death of the brothers, decrees that Polynices is not to be buried. Antigone, Polynices' sister, claiming the superiority of divine over human law, defies the king's order and is executed. Creon's son Haemon who is in love with Antigone commits suicide, and his mother Queen Eurydice also kills herself in despair over her son's death.

The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H. J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology

This handbook is a completely rewritten and revised version of H. J. Rose’s original text with incorporation of the latest research by Robin Hard. The narrative framework of the book remains that of Rose. Beginning with the emergence of the world from Chaos and Night, Hard starts his narrative from description of the mythological beings. Then Hard proceeds to present the rule of the Olympian Gods and the age of the heroes. The book finally ends with the association between legends of Early Rome and Greek myth. The text includes full documentation of the ancient sources, maps and genealogical tables.

Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece

Originally published in French in two volumes, this new single-volume edition collects 17 essays earlier published as either reprints or new work. The first published part of the work in English (Chapters 1-7 and 13) are entirely devoted to tragedy of the fifth century in general and to the systematic analysis of several individual plays: Aeschylus' Oresteia and Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Philoctetes. The second half contains nine essays, among which are studies that explore much the same areas as the first half but in different plays: Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes, Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, and Euripides' Bacchae. These plays are analyzed according to the tenets of structural analysis.

The Myth of Sisyphus

This work is a crucial exposition of existentialist thought. Influenced by works such as Don Juan and the novels of Franz Kafka, with such fundamental subject that “it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning and that therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face,” the essay presents a meditation of suicide- the question of living or not living in a universe devoid of order or meaning. Camus posits a way out of despair, reaffirming the value of personal existence and the possibility of life lived with dignity and authenticity.

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