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Classical Studies 2200 Midterm: Classics Notes Term 2

Classical Studies
Course Code
CS 2200
Aara Suksi
Study Guide

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Classics Textbook Notes: Term II
Heroes of Myth: Man Divided Against Himself
The Heroic Pattern
- The adventures of the Greek heroes typically follow a traditional pattern
- The hero is often born in an unusual (or unnatural) fashion and as an infant faces terrible danger,
which he survives
- The hero often has two fathers, a divine one (real one) and a human father figure, from whom he often
faces threats
oThese threats represent a projection of the hero’s own hostility toward his father, whom he
perceives as a rival for his mother’s affection
oThis fantasy of having a “good” divine father and a “bad” human one is the hero’s way of coping
with the guilt at his unconscious desire to kill his biological father
- The hero also often demonstrates prodigious powers, even in childhood
- In adulthood he craves adventure and, seeking to test his own powers, embarks on a quest or series of
quests  a journey of discovery during which he will learn about himself, his society and his universe
oIn the course of that quest, he is eventually isolated from his fellow humans and must battle
nightmarish monsters, usually including some in serpent or dragon form
oThe hero will also battle with barbarians who would destroy Greek civilization
Both Theseus and Heracles were depicted battling the Amazons, and Theseus is said to
have protected Athens from invasions by the monstrous women who threatened
patriarchal powers
- Ultimately, the hero must confront divine or cosmic powers themselves
- His journey often culminates in a trip to the Underworld, from which he returns, bringing new
awareness of himself, his limitations and his relationship to the forces that govern the universe
oThe hero’s trip to the Underworld has been interpreted as a descent into the “womb” of the
Earth goddess, connecting the masculine ego of the hero with the feminine principle
oOther’s see this as a trip to the unconscious
The Hero as Redeemer
- The hero as a redemptive figure emerges in myth as humans enter the fallen world, the world of time,
of death and decay
- Prometheus’s gifts to humankind of sacrifice and fire serve to reconnect the fallen world of mortals to
the world of gods
oSacrifice restores a form of mediated communication with the gods  the communication
established by the symbolic sharing of a meal
oFire provides both the means for humans to cook their food and the means to create
- The hero’s function is redemptive  by his half-divine nature, his glorious deeds and his relentless
pursuit of immortality, he uplifts humanity from its dismal condition and reminds us of our godlike
- For the hero, the final burden of his humanity is the necessity of confronting his own mortality
- In the polarities of the hero’s experiences, nature and culture, and the human and the divine converge
to produce a being who is contradictory to his very essence
oProtesting this condition, the ancient Sumerian hero Gilgamesh asks of the sun god, “If this
quest if not to be achieved, why did you create me the irresistible urge to attempt it?”
The Isolation of the Hero
- The more successful the hero is at reconnecting humanity the more the hero constitutes a potential;
threat or rival to the gods
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- In his singular drive to burst through the tantalizingly transparent ceiling of mortality, the hero figure is
isolated by his own uniqueness  no one understands his compulsion towards excess
- The hero it the ultimate unique individual, yet he craves human companionship and love
oGilgamesh had the companion Enkidu to ease his loneliness, but even Enkidu fails to
understand his friend’s determination to do combat with Humbaba  the terrifying deity of the
- The ultimate isolation of the hero figure is even more emphatically evident in his relationship with
oThe female is at best a distraction and at worst a threat
oThe bonds of love, domestic contentment, and/or sexual indulgence are similarly destructive to
the heroic task
oAlthough there are exceptions (Odysseus), the hero must typically reject, tame or even kill the
women in his life
oThe enmity or Hera toward Heracles likewise reflects this essential antagonism
The Hero and Society
- Charged with defending civilization from rampaging beasts who would destroy it and return
humankind to the savage conditions from which it has only barely emerged, the hero has unique gifts
that allow him to protect society from threats to personal, economic or cultural survival
- In addition, by his exploits and travels, he adds to humanity’s body of knowledge, both geographic and
oGilgamesh brings back knowledge of the world before the Flood, recovering the prehistory or
Uruk and recording it for future generations
- The hero represents an emergent civilization’s self-consciousness
- Humans are all too capable of backsliding into savagery and losing all they have gained
oIt is the hero who bears the burden of protecting society, often on behalf of the kings who
organize the armies or appoint the tasks
- The hero’s material skills, such as his potential for violence and his impulsivity can threaten society
oWhen we first meet Gilgamesh he is causing havoc in Uruk, raping the women and distracting
the men from their work
oIn the Bronze Age the men destroy each other because they are so violent
oThe men in the Age of Heroes constitute a second attempt at redemption
- The social role of mythic heroes also acquired a political dimension, as cities that were associated with
specific heroes took advantage of those figures’ reputations to glorify their own public images
oPerseus and Heracles are associated with the Argolid region  including Sparta and Thebes
which are both rivals to Athens
oTheseus is associated with Athens
The Hero as Centaur: Image of the Divided Self
- The hero often becomes a danger to the civilization he is charged with protecting in a time of peace
oThey reward him for his violent acts when is serves society but when it is not necessary they
cannot control him
- The hero, despite his frequent battles with the creatures, resembles the centaur
oA literal divided creature
oCombining a human head and upper torso with a horse’s rear end, the centaurs embody the
best and worst of human potentialities, brains and brawn
- Centaurs embody animal nature, raw and unrestrained
oThey are said to eat uncooked food and are unable to control themselves when drinking
oInvited to the wedding of a Lapith princess, the centaurs characteristically get drunk and
attempt to carry off and rape the Lapith women
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A horrible battle follows in which King Pirithous and his guests, including Heracles and
Theseus drive off the centaurs
oThe leader of the centaurs Chiron, is temperate and wise
He instructs Asclepius in medicine
He tries to stop the other centaurs at the Lapith wedding, but is shot by Heracles
poisoned arrow
He is unable to die, so he offers to trade places with Prometheus
He is transformed into a constellation, Centaurus, while Heracles will be elevated to
divine status
- In Euripides’s Heraceidae, Heracles and Hebe intercede from the heavens and miraculously causes
Heracles’s now elderly former assistant Iolaus to be young again for a day in order to take revenge on
- Theseus is invoked after his death as a protector of Athens
- Odysseus has cults established in his honour
- Oedipus undergoes apotheosis and ascends to the heavens in a cloud of glory at his death in the sacred
grove of the Eumenides to remain a source of perpetual blessing to the people of Athens
oApotheosis  the elevation of someone to divine status
The Early Hero: Perseus
- Perseus is one of the earliest of the Greek heroes
- Perseus performs all of his exploits wither with the aid of or on behalf of women
oHe maintains mutually supportive relationships with them throughout his career
- He does not journey to the Underworld
Perseus’s Early Life
- Perseus’s mother is Danae
oShe had been imprisoned in a bronze tower by her father, Acrisius  king of Argos
oHe wanted to keep her from all men in order to protect his rulership by preventing the
fulfillment of a prophecy that a son of Danae would kill him
oZeus comes to her in a shower of golden rain and she is pregnant
- Perseus is born half-divine
oThe gods seem to identify closely with Perseus
- When Perseus is born, Acrisius sets his daughter and grandson adrift at sea in a chest
oA symbol of birth and death
oConnecting Perseus to the cycle of life, death and rebirth that is a traditional province of the
Great Goddess
- The opposing powers of ale and female, human and divine, are more closely reconciled than they will
be in later hero myths
- Danae and Perseus are protected by Zeus
oInstead of drowning the float to shore of the island of Seriphus where they are taken in by the
fisherman Dictys
oDanger threatens, as the hero experiences the hostility of yet another father-substitute, King
Dictys brother
Danae refuses the king, and to protect her Perseus offers to bring him a gift of whatever
he chooses
The king asks for the head of Medusa  supposedly an impossible task and therefore a
way to get rid of Perseus
- Perseus does not hesitate to volunteer for impossible missions, possessing, by virtue of his divine
parentage, the courage and skill to succeed
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