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Ancient Monsters

Session C: August 3 - August 13, 2021
9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
English and Writing
Philosophy and Society
Maria Kovalchuk

This Module will survey the various monsters imagined by the ancient inhabitants of the Mediterranean world. We will read selections from Greek and Latin literature (in translation) and view ancient Mediterranean art. This material will be presented in three units: (1) “genuine” monsters, (2) monsters with human features, and (3) humans as monsters. In addition to gaining interdisciplinary knowledge of ancient monsters, students will become acquainted with the conventions of academic discourse, the methods of literary and art criticism, and the steps of independent humanistic research.

Goals for Students

  • To gain knowledge of the different types of monsters in Greek and Latin literature and ancient Mediterranean art
  • To identify how and why the characteristics of monsters are manipulated in a literary narrative
  • To conduct research under the supervision and guidance of the instructor
  • To gain an appreciation for the Humanities

Possible Assignments

Readings (either in photocopy or free online access form)

  1. Short selections from various classical authors
  2. Lucian’s True Story (an ancient science fiction novel, 50 pages)
  3. Short selections from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Final Project

Students will give 10-minute reports on ancient monsters not covered by this syllabus. Depending on the size of the class, the reports may be done as individual or group projects. I will provide a list of ancient monsters from which the students may choose their topic. Also, I will provide clear instructions for the reports and offer advice throughout the research process.

Day 1: Introduction to Module & Classical Studies

  • Student introductions
  • Module overview: assignments, projects, and learning objectives
  • Mini-lesson: What do we mean by Classical Antiquity? What do we mean by Classical Studies?
  • Discussion: What makes a monster?

Part I: “Genuine” Monsters

Day 2: Case Study – Polyphemus

  • Discuss selections from Homer’s Odyssey
  • Discuss Theocritus’ Idyll 11 (a poem satirizing Homer’s representation of Polyphemus)
  • Look at various representations of Polyphemus in ancient Mediterranean art
  • Understand that the ancient representations of monsters are not static

Day 3: Case Study – Scylla & Charybdis, Cerberus, Phoenix

  • Discuss selections from Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, and Herodotus’ Histories
  • Look at various representations of these monsters in ancient Mediterranean art
  • Appreciate the wide variety of monsters present in the ancient imagination

Part II: Monsters with Human Features

Day 4: Case Study – Medusa, Centaur, Sirens

  • Discuss selections from Homer’s Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Hesiod’s Theogony
  • Look at various representations of these monsters in ancient Mediterranean art
  • Sign up for presentations

Day 5: Lucian’s True Story (Book 1)

  • Introduce the Greek writer Lucian and his work True Story, which is considered to be the oldest science fiction novel
  • Discuss Book 1, specifically the narrator Lucian’s travels to the Moon

Day 6: Lucian’s True Story (Book 2)

  • Discuss Book 2, specifically the narrator Lucian’s travels inside the belly of a whale and to the Isle of the Blessed
  • As a group, identify the main characteristics of the (ancient) science fiction genre and the role that monsters play in this genre Kovalchuk 3

Part III: Humans as Monsters

Day 7: Case Study – Medea

  • Discuss selections from Euripides’ play Medea
  • Discuss selections from Apollonius’ epic Argonautica
  • Look at various representations of Medea in ancient Mediterranean art
  • Understand the mechanisms behind the ways that humans are made out to be “monstrous.”

Day 8: Ancient monsters in modern thought

  • Introduce Mary Shelley and her novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus
  • Discuss selections from Frankenstein and from Hesiod’s account of Prometheus in the Works and Days • Understand the ways that ancient monsters are (re)imagined in postclassical literatures

Day 9: Student presentations

  • Depending on the size of the class, we will have individual or group presentations of 10 minutes each. • Mini-presentation: Studying Classics & Humanities in college