Art and Myth in Ancient Greece

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This course will examine the use of mythic imagery in the visual arts of the Greeks and peoples of ancient Italy from the eighth century BCE to the later Roman Empire. Although concentrating on vase painting, wall painting, and sculpture, we will consider all media—both public and private. We will focus largely on problems of content or interpretation, with special attention to the role of patronage in the choice and mode of presentation of the mythic themes. In order to appreciate the underlying cultural or religious significance of the myths and their visual expression, we will also examine the relation of the artworks to contemporary literature and the impact of significant historical events or trends such as the emergence of tyranny and democracy or the Greek conflict with Persia. In the first semester, we will examine the earlier Greek development from the Geometric to the Classical periods, focusing on the paradigmatic function of mythic narratives—especially the central conception of the hero and the role of women in Greek religion and society. Discussions in the second semester will center on later Greek art and the adaptation of Greek myth in the art of the Etruscans and Romans. Class discussions will be based on assigned readings; conference work will address topics of particular interest to students.