Gods and Mortals: Athens, Rome, Jerusalem
Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.
Ancient texts are filled with deities, humans, and everything in between. What makes a god a god, and what makes a human a human? Where do they come from? How should they act? How do we, as humans, become more like the gods? In this course, we will look at a variety of ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish texts to see how writers in the ancient world answered these questions. Some of the literature we survey may seem familiar--but the answers it holds will be surprising.
This course will focus on ideas about gods and humanity in ancient religion (specifically Greek, Roman, and Judaeo-Christian, although we will also examine some lesser-known texts from Manichaean and Zoroastrian authors). It is designed to look in depth at what important texts and thinkers from the ancient Mediterranean world have to say about where humans come from, how they relate to the gods (or God), and how both should act and live. We will also look at the process of trying to become "like" the divine, a practice that looks strikingly different from how we might conceive of it today (and surprisingly similar across many traditions). In effect, this course will function as an introduction to ancient religion through the reading of important (and often well-known) myths and literature. Students will have a firm grasp of how to read these texts as sources by the end of the course, and a solid grounding in their interpretation.
We will look at these texts in their original contexts, starting with ancient Greek and Jewish creation stories, and moving through later interpretations of these texts. Foundation myths will serve as our point of embarkation, but we will cover a wide array of topics, including philosophy, worship, and how ancient authors dealt with the question of evil. The course will move through texts as diverse as Plato, Virgil, the New Testament, and the Talmud, endeavoring to contextualize each of them, and to introduce the students to a wide range of sources.
By the end of this course, students will be able to read and analyze a selection of ancient texts critically. They will be able to dissect and discuss the rhetoric of religion, humanity, and divinity that a variety of authors use, and articulate arguments about the relationship between gods and humans. Students will also be able to place these arguments historically, and articulate why it is important to read and study evidence contextually.