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Level 5

5AACTL24 Myth and literature: ancient stories, modern meanings

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor 2017/18: Dr Sotirios Paraschas
Teaching pattern
: 20 x 1-hour class (twice weekly)
AvailabilityPlease see module list for relevant year
2017/18: 2 x essay of 2,000 words (each essay is weighted at 50%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The module explores the transformations of ancient myths and of the notion and functions of myth in modern literature, and examines a series of nineteenth-century and twentieth-century works.

Ever since its earliest beginnings in the poems of Homer and the tragedies of classical Athens, imaginative literature has been inspired by stories much older still: the myths of gods and heroes inherited from oral tradition. Myth is a worldwide phenomenon, studied by anthropologists in the field, as well as by those who seek the origins of ‘Literature’ as we understand it today. But in the literature of modern and pre-modern Europe, a special place has always been reserved for the myths of ancient Greece. This was never more true than during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, when the decline in religious faith in the West led imaginative writers to explore and to re-interpret these ancient stories in search for a distinctively modern understanding of the fundamentals that define human nature and experience.

The module introduces students to a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives on the nature of both myth and literature, and explores their implications through critical examination of landmark texts of the Romantic and Modernist movements, alongside less well-known literary reworkings of myth in the twentieth century. Particular emphasis is given to poems and novels in Modern Greek (studied in English translation), in which the encounter between ancient myth and the literary Modernism of western Europe and America can be studied in its fullest extent.

Provisional Teaching Plan 

Week 1: Myths and their meanings in the ancient and modern worlds

  • Week 2: Making a modern myth in the nineteenth century: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
  • Week 3: In search of lost faith? – dreaming of an age of gold (extracts from Keats, Shelley, Byron, Dostoyevsky, Mann)
  • Week 4: Twentieth-century meanings: Oedipus and the sphinx (Freud, Lévi-Strauss, Seferis)
  • Week 5: Modernity and modernism: Eliot, The Waste Land and review of Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
  • Week 6: Myth and history: Seferis, Mythistorema (1935)
  • Week 7: Making a modern myth in the twentieth century: Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek (1941/1946)
  • Week 8: Redeeming religion? Kazantzakis, Christ Recrucified (1948/1954)
  • Week 9: Mythology of the Left: Camus, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ (1942), Ritsos, Repetitions (1969 [selections in translation])
  • Week 10: Myths of today and tomorrow: one or more recently published works, chosen by students for discussion

The texts listed above for weeks 2-9.  

Preparatory reading: the texts listed above for weeks 2, 7 and 8 are quite long, and students are advised to make a start on those during the summer before beginning the module.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Coupe, L. Myth (The New Critical Idiom series), (London: Routledge, 2009, first ed. 1997)
  • March, J. Dictionary of classical mythology (London: Cassell, 1998)



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