Live stream! | The Council of Independent Colleges Seminar, July 25-29, at CHS in Washington DC

The Ancient Greek Hero

Ancient Greece in the Modern College Classroom

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Through close readings and discussions of translated Greek poetry and philosophy, the seminar will explore what it means to be human. The organizing principle will be the study of a model of humanity, the hērōs (hero), as it can be reconstructed by way of textual evidence attesting to myths and rituals from throughout the ancient Greek-speaking world. Beginning with the Homeric poems, the seminar also will engage with works of Aeschylus and Plato, providing participants who teach in a variety of disciplines with approaches to integrate the literature of ancient Greece into a wide range of courses.


The aims of this seminar encompass an exploration of (1) ancient Greek culture in general, (2) heroes and the traditional narratives and rituals associated with them, and (3) the nature of scholarly discourse and collaboration.

Ancient Greek Culture

With regard to the larger cultural context of ancient Greece and its relationship to our world today, we will pursue the following objectives:

  • Understanding the nature of Homeric poetry, that is, how generations of singers created an oral tradition, how performances from the oral traditions became literary artifacts, how the various versions of the transcribed poem evolved into the text we commonly use today, and how those processes gave rise to poems that reflect different historical and cultural contexts.
  • Understanding the conventions of Athenian drama, for example, how playwrights situated themselves in a creative tradition by appropriating and transforming traditional narratives and the work of earlier poets; how, where, when, and why the polis produced the works of playwrights; and how the work of the playwrights, producers, and performers engaged with artistic expectations and the specific social and political circumstances of their time.
  • Understanding the performative nature and context of Plato’s dialogues especially as they relate to other forms of public intellectual, political, and religious performances, for example, those involving the Homeric poems and dramatic texts.

The designation “hero” appears with some frequency in a variety of contemporary contexts, for example, as the honorific designation people ascribe to those who face dangers and intense challenges during emergencies, who endure difficult, painful, or physically debilitating situations, who perform acts of critical importance, and those who play a significant roles in the lives of others. For those who live in certain regions of the country, a hero can even refer to a type of sandwich. In the texts we will examine during this seminar, ἥρωες [hērōes] refer very specifically to human beings who become objects of worship. This seminar will introduce participants to a variety of hērōes, the stories associated with them, and the rituals that constitute their worship, with the goal of understanding not only the conventions of ancient hero cults and how they relate to modern counterparts but also the way hērōes represent a paradigm for defining what it means to be a human being.

Scholarly Discourse and Collaboration

In all of its activities the CHS is committed to developing new models of communication and collaboration. In designing our programs we seek to promote the ideals of intergenerationality, transparency, and inclusivity. Consequently, we welcome participation from students in the field at all stages in their intellectual evolution; our meetings and the outcomes of our work are open and accessible to the community; and we actively seek participants from all walks of life, backgrounds, and points of view. Our goal for this seminar is to establish an environment of free and open interaction and invite participants to imagine, create, and refine modes of academic communication and interaction between themselves and their students and develop a network of professional connections that can support those creative processes beyond the limits of this workshop.