Syllabus

By Pam Reponen

Course: Greek Myths in Literature

Professor: Rev. Edward J. Vodoklys, S.J., '72 (right)

Description: An annual offering of the classics department, the course presents a comparison of classical and modern versions of several ancient Greek myths, examining the relationships between myth and literature, and the reasons
for the stories' endurance over time. Students read primary sources, ana- lyzing how various authors adapt the traditional stories for their own pur- poses, audiences and times. With the focus of the class on dramatic versions of the myths, consideration is also given to their portrayal in narrative poetry, music, cinema and other genres.

Units: The Antigone myth interpreted by Sophocles (below) and Jean Anouilh; Aeschylus' Oresteia myth; Eugene O'Neill's adapt-ation of Oresteia; the Electra myth interpreted by Sophocles, Euripides and Jean-Paul Sartre; the Medea myth interpreted by Euripides and Seneca; and the Philoctetes myth interpreted by Sophocles and Seamus Heaney

Requirements: Three papers (five to seven pages each) based on one of the above units, written in the form of a play or dialogue; final synthesis paper/play on a recurring theme found in the three units not previously selected; quizzes/class participation

On the day HCM visited class: Discussion on the presentation of the Electra myth in German composer Richard Strauss' opera Elektra, based on the libretto of Austrian playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who was inspired by Sophocles' tragedy. Overview of the life and thought of 20th-century French philosopher and author Jean-Paul Sartre; consideration of his play The Flies in the context of the German occupation of France during World War II, and in terms of Sartre's reworking of the Electra myth to develop existentialist themes, including the primacy of human freedom and the importance of choices in self-creation over adherence to the core values of the past

Professor bio: A 1972 graduate of Holy Cross and a Fenwick Scholar his fourth year, Fr. Vodoklys has taught at Holy Cross since 1992; he began serving as a senior lecturer in the classics department in 1994. Receiving his master's degree and Ph.D. in classical philology from Harvard University, Fr. Vodoklys has taught courses in Latin and Greek, "advanced author" courses and courses in translation; directed honors theses and tutorials for students on various topics, including "Classical Discernment from Homer to Ignatius"; and, since 2008, has served on the faculty of Montserrat, the College's first-year program.  

Professor quote: "A primary goal of this course is to have students develop a greater understanding of myth as conveyor of the truth and struggles of the human experience," says Fr. Vodoklys, "and, also, to realize that, while the deeper lessons learned through myth are timeless, they need to be reinterpreted in new contexts for each generation. In writing their own plays based on the themes presented in the texts, students gain insight into the power of these truths in their own lives."

Student quote: "After reading ancient and contemporary versions of Greek myths, I've come to understand that, although the details change, the underlining human experiences found in these myths know no specific time or place and speak to us all," says Conor Cummings '13, of West Hartford, Conn. 

Photo by John Buckingham