Greek and Roman Mythology – Course – Review

Greek and Roman Mythology – Coursera

Greek and Roman mythology is fascinating, in many ways it is at the core of many Western traditional stories.  Even today we are enchanted by such tales of heroes, monsters, errant gods, and the goings on of those far removed and yet ever close. Hercules, Odysseus, the Trojan horse, Oedipus, and much more. The terms have fallen into modern usages – An odyssey denoting an epic journey, a Herculean task, a Trojan horse for a gift which is not all it seems.  Such tales spawned others – and in many ways influence modern heroic fiction.

I’ve studied Classics in the past – although it was more for the historical perspective and so this course really appealed.  I’ve also studied with Coursera – an online organisation which offers courses from a variety of sources, including the University of Pennsylvania who provide this particular course.

Myths intrigue me, I read a lot of mythic fiction, and write it too in my Tales of Erana series.

This is what the Coursera site says about the course ‘Myths are traditional stories that have endured over a long time. Some of them have to do with events of great importance, such as the founding of a nation. Others tell the stories of great heroes and heroines and their exploits and courage in the face of adversity. Still others are simple tales about otherwise unremarkable people who get into trouble or do some great deed. What are we to make of all these tales, and why do people seem to like to hear them? This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths. Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Are they a set of blinders that all of us wear, though we do not realize it? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.’ (Coursera Website)

Does the course deliver? Yes it does. The tutor Peter Stuck is engaging, obviously knows his subject and is enthusiastic. The course is presented through a combination of videos, reading materials, quizzes, two essays and some discussion forums. The course recommends 10 hours a week of study – in truth it’s probably slightly more as some of the reading is quite long.

The subjects covered range from how the myths were perceived, the notion of pietas (duty, honour, loyalty) to religion, to food, to concept of the hero, what it meant to be a man in that society, the notion of how to treat one’s guests (or not) and familial ties. The reading includes The Odyssey – possibly THE epic adventure of antiquity and one of my first introductions to ancient Greek literature during my Diploma in Classics – so this was a very welcome re-read; The Aeneid – the tale of Aeneas and the struggle of the survivors of Troy and their quest for a new homeland – which lead (apparently) to the founding of Rome. Julius Caesar and Augustus traced their ancestry back to Aeneas and through him back to his immortal mother Venus; to the Oresteia (the tragic tale of Agamemnon after he returns from Troy); Oedipus the King (the tragic play so famous in which fate and prophecy play such a terrible role). Plus several more.

The video lectures made me think about some of the books in a new way, by focusing on aspects I may not have initially seen, and seeing the greater whole of the stories. Homer was incredibly influential and the later works often copy (or attempt to) his style and incredible narrative versatility. The books cover a period far removed from ideals and ideas of today, yet still something resonates – the challenge, the struggle and the emotions of the characters, the fight to be something more, and in some cases to survive. Of course much is different – Hesiod’s Theogony is not favourable to women, there are of course slaves in these societies, the gods are many and walk with humans, often begetting offspring in one form or another, and playing with the lives of mortals, ritual is important and there is violence – a lot of it. Actually that’s not so different from today and for much the same reasons – greed, honour, territory, religion etc.

These are not books for the faint hearted, or for those who are shocked by violence, sex, double crossing, murder, betrayal and such like. Themes in fact which tend to pervade our media – watch any soap opera and these themes are there in abundance. The influence of these authors and their work is monumental and this course helps to show why. Why this works need to be preserved and celebrated and why these cultures are so important to our own. These books are real heroic fiction, they are at the core of heroes and monsters, and of fantasy as we know it.

So, you ask, is it expensive? No it’s free. You can pay a small fee and get a certificate of completion (assuming you’ve done all the quizzes to an acceptable standard and one of the assignments) but it can be completed simply for the pleasure of it.

Is there anything I didn’t like? I did find the workload quite heavy – with work, writing, and family life commitments can be difficult to find the time and energy to put it but others may find that easier. I also didn’t use the forums much, although that was personal choice.

The course does not require any prior experience in the subject (but it helps) and assumes a level of literacy and intelligence in order to discuss and appreciate the themes and topics.

Would I recommend this? Yes, without a doubt to anyone interested in mythology, Greek and Roman literature or religion, fans of heroic fiction, and historians of the period.

#Mythology #Coursera #HeroicFiction #Fantasy #GreekandRoman

Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier – Course

Review – Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Online course from Future Learn.

#FLHadrian #Romans #History

I’ve been looking at some more online history courses for a while, but as with most things it is finding both the time and the appropriate course.  I was introduced to Future Learn last year but this is the first course I’ve managed to find time to complete.

So why this course? I’ve studied Roman History before but not specifically Roman Britain. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the most famous and most studied frontier Roman settlements, in fact it is a World Heritage site. It stretches 73 miles in the North of England, some arguing to keep out the Picts and other ‘barbarians’ in what is now Scotland. It was so much more than just a wall – complex and well-manned forts, accompanying settlements, whether the natives liked it or not, and perhaps most importantly the introduction of writing into Britain.  The Romans brought much – religion, trade, Roman culture and laws, politics and soldiers and citizens from all over the Empire. Yet it was not all smooth running, there were uprisings, revolts, and ultimately abandonment by Rome.  40 years after the Wall was built a bloody uprising occurred. This and the Jewish Diaspora which occurred in the reign of Hadrian should be remembered. Violence and terror were among the tools the Romans used to rule. There were even revolts, breakaway emperors ruling for over a decade and much intrigue.

This course covers the period of Roman occupation and beyond; archaeology – including a CSI type murder mystery and the trials of preserving remains so old, the sociological and religious aspects; the coming of Christianity and of course a good helping of history, including how the Roman army change in the . Roman influence is all over Europe, even now, and still hold a lot of fascination. From AD 122 to about AD410 the wall was occupied, initially commissioned by the builder, scholar and Emperor Hadrian, who ruled 117 to 138 AD.  Of course Hadrian was not the first Emperor to covet the misty and mysterious Isles of Britain – Claudius invaded in AD 43.

So enough background – what are my thoughts on this course:

Subject matter: Very interesting and well handled. This is an introduction presented by professors and scholars, many from the University of Newcastle, it gives a good overall view of the era, the history and the challenges. Questions prompt the learning to consider the evidence and interaction with other online students is encouraged.

Time spent: It is stated as 4 hours a week – I’d say for the basics that is about right, although with all the other ‘suggested reading’ it would be a lot more. It depends really on how much time one spends on the discussion forums.

Teaching tools: Videos – useful and varied – I especially liked the re-enactment of the Roman banquet, the videos of the students involved discussing clothing, jewellery and the thoughts of the characters. However – the sound quality of a few of the vids wasn’t great. There was a lot of background hum and noise. Aside from this the videos were a key part of the course.

Reading: The information in the reading sections was not overwhelming – it was informative and thought-invoking but not overly difficult (at least for me).

Quizzes: A useful tool to test what had been learned.

The course was free, although the Certificate of Completion had a cost – if one wanted to purchase.

Summary: Interesting, well taught by knowledgeable staff and students, varied in its subjects and overall very enjoyable.  I would recommend for those interested in Roman History, British History, Archaeology and online learning.