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Retelling Myths in Greek and Roman Art


Please see Preparatory reading suggestions.

The moodle for this module is found here.


This module explores the retelling of mythological stories in Greek and Roman visual art, from the sixth century BCE to the fifth century CE. It will consider the ways such narratives may have generated meaning in their social, political and cultural contexts, as well as the ways we as scholars can interrogate them.

Key questions to consider include:

  • How does art portray narrative?
  • How do visual mythological narratives interact with other forms in which these stories were told?
  • What sorts of meanings could mythological narratives in art generate within different social, political and cultural contexts?
  • How does our engagement with these re-tellings fit within our wider approach to myths in Antiquity

We will explore the representation of mythological narratives from both the Greek and Roman world via a range of different media including: vases, sculptures, wall paintings, mosaics, sarcophagi, silverware, gemstones and fabric.

This module will complement the module 'Greek Myth: Narratives, Sources, Approaches' running in Term 1, but can also be taken separately.

Outline syllabus for Term 2 and 3:

Provisional outline as follows to give an indication of the topics covered, but actual sessions may differ:

Week 1: ‘Introduction’.

Week 2: ‘Myth on Greek Vases’ (focus on sixth to fifth centuries BCE).

Week 3: ‘Myth on Archaic Greek Architectural Sculpture’ (sixth century BCE).

Week 3: Seminar – ‘Resources’ (Library).

Week 4: ‘Myth on Greek Classical and Hellenistic Architectural Sculpture’ (fifth to second centuries BCE).

Week 5: ‘Myth in Rome: public art and private collections’ (first century BCE – third century CE).

Week 5: Seminar - ‘Display of mythological sculpture’.

Week 6: Reading Week.

Week 7: ‘Mythological Wall Paintings’ (focus on Campania, first century CE).

Week 8: ‘Myth on Mosaics’ (second to third centuries CE).

Week 8: Seminar – ‘Mythological wall paintings in context’.

Week 9: ‘Roman Mythological Sarcophagi’ (second to third centuries CE).

Week 10: ‘Myth in Late Antiquity’ (various media, fourth to fifth centuries CE).

Term 3: Revision/exam preparation and British Museum field trip - date TBC.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Show fully developed research, writing and communication skills.
  • Describe and interpret the composition, style and iconography of a range of ancient monuments and art-works, including those not previously studied.
  • Demonstrate critical awareness of the advantages and limitations of visual material in the study of the ancient world.
  • Demonstrate the ability to evaluate the merits of different methodological approaches to the material.
  • Set their findings into a wider comparative context, drawing in other aspects of the study of the ancient world.
  • Show the ability to seek out appropriate secondary literature and show discernment in the types of primary evidence addressed.
Subject specific skills:

By the end of the module students should be able to show skills of visual analysis by describing and interpreting the composition, style and iconography of a range of ancient monuments and artworks
including materials previously unseen.

They will also be able to show the following intellectual skills:

  • Critical awareness of the advantages and limitations of visual material in the study of the ancient world.
  • The ability to evaluate the merits of different methodological approaches to the material.
  • The ability to select and present material clearly and with a coherent argument both verbally and in writing.
Transferable skills:

By the end of the module, students should also have gained the following transferable skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Active lifelong learning
  • Communication
  • Information literacy
  • Professionalism
Indicative reading list:

Barringer, J. M. (2008) Art, Myth, and Ritual in Classical Greece.
Brilliant, R. (1984) Visual Narratives.
Dignas, B, and Audley-Miller, L. (2018) eds. Wandering Myths : Transcultural Uses of Myth in the Ancient World. E-Book.
Elsner, J. and Huskinson, J. (2010) eds., Life, Death and Representation. Some new work on Roman sarcophagi.
Fantuzzi, M. and Tsagalis, C. (2015) eds., The Greek Epic Cycle and its ancient reception: a companion. E-book
Giuliani, L. (2013) Image and Myth: A history of pictorial Narration in Greek art.
Himmelmann, N. (1998) Reading Greek Art.
Holliday, P. (1993) Narrative and Event in Ancient Art.
Junker, K. (2012) Interpreting the Images of Greek Myths.
Lorenz, K. (2016) Ancient mythological images and their interpretation : an introduction to iconology, semiotics, and image studies in classical art history. E-book.
Marconi, C. (2007) Temple decoration and cultural identity in the archaic Greek world : the metopes of Selinus.
Newby, Z. (2016) Greek Myths in Roman Art and Culture. E-book.
Schultz, P. and von den Hoff, R. (2009) eds., Structure, image, ornament: architectural sculpture in the Greek world.
Shapiro, H. A. (1994) Myth into Art.
Stansbury O’Donnell, M. (1999) Pictorial Narrative in Ancient Greek Art. 
Small, J. P. (2003) The Parallel Worlds of Classical Art and Text.
Snodgrass, A. (1998) Homer and the Artists.
Squire, M. (2009) Image and text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity.
Squire, M. (2011) The Iliad in a Nutshell.
Webb, P. (1996) Hellenistic architectural sculpture: figural motifs in western Anatolia and the Aegean Islands.