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Retelling Myths in Greek and Roman Art

CX281-15/CX381-15

The module explores the re-telling of mythological stories in Greek and Roman visual art, from the sixth century BCE to the fourth 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 in a range of media including architectural sculpture, painting, mosaics, vases, and in a range of contexts: funerary, domestic and public, from both the Greek and Roman worlds.
    This module will complement the module Greek Myth: Narratives, sources, approaches running in Term 1, but can also be taken separately. A museum field trip will be organised for Reading week.
Outline syllabus

This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.

1: Introduction: narrating stories in Art; theories and approaches
2: Myth in architectural sculpture 1
3: Myth in architectural sculpture 2
4: Myth on Greek vases (+ Seminar group presentations)
5: Myth in the public sphere in Rome: triumph and connoisseurship
6: Reading Week: Museum field trip
7: Mythological sculpture in the Roman domestic sphere (+ seminar group presentations)
8: Roman Wall-paintings: myth and narrative
9: Mosaics: myth and paideia
10: Myth in Funerary Art (+ Seminar group presentations

  • 2 Revision seminars.
    1: Revision: approaching seen picture gobbets.
    2: Revision: approaching unseen picture gobbets.
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.
Indicative reading list

Barringer, J. M. Art, myth, and ritual in classical Greece 2008
Brilliant, R. Visual Narratives 1984.
Dignas, B, and Audley-Miller, L. eds. Wandering Myths : Transcultural Uses of Myth in the Ancient World. E-Book 2018
Elsner, J. and Huskinson, J. eds., Life, Death and Representation. Some new work on Roman sarcophagi.
Fantuzzi, M. and Tsagalis, C. eds., The Greek Epic Cycle and its ancient reception: a companion. Cambridge, 496-542. E-book
Giuliani, L. Image and Myth: A history of pictorial Narration in Greek art,
Himmelmann, N. Reading Greek Art
Holliday, P. Narrative and Event in Ancient Art
Junker, K. 2012 Interpreting the Images of Greek Myths. Cambridge.
Lorenz, K. 2016. Ancient mythological images and their interpretation : an introduction to iconology, semiotics, and image studies in classical art history . Cambridge . E-book.
Marconi, C. Temple decoration and cultural identity in the archaic Greek world : the metopes of Selinus 2007
Newby, Z. Greek myths in Roman art and Culture (2016) (e-book).
Schultz, P. and von den Hoff, R. eds., Structure, image, ornament: architectural sculpture in the Greek world 2009.
Shapiro, H. A. Myth into Art. 1994
Shapiro, H. Olympian Gods at Home and Abroad
Stansbury O’Donnell, M. Pictorial Narrative in Ancient Greek Art. 1999.
Small, J. P. The Parallel Worlds of Art and Text
Snodgrass, A. Homer and the Artists
Squire, M. Art and text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity
Squire, M. The Iliad in a Nutshell
Webb, P. Hellenistic architectural sculpture: figural motifs in western Anatolia and the Aegean Islands

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 art-works
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
  • critical thinking
  • problem solving
  • active lifelong learning
  • communication
  • information literacy
  • professionalism