Tell me, Muse, about a man of winding ways, forced to wander far and wide, after sacking Troy’s sacred citadel. He saw the towns of many peoples, came to know their thinking, and, out at sea, suffered in his heart many pains, as he fought for his own life and the homecoming of his companions, but, hard as he tried, he could not save them. Due to their own recklessness, the fools perished, they who devoured the cattle of the sun-god Helios, and he took away the day of their return. Goddess, daughter of Zeus, begin at the moment of your choosing, and speak for us all.
–Odyssey, I.1-10 (my translation)
Narratives command enormous influence over our lives. They are the tales that guide us on fantastic voyages to distant lands and allow us to explore strange and wonderful worlds. They are the stories that hold up mirrors to our own world and provide the backdrop for discussions of culture, meaning, and identity. In another sense, they are the political ideologies, belief systems, and cultural myths that inform the way we live and interact with each other.
Particularly influential are the narratives of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Their myths of gods, heroes, and monsters remain as captivating as ever, and even now, elements of these stories are reworked to create new artistic expressions. The ideals of democracy, citizenship, and rational inquiry that come to us from the Classical world lie at the heart of what we think of as Western civilization (though this cultural and ideological notion of “the West” has increasingly–and rightfully–been critiqued even by Classicists themselves). They have played a key role in the formation of modern political philosophies and systems of government. Most significantly, in my view, Classical literature presents a nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of the human experience that contributes to its enduring significance today.
Join me on this quest to come to a greater understanding of the power and impact of words, stories, and narratives. The emphasis of this journey will be the literature and myths of ancient Greece and Rome and the influence they continue to exert in our modern media and culture, but all sorts of narratives will be discussed, whether they are found in ancient texts, in film or on television, in the records of history, or in modern pop-culture.
Brian graduated summa cum laude from Santa Clara University, with a BA in Classical Studies, an interdisciplinary field that incorporates all aspects of ancient Greek and Roman civilization and culture, from language to literature to history and philosophy. His favorite stories from the ancient world are the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Greek tragedies, and the works of the Latin poets, Vergil and Ovid. Starting in the fall of 2018, he will be attending the MA program in Classical Language and Literature at Stanford University.