Level of study Second Year
Credit value 20
Semester Scheduled 2012-13, 1 and 2
Love fascinates Greek writers throughout antiquity. Love is personified by two deities, Aphrodite and Eros, each of them multifaceted and mysterious; love has power over even the gods themselves. From the judgement of Paris onwards, it is the catalyst for great stories of heroism and tragedy. It causes the most intense pleasure and pain, misery and joy. It can bring out the worst of human conduct, but also the best. Philosophers find in it the key to the relationship between the human soul, with its aspirations to eternity, and the mortal, physical world through which life¿s journey must be made.
This module explores representations of love and its effects in Greek texts across a range of periods and genres. Texts will be studied in translation (though if you do know some Greek, there will be plenty of opportunities to use it).
The first semester will focus on poetry and drama, from Mimnermus¿ golden Aphrodite and Sappho¿s sweet-bitter Eros to the love-tormented heroines of tragedy: Deianeira, Phaedra, Helen. We will consider how poets find language to express the complex intensity of love, longing and desire, as well as how they use love to delve into the workings of the mind or soul and the nature of human motivation, responsibility and choice.
In semester two, we move on to the fourth century BC and study two of Plato¿s most powerful and fascinating dialogues. In Symposium, we are at a high-society party thrown by the tragic poet Agathon. The guests compete in praising love; when Socrates¿ turn comes, he tells how the mysterious priestess Diotima initiated him into philosophic love: a love which opens the soul to otherworldly realities. Phaedrus, by contrast, begins with a speech which denigrates love, a peculiar composition in which a man tries to persuade a boy to sleep with him by insisting he¿s not in love with him. This leads to discussion of love as a form of madness in which the human soul is touched by the divine, and thus into an exploration of the structure of the soul, the nature of persuasion, and what truth is and how it can be communicated. We conclude on a lighter note with the novel Daphnis & Chloe by the Roman-period author Longus, in which a girl and boy who have grown up in pastoral innocence discover that what they feel for each other is love; this discovery initiates them into awareness of the polarities between country and city, nature and culture, human and animal.