HUM2.4x : The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (Hours 16-21): The Hero in Tragedy


Focusing on the Greek hero best known to us from the perspective of world literature – as viewed through the lens of Tragedy – this is the fourth of five modules on the Ancient Greek Hero as portrayed in classical literature, song, performance, art, and cult.

About this Course

HUM 2.4x. The fourth of five modules in The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, “Hours 16-21: The Hero in Tragedy” finds us in the world of high classical poetry in drama, as brought to life in three tragedies of Aeschylus, two of Sophocles, and two of Euripides. We see here the Greek hero as best known to us from the perspective of world literature. The medium of drama makes heroes seem more familiar to us, since we think we know drama better than we know other verbal arts such as epic and lyric, but, by the time we finish analyzing the seven classical tragedies that we will be reading, we will see that the traditions of hero cult, infused into the verbal art of drama, cast an altogether new light on tragedy, defamiliarizing for us not only the heroes illuminated by this art but also the art itself. We will see, then, maybe for the first time ever, that the ancient Greek hero of tragedy was not at all like us – even less like us than the hero of epic or lyric. The male and female heroes of drama were larger than life, far more so than we may ever have imagined, reaching levels of both nobility and debasement that challenge our sense of equilibrium in the cosmos. As our close readings of our seven chosen tragedies will show, there was a disequilibrium in myths about heroes in the remote past, and this disequilibrium could be compensated only by experiencing the equilibrium of rituals in the immediate present – rituals culminating in the drama of heroic tragedy.
See other courses in this series:
Module 1, “Hours 1-5: Epic and Lyric”
Module 2, “Hours 6-11: Signs of the Hero in Epic and Iconography”
Module 3, “Hours 12-15: Cult of Heroes”
Module 5, “Hours 22-24: Plato and Beyond”


Audit this Course

Audit this course for free and have complete access to all the course material, activities, tests, and forums. If your work is satisfactory and you abide by the Honor Code, you'll receive a personalized Honor Code Certificate to showcase your achievement.


Earn Harvard Credit

Optionally, you can enroll in the traditional, semester-long course at Harvard Extension School. Courses are offered in fall or spring semesters, or both. You have the option to enroll for undergraduate or graduate credit and will receive grades on a Harvard transcript. Learn more about the course on the Harvard Extension School website.

Course Staff

  • Gregory Nagy

    Gregory Nagy is the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and is the Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC. In his publications, he has pioneered an approach to Greek literature that integrates diachronic and synchronic perspectives. His books include The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (Johns Hopkins University Press), which won the Goodwin Award of Merit, American Philological Association, in 1982; also Pindar's Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Homeric Questions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), Homeric Responses (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), Homer’s Text and Language (University of Illinois Press 2004), Homer the Classic (Harvard University Press, online 2008, print 2009), and Homer the Preclassic (University of California Press 2010). He co-edited with Stephen A. Mitchell the 40th anniversary second edition of Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales (Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature vol. 24; Harvard University Press, 2000), co-authoring with Mitchell the new Introduction, pp. vii-xxix. Professor Nagy has taught versions of this course to Harvard College undergraduates and Harvard Extension School students for over thirty-five years. Throughout his career Nagy has been a consistently strong advocate for the use of information technology in both teaching and research.


  • Leonard Muellner

    Leonard Muellner is Professor of Classical Studies at Brandeis University and Director for IT and Publications at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies. Educated at Harvard (Ph.D. 1973), his scholarly interests center on Homeric epic, with special interests in historical linguistics, anthropological approaches to the study of myth, and the poetics of oral traditional poetry. His recent work includes "Grieving Achilles," in Homeric Contexts: Neoanalysis and the Interpretation of Oral Poetry, ed. A. Rengakos, F. Montanari, and C. Tsagalis, Trends in Classics, Supplementary Volume 12, Berlin, 2012, pp. 187-210, and “Homeric Anger Revisited,” Classics@ Issue 9: Defense Mechanisms, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC, September, 2011.

  • Kevin McGrath

    Kevin McGrath is an Associate of the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University. His research centers on the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata; he has published four works on this topic, The Sanskrit HeroStriJaya, and Heroic Krsna, and is presently concluding a study of epic kingship and preliteracy. McGrath is Poet in Residence at Harvard’s Lowell House, and his most recent publications are Eroica and Supernature, which are both I-books. He does fieldwork in the Kacch of Western Gujarat, studying kinship, landscape, and migration. The hero as a figure for humanistic analysis is the focus of much of McGrath's scholarly work, particularly as expressed in the poetry of Bronze Age preliterate and premonetary culture.

  • Keith Stone

    Keith Stone is the Head Teaching Fellow of the Harvard College course Culture and Belief 22: The Ancient Greek Hero and Fellow in Pedagogical Development and Comparative Study of Ancient Texts (Greek Septuagint and Hebrew Bible) at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies. He earned his PhD from Harvard University in 2013 with a dissertation titled "Singing Moses's Song: A Performance-Critical Analysis of Deuteronomy's Song of Moses." Within ancient Israelite literature, religion, and history, his research focuses on the dynamics of performing in traditional settings, particularly within traditions linked to founders. Among his secondary interests are Northwest Semitic languages and inscriptions, land ideology, the psychology of abuse and trauma in biblical texts, and ancient Greek myth and hero cult. Professionally, his experience and goals include undergraduate education (e.g., student life, advising), educational technology development, instructional design, and language instruction at all levels.
  • Graeme Bird

    Dr. Graeme Bird is a native of New Zealand and Associate Professor of Linguistics and Classics at Gordon College. He is also a participant in the Harvard-affiliated Homer Multitext Project and Lecturer in Extension at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education, where he currently teaches courses on Mathematics and the Greeks and Quantitative Reasoning: Practical Math. His teaching and research interests include Greek and Latin language and literature, Indo-European linguistics, and early English literature. He is the author of Multitextuality in the Homeric Iliad: The Witness of the Ptolemaic Papyri and “Critical Signs—Drawing Attention to ‘Special’ Lines of Homer’s Iliad in the Manuscript Venetus A” in Recapturing a Homeric Legacy: Images and Insights from the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad (3.5 MB PDF download). He enjoys exploring the connections between such diverse disciplines as Homeric poetry, historical linguistics, Greek mathematics, computer programming, and jazz improvisation.

  • Joel Christensen

    Dr. Joel Christensen received his BA from Brandeis University in Classics and English and his PhD in Classics from New York University, earning an additional Certificate in Poetics and Theory. He is actively engaged in research that explores the development of literature and language in ancient Greece. His dissertation, “The Failure of Speech: Rhetoric and Politics in the Iliad“, an examination of the Iliad‘s internal conception of effective speech and the political importance of language, has developed into a series of articles on the use of language in Homer and the relationship between our Iliad  and a putative poetic tradition. In addition to explorations of language in the Iliad, Dr. Christensen also collaborates with E.T.E. Barker (Open University, U. K.) on rivalry and generic relationships in Archaic Greek poetry. Together they have published articles on the new Archilochus fragment, Oedipus in the Odyssey and are in the midst of a long-term project on the use of Theban myths in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Barker and Christensen have published a Beginner’s Guide to Homer and plan to publish their second book (Homer’s Thebes) within the next few years. In conjunction with his teaching and research interests, Dr. Christensen also writes on myth and its relationship with literary representations: he has published on the Gilgamesh poems, Greek myth and modern science fiction. In addition to being an active researcher, Dr. Christensen also has interests in New Media and conventional publications; he has recently started serving as the book review editor for The Classical Journal.
  • Thomas Walsh

    Thomas Walsh taught at Occidental College until the year 2000, when he retired as a member of the Senior Faculty, after serving as an Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies. Following retirement, he taught classics in the Literature Department at the University of California at Santa Cruz until 2008, when he was appointed lecturer in Celtic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His book Fighting words and Feuding Words: Anger and the Homeric Poems appeared in the series Greek Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches in 2005. He continues to write on  and think about issues of archaic poetics and the rhetorical strategies of early literatures.
  • Claudia Filos

    Claudia Filos is Manager for Curriculum and Community Development at Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies. She holds an MA from Brandeis University, and her thesis is titled "Steadfast in a Multiform Tradition: ἔμπεδος and ἀσφαλής in Homer and Beyond". Her teaching and research interests include Homer, oral poetics, the cult of saints, and comparative work on the reception of classical themes and diction during late antiquity and the romantic period. She is committed to improving opportunities for meaningful research by undergraduates and nontraditional scholars and to promoting the study of classical languages and literature outside the university setting.

  • Jeff Emanuel

    Jeff Emanuel is HarvardX’s inaugural Senior Fellow. As a founding member of HarvardX, Jeff brings a commitment to top-quality online education to his role managing the development and publication of, and conducting research into, the organization's online learning experiences in archaeology and the humanities. Additionally, as a nautical archaeologist, Jeff's academic research and publications focus on maritime affairs in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean during the transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age, with particular emphasis on naval warfare and the development and spread of maritime technology in this key transitional period, as well as its connections to ancient Greek epic. His recent publications include “Cretan Lie and Historical Truth: Examining Odysseus’ Raid on Egypt in its Late Bronze Age Context” (G. Nagy festschrift, 2012), “Sherden from the Sea: The Arrival, Integration, and Acculturation of a Sea People,” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 4 (2013), 14-27, and “The Sea Peoples, Egypt, and the Aegean: Transference of Maritime Technology in the Late Bronze–Early Iron Transition (LH IIIB–C),” Aegean Studies 1 (2014), 13-51.

  • Natasha Bershadsky

    Natasha Bershadsky recently received her PhD degree from the University of Chicago. Her thesis, Pushing the Boundaries of Myth: Transformations of Ancient Border Wars in Archaic and Classical Greece, explores the interconnections of history, myth, ritual and politics. She is also interested in the Greek perception of poet as a hero, and the reverberations of this idea in the later conceptions of the figure of author in poetry and fiction. Her publications include "The Unbreakable Shield: Thematics of Sakos and Aspis," Classical Philology 105 (2010): 1–24, and “A Picnic, a Tomb and a Crow: Hesiod's Cult in the Works and Days,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 106 (2011) 1–45.

  • 22 October 2014, 4 weeks
Course properties:
  • Free:
  • Paid:
  • Certificate:
  • MOOC:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Email-course:
  • Language: English Gb


No reviews yet. Want to be the first?

Register to leave a review

More from 'edX':
Acea3daf-ca58-4998-b08c-ba76b97ce78a-1f1dd684c645.small iLabX – The Internet Masterclass
You want to know how the Internet works? You want to fully understand its mechanisms...
3e923ed8-1743-4a60-9871-d9f838937e1e-dcb18aa309cf.small Gender and Intersectionality
Gender intersects with everything. Using examples from popular culture, classical...
C2750912-8e29-426f-91b8-c03b0dd9ee8f-d3ce8d3f0f02.small Autonomous Mobile Robots
Basic concepts and algorithms for locomotion, perception, and intelligent navigation...
73397b09-f425-4c17-9f8c-b6377dd3da37-4a135f73b38e.small The New World of Arnold Schönberg's Piano Music
This course will introduce you to the solo piano works of Arnold Schönberg ...
Dcbce6da-643b-4e20-a996-de702a8d3b66-dec49be1974e.small Developmental Psychology: A Journey of Growth in Relationships
To what extent are we truly aware of the decisive influence of our relationships...

© 2013-2019