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Unit information: Tragedy and Self in 2015/16

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Unit name Tragedy and Self
Unit code CLASM0051
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Lampe
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Why does Iphigenia’s change of heart, in Euripides Iphigenia in Aulis, strike Aristotle as wildly improbable? Why does Epictetus believe that the tyrant cannot threaten a wise man? When Odysseus asks Sophocles’ Philoctetes, “Give me yourself,” what is Philoctetes supposed to give? All of these questions provoke us to think about what makes someone who they are. “Selfhood” is a hot topic in philosophy and cultural theory today, but rather than engaging the contemporary debate head-on, in this unit we’ll approach it through Greek tragedy. In fact, in most instances we will find that the reception of Greek tragedy has been instrumental in the formulation of theories of selfhood. Hence we will be able simultaneously to develop more sophisticated ways of understanding what makes us who we are and richer enjoyment of some of antiquity’s most famous dramas. We will also sample modern cinema and drama, including Heinrich von Kleist’s Penthesilea, Charles Mee’s Orestes 2.0, and Slavoj Zizek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.

Note: Mee's tragedy includes potentially offensive language and content

By the end of this unit, students should:

  • be familiar with ancient ideas relevant to selfhood from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Poetics and Epictetus’ Discourses;
  • be familiar with modern ideas relevant to selfhood from Hegel, Lacan, Kristeva, Cixous, and Ricoeur;
  • have a detailed and thoughtful acquaintance with Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, Sophocles’ Antigone and Philoctetes, Kleist’s Penthesilea, and Charles Mee’s Orestes 2.0;
  • understand how the reception of these tragedies has influenced the formulation of theories of selfhood;
  • have had opportunities to sharpen their understanding of all of these things in seminar conversations, oral presentations, and written assignments.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  1. gain a basic understanding of central ideas and communicative strategies of the four central texts,
  2. come to appreciate how the texts bear on the unit themes (humanity, the cosmos, and the gods; rationality, persuasion, and the

power of words),

  1. gain sophistication in discussing several sub-themes (e.g. myth, rhetoric, and philosophy; space and time; freedom and necessity; mortality and death; nature and reality; individual and community)
  2. Have abundant opportunities to develop their understanding through written response and seminar discussion
  3. Have the opportunity to develop their skill in formal writing

Teaching Information

Mini-lectures (approximately 30 minutes) and seminars (including short student presentations)

Assessment Information

Summative Assessment: one essay of 5,000 words

Formative Assessment: feedback on oral presentation

Reading and References

  • Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis. Trans. C. Walker. Chicago.
  • Mee, C. L. (1993) Orestes, Performing Arts Journal 15.3: 29-79
  • Heinrich von Kleist, Penthesilea. Trans. M. Greenberg. Yale.
  • Sophocles, Philoctetes. Trans. D. Grene. Chicago.