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Undergraduate Courses

Sample Undergraduate Level Courses

Instructor: Alex Tarbet
Course: Great Books 201: Parageography: The Study of Imaginary Worlds
Term: Summer 2019

Description: How are so many of our favorite books and movies – Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, to name a few – inspired by magic, mythology, utopias, adventures, heroes, and other unbelievable fantasies from the ancient world? In this class, we will explore “parageography” as a process of creating new worlds through the imagination. Our goal is to put our creativity to use as we explore ancient texts from the Greek and Roman world and beyond, including the world’s first science fiction novel, Egyptian magical scrolls, tales of Atlantis, Babylonian creation myths, Homer’s Odyssey, and even the world’s oldest staged comedies.

Throughout the semester we will ask: What power does fantasy have? How does world-creation operate as a socially critical, individually therapeutic, or empowering social force? Should the unreal be harnessed and cultivated for real ends, and if so, how do we do it?
This is a class in applied creativity: you will design your own mythological universe. There are three parts to this project: Lands, Ideas, and Tales. Correspondingly, we will design worlds first physically, then metaphysically, and finally create heroes who bend or break the bounds of those systems. Together, we will creatively mimic the styles and methods of the great geographers, philosophers, mystics, poets, scientists, and dramatists of the ancient Mediterranean.

Instructor: Vassilis Lambropoulos
Course: CL382/MODGREEK350: Greek Myth in Film
Term: offered every Fall

Description: Description: Cinema has often tried to depict the Greek gods, heroines, and lands in the same terms as the ancients talked about them--by faithfully recreating their world. But it has also often tried to update them or bring them closer to a different reality. What happens when films adapt Greek tales to alien or modern times, places, and characters? This course examines the uses of Greek myth in movies (and to a lesser degree works for the stage) that remove the stories from their original setting and take them to different lands and periods. The goal is to examine the mutually reinforcing overlap among myth, literature, cinema, opera, and theater. The movies have neither columns nor monsters but they show how fate can still turn us all into wandering, questioning Greeks. By following the travels and transformations of mythical figures through the centuries, the course introduces students to the comparative study of literature across different cultures, languages, and genres.

Instructor: Sara Forsdyke
Course: Classical Civilization 120: Great Speeches Ancient And Modern.
Term: Every year for the past four years, including Winter 2014 and Fall 2014

Description: This course examines how the great speakers of the modern world -- from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama - make use of techniques of public speaking that were first practiced and theorized by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Students learn how to recognize these techniques by analyzing great speeches performed by ancient and modern public speakers; students also learn how to employ these techniques by composing and performing their own speeches. The following great speakers (among others) are studied: Pericles, Demosthenes, Cicero, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Emmeline Pankurst, F.D.Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, J.F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon, Barbara Jordan, Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama.

Instructor: Artemis Leontis
Course: Modern Greek 325: Athens Past and Present
Term: Winter 2014 and previous years

Description: Athens is both a museum of Greek history and a living entity: a laboratory for social experiments and a stage for ongoing conflicts. Defining features are the city’s continuous dialogue with its past and reckoning with competing claims. This course studies that many-sided dialogue. Students learn to “read” intersecting narratives of competing claims on the “palimpsest” of the city’s multi-layered surface and consider the shape they give to city life in the present.

Instructor: Jennifer Nelson
Course: HA 394.002: Gore, Finery, Fantasy, Mimesis: Intro to Northern Renaissance Art
Term: Winter 2014

Description: Why do Netherlandish Lamentations feature bloody, putrefying wounds? Why is a skull distorted across the front of Holbein’s Ambassadors? Is there interracial love in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights? Featuring the cultural production of image-makers like Jan van Eyck, Hans Holbein the Younger, Tilman Riemenschneider, Albrecht Dürer, Hieronymus Bosch, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, this course will survey both visual culture and canonical monuments of art in Northern Europe ca. 1400-1568. We will engage with media ranging from the new format of mass-producible prints to the pseudo-antique format of medals, emphasizing traditional formats of the fine arts in this period—manuscript illumination, painting, and sculpture. The course examines how this visual output emerged in the context of cultural changes in the spheres of naturalism, technology, humanism, theology, and European “expansion,” among others. Informed by readings of primary and secondary textual sources, students will develop strong skills in visual analysis broadly understood, as well as experience with various traditional methodologies in art historical and visual studies.

Instructor: Francesca Schironi
Course: Classical Civilization 120: Greek Tragedy Then and Now
Term: Fall 2014

Description: Greek tragedy is a staple of classical Greek civilization and one of its most enduring legacies to the modern world. Greek tragedy played a fundamental influence on European drama from the Renaissance to our days; translations, rewritings and adaptations of Greek tragedies have been made in every language, by every people and in every time. This seminar will explore what Greek tragedy was in many of its aspect: How did it originate? In what historical and cultural context did it develop? How was it performed? What are its main themes and the most important issues? And, above all, why has Greek tragedy become such an enduring presence in drama in many western traditions? We will read the most important tragedies of the three great tragedians, Aeschylus (Oresteia), Sophocles (Ajax, Oedipus the King, Antigone), and Euripides (Medea, Hippolytus, Bacchae) and also explore its modern reception in dramas, operas, dance and films both in Europe and in the U.S.

Instructor: Gina Soter
Course: Latin/Residential College 325 Readings in Roman Drama: From Text to Performance
Term: Fall 2014, Fall 2013

Description: The fundamental goal for Readings in Roman Drama course is for students to develop the facility, accuracy and understanding of their Latin language skills. Through close study of one Plautus’ comedies, students will gain heightened appreciation for early and colloquial Latin. Students will explore Roman comedy from cultural, historical, linguistic, literary and performative perspectives, and we will explore such general questions as: What is comedy? What did Romans find entertaining? What makes good humor? How does one tell a good joke? Along the way, students will try their hands at adapting, editing and mastering one comedy so that it will “play” to a modern audience.

Instructor: Patricia Simons
Course: HA 255: The Visual Afterlife of Classical Mythology
Term: Fall 2014 and previous years

Description: Myths are a way of structuring and explaining the world, especially offering tales of origin or founding acts when the world is regarded as one in constant flux. Their narrative and cultural significance changes over time. This course explores the ‘after life’ of classical mythologies in both text and image by focusing on the Renaissance, that moment in European history when a ‘classical revival’ reshaped culture. Many of the cultural, political and moral values of classicism are thought to inform the Western world today, so there is great pertinence to studying the intersection of these traditions with contemporary representations also, chiefly in film.

Instructor: Tom Willette
Course: History of Art 351.001
Term: Winter 2014

Description: The life and work of Michelangelo Buonarroti offers a rich context for the study of visual art and poetry in 16th-century Europe. For his contemporaries and for many later generations Michelangelo exemplified the ideal artist postulated by Renaissance Humanists. This seminar will examine both his rough-hewn sonnets and eloquent paintings and sculptures in the light of contemporary theories of inspiration and invention. Hence we will attend closely to a number of well-known drawings that show the artist “thinking on paper” in both line sketches and fragments of verse. Central topics include Michelangelo’s use of classical models, such as the Belvedere Torso and the Laocoön sculpture group; his neoplatonic theories of vision; his preoccupation with the body as a source of visual and verbal metaphor; the intensely religious character of his devotion to craft and to physical beauty; and his self-fashioning as a grouchy genius who slept in his boots. We will consider the principal themes of his sonnets and madrigals (love and death) as well as the poetic language employed by contemporary viewers of his art, including Vittoria Colonna, Giorgio Vasari, Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, Pietro Aretino and Ludovico Dolce. We will make close inspection of Michelangelo’s drawing techniques, his use of color in oil and fresco and his treatment of stone surfaces, in order to observe the metaphorical effects of his handling of materials. In the course of the term we will study, in brief or in depth, a considerable portion of his production in sculpture, painting and architecture in Florence and Rome, including the marble David, the Tomb of Pope Julius II, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and the Last Judgment.

Instructor: Francesca Schironi
Course: Classical Civilization: 350: Classical Comedy from Aristophanes to Broadway
Term: Winter 2013

Description: From Athenian political comedy to Terentian "comedy of manners" and modern comedy. This course will explore the history and development of the genre of comedy, and its modern reception, through the analysis of plays (read in translation) by Aristophanes, Menander, Plautus, Terence, Shakespeare and Machiavelli, and Broadway shows and films based on classical models. Comedies by other authors such as Dryden, Molière, Von Keist, Giraudoux, and Ionesco as well as theoretical essays by Bergson, Freud, Frye and others will also be analyzed.

Instructor: Tom Willette
Course: History of Art 352.001: Art and Philosophy in the Renaissance Tradition
Term: Fall 2013

Description: This seminar investigates fundamental questions raised during the early modern period in Europe about the nature of art as an ethical practice and as a way of knowing the world. What is the purpose of art? Where do artists find their ideas? Why do objects exert effects upon viewers? What is the role of practical knowledge and what is the role of divine inspiration in the process of artistic creation? During this period (roughly from 1400 to 1780) we find that many different kinds of people—artists, poets, academicians, princely secretaries, clergymen—offered answers to such questions. The Humanist revival of ancient Greek and Roman literature and philosophy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was crucial to the early modern idea that the making and enjoying of visual art should be considered a philosophical activity. From the fourteenth century onward, treatises, dialogues and poems aimed at general educated readers fueled the discussion of how visual art affects our moral lives and how it reveals truths about the natural, human and divine worlds. The notion that art has an ethical purpose, that it engages the higher faculties of the mind, and that it offers instruction as well as delight, are all ideas that contributed to the modern conception of visual art as guide to understanding and representing the human condition. Artists themselves often reflected on their activity in their works and expressed their ideas by pushing the limits of what could be stated in material form. This seminar will offer an introduction to early modern European thought about visual art on the basis of selected writings in English translation and through first-hand study of paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints in the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Instructor: Artemis Leontis
Course: Comparative Literature 340/ Modern Greek 340: Travels to Greece
Term: Fall 2013 and previous years

Description: What is the allure of Greece? What idea has captivated the imagination of writers, philosophers, scholars, and ordinary people for centuries and sent them on the journey, abandoning the comforts of home and routine? What happens to that idea once people reach Greece? Centuries of travel to Greece have produced volumes of written and visual and even musical forms. At their best, they are exciting and thought provoking, as they convey both an exterior voyage to foreign lands and an interior voyage full of rich associations. At their worst, they betray ingrained social prejudices. In this class, we follow the story of an idea, “Greece,” as it is translated into travels, excavations, revolutions, personal quests, designs, movements, food and dance crazes, spiritual reveries, death wishes, and vacation plans producing writing and other media (fiction and non-fiction, poetry, film, drawings, paintings, photographs, and websites). Its traces are seen in works by authors from Byron, Flaubert and Freud, to Mark Twain, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf, Henry Miller, Eva Palmer, and writers of our era, all of them reflecting on the Greek past and present to grasp at things that matter to them in their own time. The prism of this idea’s reception is what we have come to call “Western” civilization.

Instructor: Artemis Leontis
Course: Classical Civilization 121: Odysseys
Term: Fall 2013

Description: The Odyssey is a story about stories, featuring a hero who makes the perpetuation of his story of constant sorrow the center of his existence. We will read the Odyssey closely to discover the many stories about Odysseus and other heroes circulating in it: what they are; how they create a coherent narrative from shifting truths; what sort of world do they shape. Parallel to this, we will trace presences of Homer’s Odyssey in works of different media that recognize characters or episodes from the Odyssey as their prototypes, making odysseys of the Odyssey.

Instructor: David Halperin
Course: English 407, 630, 638/Comp Lit 750: Theories of Love: Plato to Nabokov
Term: Winter 2013 and previous years

Description: A survey of theories of love and desire in European literature from Plato to Nabokov and beyond. The course is designed to provide an introduction to the Platonic, Christian, and Freudian traditions as well as an overview of the most important and influential contributions to Western thinking about love by canonical male writers. It offers an opportunity to read broadly, to acquire a general background in the humanities, and to prepare for advanced work in critical theory and cultural studies. Authors to be studied include Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Dante, Montaigne, Goethe, Stendhal, Schopenhauer, Freud, Proust, and Nabokov.

Instructor: David Halperin
Course: English 313/ClCiv 342/CompLit 374/WomenStd 380: Ancient Greek/Modern Gay Sexuality
Term: Winter 2012 and previous years

Description: Sexuality, we tend to think, has no history, any more than gravity or any natural force does. Attitudes to sexuality may change, or ways of classifying sexual behavior may vary from one society to another, but sexuality itself, or so we often assume, is always the same. In the last forty years, however, a growing body of scholarship and theory has argued the opposite—that sexuality is not natural but cultural, not biological but historical, not universal but tied to particular time-periods and societies. Sexual life itself varies; human desire differs across different social worlds. Some historians have even argued that sexuality itself is a recent phenomenon, which emerged in northwestern Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: before then, and outside that region, there was no sexuality.

Ancient Greece has provided a classic test case for this new and controversial approach to the history of sexuality. That is because social life in ancient Greece is sometimes astonishingly well documented, because the ancient Greeks were often quite forthright and explicit about their sexual attitudes, and because the two and a half millennia separating us from ancient Greece provide an opportunity to measure exactly how much or how little has changed in the interval. Also, as educated people have known for centuries, ancient Greek sexual practices and attitudes were quite different from modern European and American middle-class ones in a particularly striking respect: namely, the routine acceptance of certain kinds of homosexual behavior.

For centuries, in fact, homosexually-inclined women and men have looked to ancient Greece for a prestigious example of a society that not only tolerated but even celebrated same-sex love and desire. For that reason ancient Greece, as well as ancient Greek authors such as Sappho and Plato, still function today as important sources of lesbian and gay pride. But what did such authors actually say, and what exactly did the Greek approval of homosexuality come down to? Was ancient Greece really a world without homophobia? What was the relation between the ancient Greek acceptance of some kinds of homoerotic behavior and other features of ancient Greek society, such as slavery or the subordination of women?

Does it matter how we answer those questions? Historians live in two worlds at once: the past, which they try to reconstruct as accurately as they can, and the present, which shapes their outlook and which they shape in turn through their research. The history of sexuality, and of homosexuality, has a divided loyalty, dedicated both to telling the truth about the past and to changing attitudes in the present. What are the political and theoretical stakes in different interpretations of ancient Greek sexual life? What does an understanding of ancient Greek sexualattitudes and practices teach us about the history of sexuality, the limits of human nature, our own sexual lives and psychologies? What does ancient Greece have to offer queer politics or queer culture today?

In an effort to answer these and other questions, we will read in modern English translation a wide selection of ancient Greek (and a few Roman) texts that deal with same-sex love, desire, sexual behavior, and gender dissidence. Some of these texts are classics, so to speak; others are almost unknown, even to experts. We will also read some recent historical scholarship on the topic. We’ll conclude by studying some modern writing by lesbian, gay, and bisexual authors that looks at ancient Greece and that indicates the range of possible re-uses of ancient Greek materials by contemporary queer culture.

Instructor: Arthur Verhoogt
Course: Classical Civilization 385: Greek Mythology
Term: Winter 2007

Greek mythology comprises a group of traditional stories that discuss a number of universal themes such as creation, death, gods, heroes, the Other, family feuds, local history, and —not to forget— sex and cannibalism. In this course we will study the development of these tales in Greek literature and art. our focus will be on the interplay between myths and ancient society in both its contemporary and modern interpretations.

Instructor: Netta Berlin
Course: Classical Civilization 121: War and Remembrance
Term: Winter 2007

Description: This course centers on Homer’s Iliad and its paradigmatic value for military conflict in antiquity and the modern era. The course begins with a close reading of epic, in particular the dynamic relationship between the narrowly circumscribed subject (“the anger of Achilles”) and the complex narrative that transforms this subject into an evocative and enduring account of war. The remainder of the course considers works in a variety of disciplines (e.g. tragedy, philosophy, psychology) for which the Iliad has provided access to understanding war and its call to remembrance. This course fulfills the first-year writing requirement.

Instructor: Diane Owen Hughes
Course: History 212: Renaissance Europe
Term: Winter 2007

Description: This course will explore the political, social, and cultural history of Europe during centuries of momentous change: scholarship recovered the lost texts and ideas of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds; critical reading of foundational texts produced dramatic questioning of religious authority; art, medicine, and philosophy renewed an interest in the physical and physiological nature of man; scientific calculation put the sun rather than the earth at the center of the universe; exploration made Europeans aware of a wider world; and technologies made these changes available to a larger public. Lectures will provide a structural approach to the period; discussion sections, close engagement with historical sources.

Instructor: Cynthia Sowers
Course: Residential College HUMS 309: The Heritage of Greece: Art, Literature, Philosophy
Term: Fall 2006

Description: This course will examine the confrontation between myth and philosophy that from the 6th century BC on structured the intellectual heritage of Greece. By myth is meant the fables of the poets, primarily Homer. One should not assume that these stories provide a clear window onto ancient religion; instead the relation between mythology and religion was problematic and unstable. Philosophers, beginning with the presocratics, intervened disruptively in this problematic relation either to magnify the difficulty or to resolve it on their own terms. Philosophical speculation concerning the nature of space and the role of the gods in shaping or controlling space challenged mythology. This speculation had implications, sometimes troubling, for ancient religion – especially for the traditional practices of prophecy and sacrifice. To contest these practices was to challenge the site and expression not only of religious, but also (because of the relation between ancient cult and the state) of political power.

Power in the ancient world was concentrated and disseminated by means of images. Visual objects occupied a cultural category quite different from modern conceptions of “art.” To what extent were ancient paintings, sculpture or architecture occupied by religious, philosophical or political power? To explore this question, significant visual works will be studied alongside of the literary, philosophical, and political currents of their day. The “Greek tradition” in art, literature, and philosophy is conventionally understood as limited to its pagan expression. This course will take a somewhat wider view. The terms of that tradition — the literary forms, the philosophical preoccupations, and the difficult status of the image — were in fact taken up by learned Jewish commentators and subsequently by Christian intellectuals of the Byzantine period who viewed this tradition as their own. Their participation in and contribution to the heritage of Greece deserves recognition.

Instructor: Yopie Prins
Course: English 140: Women Writers and Classical Myth
Term: Fall 2006

Description: In this First Year Seminar, we will consider how and why women writers turn and return to classical mythology to engender new meanings. We will read and analyze versions of various Greek and Roman myths in a variety of literary genres (poetry, narrative, drama), and there will be an opportunity to write your own creative version of a classical myth.

Instructor: Netta Berlin
Course: Classical Civilization 120: “Lost and Found in the Mediterranean”
Term: Fall 2006

Description: The Mediterranean has often served as the setting for stories of sea voyages, dramatic shipwrecks, and isolated island life. This course takes students on a journey through the literature of this maritime world, beginning with Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Philoctetes. Along the way we will travel further afield to examine how overseas exploration and colonialism in the Renaissance are reflected in Shakespeare’s Mediterranean plays. To end, we will return to the themes of Homeric epic and Sophoclean tragedy as observed through the lens of New World post-colonialism in Derek Walcott’s updated treatments of travelers lost and found in the Mediterranean.

Instructor: Basil Dufallo
Course: Comparative Literature 490: “Text and Image: Classical and Neoclassical Articulations”
Term: Fall 2006

Description: This course will introduce students to the theoretical issues surrounding the relationship between verbal and visual art by concentrating on Greco-Roman antiquity and a specific era fem neoclassical modernity (English Gothic or 20th-century American neoclassicism). Course materials will include major theoretical texts (e.g. Lessing, Krieger, Mitchell), literary examples of ecphrasis (description of art objects), and visual images.

Instructor: Elaine Gazda
Course: History of Art 394.002: Classicisms in Western Art
Term: Fall 2005

Description: This course will examine what is “Classical” and how these conceptions were expressed visually at select moments in the history of western art. We will examine why the art and architecture of the Greek and Roman worlds had such an enormous impact on the aesthetic, intellectual, and political environments of Europe and the United States from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Case studies will include Florence of the Medici, Thomas Jefferson’s America, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, and Greece of the 2004 Olympics.

Instructor: Ruth Schooled
Course: Classical Civilization 341: Classics and Cinema
Term: Fall 2005

Description: This course will explore how cinema has represented the ancient past and its literature. We will read the ancient sources and see how films have transformed them. We will examine films such as The Last Days of Pompeii, Cleopatra, Quo Vadis, Ben Hur, Spartacus, Fall of the Roman Empire, the pornographic Caligula, and Fellini’s strange Satyricon. We will also look at comedies such as Roman Scandals, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Life of Brian. Topics will include the representation of gender; Romans as fascists, communists, and Americans; spectacle and voyeurism; slavery and race; and the suicide of the noble Roman.