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CLAS 432 A: Classical Mythology In Film

Hercules Unchained Movie Poster
Meeting Time: 
MW 7:30am - 9:50am
* *
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 357 B
Clauss with students in Rome
James J. Clauss

Syllabus Description:

Classics 432 A and C LIT 357 B

Classical Mythology in Film

Winter 2021

MW 7:30-9:50


Instructor: James J. Clauss, Department of Classics

Office: Denny Hall M262F (difficult to find); tel. 543-2266 (department office phone)


Office Hours: By appointment

Holidays: January 18 and February 15


Required Texts:


  1. Fagles, The Three Theban Plays (Penguin)
  2. Hadas and J. McLean, Ten Plays of Euripides (Bantam/Doubleday/Dell)

Select Wikipedia articles


Read the material assigned for each topic (see below)

View and discuss the films.  It is important that students view the movies in class.


Midterm due Monday, February 8 at midnight. 

Final projects due Wednesday, March 10, last day of class, at midnight.

Final Examination due Friday, March 19, 10:20 AM.


Goals of the Course:


By studying major, in most cases authoritative, versions of ancient myths that were turned into films and comparing the ancient and modern renditions, students will be able to observe what modern cinematic narrators were drawn to and interested in achieving in their filmed versions of the myths and at the same time gain further insights both into the ancient stories and modern narratives. We shall focus on thematic differences and similarities, cinematic technique, and intended audiences, among other things, including how to read films as literary narratives. Finally we will explore in particular the mythological structure of the katabasis (see below), which plays out in the lives of every human being as well as many films.


Midterm and Final Essays


There will be two take-home exams, a midterm and final.  The examinations will cover information and themes pertinent to the ancient stories and include several essays regarding their modern renditions.  All information needed for these exams will be covered in class; there is no course book that will provide this.


Final Project


The final project involves the creation of a cinematic myth, either by way of a written description of an imagined filmed version of an ancient Greco-Roman myth that the student would make if s/he were a director/screen writer/cinematographer in an 8 page paper (double spaced, 12 point type; I will provide a sample story) or by an original film (we will see examples of student films during the class). Final projects are due the last day of class.  Examination of how the directors adapt ancient myths for their films will provide further models and inspiration for this project.  A major take-away from the project is that students will experience firsthand how one goes about imagining and plotting a mythic narrative in a cinematic form, but also how to read a film from a directorial/screen writer’s perspective, a skill that is easily transferable to all films.




For further information on the films, please consult Please note, that for the films shown through Swank, you will need to use a browser such as Chrome or Firefox. Safari will not work. Orphee and Star Wars should be fine on any browser. Edipo Re, Hercules Unchained, and Medea are on a Google Drive whose link I will send to you.


Clash of the Titans (1981), Desmond Davis, Director; art director Ray Harryhausen


Edipo Re (1967), Pier Paolo Pasolini, Director


Google Drive


Hercules Unchained (1959), Pietro Francisci, Director


Google Drive


Medea (1970), Pier Paolo Pasolini, Director


Google Drive


Desire under the Elms (1958), Delbert Mann, Director


Iphigenia (1977), Michael Cacoyannis, Director


Orphée (1949), Jean Cocteau, Director


The Searchers (1956), John Ford, Director


Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope (1977), George Lucas, Director



Schedule of Films and Discussions

                                    Monday                                  Wednesday


Week 1                        Introduction                            Clash of the Titans


Week 2                        Discussion                              Edipo Re


Week 3                        Holiday                                   Discussion


Week 4                        Hercules Unchained               Discussion


Week 5                        Medea                                     Discussion


Week 6                        Desire under the Elms            Discussion                             


Week 7                        Holiday                                   Iphigeneia


Week 8                        Discussion                              Orphée


Week 9                        Discussion                              The Searchers


Week 10                      Star Wars                                Discussion


Schedule of Readings


                        Monday                                              Wednesday


Week 1            Introduction                              


Week 2            Oedipus Rex (Fagles)                         Oedipus at Colonus (Fagles)


Week 3            Holiday                                                                      

Week 4                                                                        Medea (Hadas)   


Week 5                                                                        Hippolytus (Hadas)  


Week 6                                                                        Iphigeneia (Hadas)            


Week 7                                                                       


Week 8            TBA                                                    TBA


Week 9            TBA                                                    TBA


Week 10          TBA                                                   


NB On the days of discussion, the first half of class will focus on the movie seen in the previous class and the second half will be preparation for the next film. Please do the readings prior to the day they are mentioned in the schedule.


Grades will be based on the following:


Midterm Essays                                                                                              35%

Final Essays                                                                                                    35%

Final Project                                                                                                   30%


Important UW policy-related things to know:

  • The UW's Religious Accommodations Policy:“Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (Links to an external site.). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (Links to an external site.).”
  • The UW's Student Conduct Code: "The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at"(Links to an external site.)
  • Access and Accommodation: Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or  (Links to an external site.)DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.





Elements of the Katabasis Motif


The journey undertaken by the hero leads to the realm of the dead (literal or figurative).


The traveler comes and goes, often at night and often through caves or over rivers, and frequently needs advice from a guide.


The region is forbidding, often in the control of a despotic ruler who commands frightening underlings.


One or more of those going with the hero on the journey frequently dies (a sort of sacrificial victim).

The purpose of the journey typically involves bringing back some important item, information or a person.


The hero effectively undergoes a death of the old self and rebirth into a new role.


The successful hero can attain one or more benefits apart from the purpose of the quest: power, knowledge, wisdom, courage, marriage, (re)integration into society, maturity, and/or the ability to face other quests in the future.


Catalog Description: 
Comparison and discussion of classical myths and modern films inspired by them. Promotes access to the reading of classical mythology. Analyzes significant differences between ancient literary and modern cinematographic representations of the myth.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
October 13, 2020 - 9:16am