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The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours
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About the Author

Gregory Nagy is Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University and Director of Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.

Reviews

Backed by formidable learning and a vast ecumenical sweep embellished with details--yet written in a winningly readable informal style--The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours offers to us penetrating considerations of the ways in which Greek classics continue to make themselves felt in our lives even today.--M. S. Nagarajan"The Hindu" (08/27/2013)
[Nagy's] analysis is fascinating, often ingenious... This book is a valuable synthesis of research finessed over thirty years... Complemented by a free online sourcebook, edited by Nagy, containing translations of all the ancient texts discussed, like an ancient hero it will provide a lasting legacy beyond the hora of its publication.--Francesca Wade"Times Literary Supplement" (12/13/2013)
The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours is Gregory Nagy's MOOC book. The massive open online course is one of the most significant developments in higher education in years and Nagy is one of the foremost Homerists of his generation, so the book deserves attention both as an academic publication and as a pedagogical experiment. Scholars already familiar with Nagy's work will not find radically new insights here. What they will appreciate is a systematic and exceptionally lucid statement of the research he has carried out over the past four decades... One of the greatest achievements of Nagy's research is that it powerfully illuminates the relationship between myth and cult.-- (10/03/2013)
There's a vital subject at the heart of the book--more vital perhaps now than ever, since the concept of the 'hero' has been so overused and distorted in the 21st century that it scarcely has any meaning anymore, applying equally to Armed Services employees working in an accounting office in Qatar and elementary school teachers doing what they'd be fired if they didn't do. Nagy exuberantly reminds his readers that heroes--mortal strivers against fate, against monsters, and, as we'll see, against death itself--form the heart of Greek literature, the vital counterweight to the gaudy gods and goddesses who so often steal the limelight. He surveys the incredible feast of Greek literature from Homer and Hesiod to the tragedians (his extended analysis of Euripides' Hippolytus, for instance, is a wondrous highlight of the book's final marches) and overlays on top of that feast a neat but thin conceit of 'hours' characterized by certain ancient Greek concepts like Kleos, Memnemai, Akhos, Penthos, and Aphthito. The comprehensiveness of his coverage allows him to bring in every variation on the Greek hero, from the wily Theseus to the brawny Hercules to the 'monolithic' Achilles to the valiantly conflicted Oedipus, and that same sweep puts him in a perfect position to spot the linking factors and expound on them.-- (12/30/2013)

By force of its prestige, the Iliad sets the standard for the definition of the word epic: an expansive poem of enormous scope, composed in an old-fashioned and superbly elevated style of language, concerning the wondrous deeds of heroes. That these deeds were meant to arouse a sense of wonder or marvel is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend, especially in a time when even such words as wonderful or marvelous have lost much of their evocative power. Nor is it any easier to grasp the ancient Greek concept of hero (the English word is descended from the Greek), going beyond the word's ordinary levels of meaning in casual contemporary usage. Who, then, were these heroes? In ancient Greek traditions, heroes were humans, male or female, of the remote past, endowed with superhuman abilities and descended from the immortal gods themselves. A prime example is Achilles. The greatest hero of the Iliad, Achilles was the son of Thetis, a sea-goddess known for her far-reaching cosmic powers. It is clear in the epic, however, that the father of Achilles is mortal, and that this greatest of heroes must therefore be mortal as well. So, too, with all the ancient Greek heroes: even though they are all descended in some way or another from the gods, however many generations removed, heroes are mortals, subject to death. No matter how many immortals you find in a family tree, the intrusion of even a single mortal will make all successive descendants mortal. Mortality, not immortality, is the dominant gene.

--From the book

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