Faculty of Arts


Classical Mythology through Tragedy

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for CLASSICS 110.


Classical mythology is a subject that is relevant to just about every aspect of our modern Western cultural experience. The myths of the Greeks and Romans form a rich source of inspiration and subject matter for literature and art from antiquity to our own time, and now we are increasingly seeing its continuing impact in the media, particularly in film and advertising. Understanding the nature of ancient myth and how it featured in antiquity gives us access to the psyche of culture itself, whether ancient or modern. Furthermore, the vehicle for study is ancient Tragedy, which presents a coherent and distinctively structured world-view that has had a pervasive influence on Western cultural values and ethical norms.

Through studying selected ancient tragic dramas (in English translation) which recreate and explore the stories of prominent mythological figures, you will develop an understanding of the ancient theatre, of the meaning of Tragedy as a world-view, and of how myth worked within a particular social and historical context. You will also learn the essential techniques for studying ancient literature in English translation, in a course which can stand alone in a degree, or form the basis for a major in Classics and Ancient History within the BA. The plays will be discussed in detail in the lectures with frequent reference to parallels within our current experience, and then the tutorials will offer opportunities for group discussion and exchange of ideas about our responses to the universal human experiences exemplified in the plays.

The course objectives are:

  • To advance students’ knowledge and understanding of values and attitudes that are characteristic of ancient Greek (and Roman) society
  • To encourage students to draw comparisons and contrasts with the parallels and differences in the values and attitudes of our own society
  • To help students to develop a methodology for critical analysis of ancient literary texts within the dramatic genre
  • To help students to develop a methodology for selecting and making best use of scholarly publications about the ancient texts

In line with the Bachelor of Arts Graduate Profile, expected learning outcomes of this first-year course include inculcating the ability:

  • To exhibit knowledge and understanding of essential aspects of ancient culture
  • To identify and evaluate the scholarly opinions and theories
  • To identify and reject information sources that are inappropriate for academic study
  • To synthesise information and ideas from multiple sources and take account of diverse perspectives
  • To construct reasoned, reflexive arguments and interpretations using valid evidence to support claims and conclusions
  • To express and structure information and ideas clearly, coherently and persuasively

View the course syllabus

Availability 2018

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Associate Professor Anne Mackay


We shall study myths through a total of five ancient Greek plays. The first, Euripides' Bacchae, will be available for downloading free through the Module 1 booklist shortly before the beginning of the semester. The other four plays cannot be made available in this way because of copyright restrictions, and so it is strongly recommended that you purchase the two paperback volumes in which the plays have been published:

1.  Sophocles, Electra and Other Plays. Transl. David Raeburn. (London: Penguin 2008) ISBN 9780140449785.

2.  David Grene & Richmond Lattimore (transl.) Greek Tragedies 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2013) ISBN 9780226035284. 

The General Library will have just 6 copies available (for a class of over 200 students), and so you are urged to purchase your own copies of the two books. Ubiq (the University bookstore) will have copies in stock, and you are recommended to pre-order your copies, either in store or online via the following links:

1. https://ubiq.co.nz/p/electra-and-other-plays-9780140449785 

2. https://ubiq.co.nz/p/greek-tragedies-volume-1-aeschylus-agamemnon-prometheus-bound-sophocles-oedipus-the-king-antigone-euripides

Recommended Reading

Additional recommended readings will be provided through the reading list on Canvas as they become relevant through the semester.


Coursework 40%
Final examination 60%


CLASSICS 110: 15.0 points

Contact details | Search | Accessibility | Copyright | Privacy | Disclaimer | 1