CLAS 2300

Hollywood Classics:
The Ancient World in Film

Prof. Charles Chiasson
Prof. Karl Petruso

Fall Semester 2008

Contact information

Prof. Chiasson
Dept. of Philosophy and Humanities
Office: Carlisle Hall 310
Tel. 817.272.3216
Office hours: M 2:30-3:30,Th 2:00-3:00
and by appointment

Prof. Petruso
Honors College
Office: College Hall Suite 108
Tel. 817.272.7215
Office hours: by appointment only

The Trojan Horse
(Troy, 2004)


With the recent release of such blockbuster films as Troy, Alexander the Great and 300, and such television productions as Helen of Troy and The Odyssey. it seems an especially appropriate occasion to consider the apparently timeless appeal of the classical world to modern filmmakers. What do they see (or imagine they see) in the remote, foreign civilizations of antiquity that appeals to a modern popular audience? In this course we will compare films set in the ancient Greek world with the literary sources on which they are based, examining how the films depict, recast, or distort these sources, and the extent to which they reflect modern cultural values and interests. We will focus on developing the fundamental critical skills necessary to analyze literature, film, culture, and the interrelationships among them.

One of the goals of this course is to expose students to selected topics, events, and themes of classical antiquity. Students wishing to learn more about the Greco-Roman world are encouraged to take further courses in history, classics, archaeology and art history offered in several departments in the university. Students interested in film as art may will find in the College of Liberal Arts a rich selection of courses on films of particular periods, genres and countries.

Iphigenia walks resolutely to her fate
(Iphigenia, 1977)

Required texts (available at the UTA Bookstore)

Homer, The Essential Homer, trans. S. Lombardo (Hackett, 2000)
Aeschylus, The Persians, trans. J. Lembke and C. Herington (Oxford University Press, 1981)
Gideon Nisbet, Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture, 2nd ed. (Bristol Phoenix Press, 2008)

Other assignments will be online (see Syllabus, below). Some readings will be directly linked; others will be on electronic course reserve under Prof. Chiasson's name on the library's e-Reserves website). You will be given a password to access them.
While you will be provided with hard copy of this syllabus as a matter of record, the links herein require you to consult the online version of it. You should bookmark the website and refer to it often, since changes will inevitably be made to it.

Recommended resources

The depiction of antiquity in film has attracted ample interest among both scholars and popular writers in recent years. The following titles are particularly recommended (the volume by Solomon is the most comprehensive guide available to the subject of this course, and is especially recommended) and both have been placed on reserve in the Main Library:

Jon Solomon, The Ancient World in the Cinema (revised and expanded edition). Yale University Press, 2001
Martin Winkler, Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2001)

To learn more about cinema as an art form and to assist you in developing your critical faculties, the following books are useful:

Margo Kasdan, C. Saxton and S. Tavernetti. The Critical Eye: An Introduction to Looking at Movies (Kendall/Hunt. 1998)
Robert Kolker, Film, Form, and Culture. (McGraw-Hill College, 1998)
James Monaco, How to Read a Film: Movies, Media, Multimedia (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press, 2000

For more information about the films we will consider in this course (e.g., on actors and directors, ordering information, and links to critics' reviews), the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is an invaluable resource. The titles of the films in the syllabus below are links that will take you to their entries on IMDb. You might wish to browse the IMDb entry for each film prior to our screening of it in class.

King Leonidas of Sparta thwarts the Persian advance at Thermopylae (The 300 Spartans, 1962)

Written requirements

• One short paper per film, beginning with Helen of Troy, due on the date of its discussion in class. Each is to be a two single-spaced pages maximum, summarizing the week's film and listing two or three topics or questions for class discussion (q.v. below). The papers are to be typed, not handwritten);
• A midterm exam (Tuesday, October 14); and
• A final exam (Tuesday, December 9 at 11:00 am)

No other written work is required, and none will be accepted either for extra credit or in lieu of missed assignments.


Each of the exams is worth 40% of the course grade; your short papers comprise the remaining 20% (they will be graded +, √, or -). Worthy contributions to class discussion can raise a borderline final grade. A missed short paper or exam will receive a grade of zero. Except under the most unusual and dire of (documented) circumstances, no make-up exams will be administered (ditto for granting of incompletes).

Roll will not be taken in this course, but your regular attendance is expected, and chronic absences will be noticed. You are responsible for all screenings, readings and lectures; if you must miss a session, you should make arrangements to borrow a classmate's notes.

Film screenings

Our weekly film screenings will be held on Tuesday evenings, 7:00-9:00 pm or so (depending on the length of the film) in College Hall 101. You should make every effort to attend these screenings.

Nota bene: Missing a screening does not release you from the responsibility to view the scheduled film.

In the past, we have put the films on reserve in the main library to make them available to students for viewing at other times; but experience showed this to be unwieldy and frustrating for both librarians and students (one film was lost, one was irreparably damaged, and frequently more than one student wanted to screen a film at one time). If you own or can rent any of the films we will consider in the course, feel free to skip the Tuesday evening screenings and watch them on your own time (indeed, you are encouraged to view them more than once each, since this will facilitate your analyses).

We have determined that all scheduled films with the exception of Ulysses are available through Netflix. If you have other obligations on Tuesday evenings this semester, you need not feel compelled to drop this course if you are willing to join Netflix. Should you wish to go the Netflix route, you are responsible for ordering each film far enough in advance to be abl to watch it before our scheduled discussion of it. We will put a copy of Ulysses on reserve in the Digital Media Studio (Main Library basement) for viewing on a computer in the library only. But the only screenings we will do of the films will be on Tuesday evenings--there will be no makeup screenings.

We will not lecture on the days we discuss the films; rather, these sessions will be devoted to analysis and discussion of topics and questions raised by the films. Your contributions to classroom discussion are important, and we hope these discussions will be informed, lively, and stimulating. In order to contribute intelligently to classroom discussion, you will need to have read and thought about the assigned ancient texts in advance of the class sessions, and you should bring to class the notes you took while viewing the film.

The usual disclaimers

Cell phones and pagers are to be turned off during class. If your phone rings, you will be invited to leave the room for the duration of the class. It should go without saying that texting or any other use of cell phones during class time is prohibited.

If you require an accommodation based on disability, we invite you to meet privately with one or both of us during the first week of the semester so we can ensure that you are appropriately accommodated. Please provide us early in the semester with the requisite written verification from the Office for Students with Disabilities describing your condition. We will in turn provide whatever accommodations are recommended.

Student Support Services: The University supports a variety of student success programs to help you connect with the University and achieve academic success. They include learning assistance, developmental education, advising and mentoring, admission and transition, and federally funded programs. Students requiring assistance academically, personally, or socially should contact the Office of Student Success Programs at 817-272-6107 for more information and appropriate referrals.

Anyone tempted to call in a bomb threat should be aware that UTA will attempt to trace the phone call and prosecute all responsible parties. Every effort will be made to avoid cancellation of presentations and/or tests caused by bomb threats. Unannounced alternate sites will be available for these classes. We will apprise you of alternate class sites in the event that our classroom is not available.

Drop Policy: If you decide not to complete this course, the responsibility to drop rests entirely with you (faculty cannot initiate drops). The last date to drop a course during Fall semester 08 is Friday, October 31.

Finally, it is assumed that all students understand what constitutes scholastic dishonesty (essentially the representation of another person's work as one's own). "Students who violate the University's rules on scholastic dishonesty are subject to disciplinary penalties, including the possibility of failure in the course and dismissal from the University" ( Regents' Rules and Regulations ). If you have any questions about this topic, you should peruse the UTA Libraries' online tutorial on plagiarism. Scholastic dishonesty will not be tolerated in this class. Any and all suspected incidences will be turned over to the office of the Dean of Students for adjudication.

Oliver Stone and Colin Farrell on the set of Alexander (2004)


On watching and thinking about films

Before each film is screened, we will present lectures that will

• provide historical background and cultural context;
• introduce and examine readings of the primary sources; and
• anticipate the film, and give you some hints about what to watch for.

Always bear in mind that all of these films are the products of careful and conscious decisions made by their scriptwriters, adaptors and directors. Much time in our classroom sessions will be given over to the treatment of the subject by the ancient author, and we will often consider the way a film's adaptation of its ancient text and theme(s) reflects the time and place of its production and its own cultural (e.g., social, ideological and political) milieu. You are expected to read the texts on which the films are based carefully and critically, in advance of the screening, so that you will be prepared to ponder the cinematic adaptation.

Get into the habit of watching these films not as entertainment but rather with a literary and historical eye. You should constantly compare the films, with respect to plot, character development, message, etc., to the primary sources on which they are based. What peculiarities of the medium of cinema facilitate or inhibit the way a historical or literary text is adapted? How does the necessity to tell a long and complex story in a few hours--think for instance of the Iliad --affect the narrative flow of the film? What devices does the director have at his/her disposal to mitigate this (e.g., editing, characters' perspectives, flashbacks, special effects), and to enhance the story s/he wishes to tell? What liberties has the director taken in adapting and presenting the work? What is the director leaving out that you consider important? Why might s/he have done this?

Come to the screenings with pen and paper, and take notes as you watch the film (summarize the action, major plot turns, notable characteristics of the main players, etc.). Jot down any questions you have so that you can consider them later and so that we can consider them in our classroom discussions. For most films we will distribute handouts at the screenings with the cast of main characters and other pertinent information.

We encourage you to get into the habit of thinking critically about other cinematic works adapted from literary and historical sources, and not only for films set in the ancient world. Films are unique artistic products, since their directors have their own stories to present. If you have both read a book and seen its film adaptation, consider how the two works are similar to and different from each other. If you have seen more than one film adaptation of the same ancient story (the story of Cleopatra has been made into a film at least nine times, the story of Alexander the Great six, with yet another allegedly in production), consider how different directors approach the story, given the fact that all had essentially the same historical and literary sources to work with.

For each class session devoted to film discussion, you will turn in a summary of the plot of the film in question. These assignments are due at the beginning of class, word-processed (not handwritten) in hard copy; they are not to be emailed to us. Please do not approach these assignments as Roger Ebert thumbs-up/thumbs-down reviews; and it is irrelevant to the work of this course whether you like or dislike the film. Although we hope the course enhances your appreciation of cinema, we are primarily interested in helping you develop both your knowledge of the ancient world and your analytical skills. (Some of these issues are discussed in David Bordwell's brief but useful 2000 essay, Studying Cinema.)

Each of your written summaries should end with two or three topics or questions you would like aired out in class. These should be thoughtful and carefully posed. Questions such as "Were the costumes worn by the actors authentic?" will not be productive for our discussions. We will sort through your questions and topics at the beginning of class to select several that are pertinent, and will introduce some of our own; other topics arising from the discussion are of course welcome. We will distribute a paradigm summary for Troy (2004) during the first week of the course; this should assist you in composing your written summaries.


Tentative schedule of lectures, screenings, and readings

(Readings are to be completed before the class meetings for which they are assigned)

T Aug 26
Introduction to the course I: Scope, objectives, policies, requirements. Reception theory. How to watch a film.
Th Aug 28
Introduction to the course II: Greek chronology: late prehistory and classical. Archaeology and the nature of the material record as a source for understanding the ancient world. History and texts. Mythology and its importance in Greek antiquity.
T Sep 2

Introduction to Homer. Reading: Iliad, Books I-XII
Evening: Screening of Troy (2004). For a pedantic essay on archaeological authenticity of Troy, see Mark Rose's review of the film in Archaeology Magazine.

Th Sep 4
Reading: Iliad, Books XIII-XXIV
T Sep 9
Troy: discussion
Evening: Screening of Helen of Troy (1956)
Th Sep 11
Helen of Troy: discussion. Helen of Troy summary due
T Sep 16

Reading: Homer's Odyssey, Books I-XII.
Evening: Screening of Ulysses (1954)

Th Sep 18
Reading: Homer's Odyssey, Books XIII-XXIV
T Sep 23

Ulysses, discussion. Ulysses summary due
Screening of Armand Assante's Odyssey (1997)

Th Sep 25
Armand Assante's Odyssey: discussion. Odyssey summary due
T Sep 30

Reading (library electronic reserves): Apollodorus, "Heracles, and the Heraclids"; Evening: Screening of Steve Reeves's Hercules (1959)

Th Oct 2
Reading: Euripides, Alcestis (e-reserves) plus Euripides, introduction by Mitchell-Boyask (also on e-reserves)
T Oct 7

Disussion: Steve Reeves's Hercules. Steve Reeves's Hercules summary due
Evening: Screening of
Disney's Hercules (1998)

Th Oct 9

Discussion: Disney's Hercules. Disney Hercules summary due

T Oct 14
Th Oct 16

Introduction to Greek tragedy
No evening screening

T Oct 21
Reading: Euripides, Electra
Evening: Screening of Michael Cacoyannis, Electra (1962)
Th 23

Discussion: Cacoyannis, Electra. Electra summary due

T Oct 28
Reading: Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis
Evening: Screening of Michael Cacoyannis, Iphigenia (1977)
Th Oct 30

Discussion: Cacoyannis, Iphigenia. Iphigenia summary due
Reading: Winkler, chapter 4 (chapters 3 and 5 also recommended). Winkler's book will be available both on reserve and as an e-book

T Nov 4
Archaic Greece and the polis. Background to the conflict between Persia and Greece.
Reading: Paul Cartledge, Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World, ch. 4: "Sparta 485: A Unique Culture and Society" (e-reserve); Herodotus, excerpts (paper reserve); Daniel Mendelsohn, "Arms and the Man," in The New Yorker, April 28, 2008

Screening: The 300 Spartans (1962)
Th Nov 6

Reading: Aeschylus, The Persians (including introduction)

T Nov 11

Discussion: The 300 Spartans. 300 Spartans summary due
Screening of 300 (2006)

Th Nov 13

Discussion: 300. 300 summary due

T Nov 18

Introduction to Alexander the Great
Reading: Plutarch's Life of Alexander (go to "Linked Resources" at bottom of citation and click on "netLibary Collection." Click on "View this eBoook," then "Contents." "Alexander" begins on p. 306 of the book.
Evening: Screening of Rossen's Alexander the Great (1956)

Th Nov 20

Discussion: Rossen's Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great summary due

T Nov 25
Oliver Stone's Alexander, part 1 (screened in class)
Th Nov 27


T Dec 2
Oliver Stone's Alexander, part 2 (screened in class)
Th Dec 4

Discussion: Oliver Stone's Alexander. Final remarks and review (no written summary required)

T Dec 9
FINAL EXAM, 11:00 am - 1:30 pm. BRING BLUEBOOKS