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SC2034 Beyond Myth: The Legacy of Ancient Athens (Morning, online delivery only)

Ended 19 Mar 2021

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Full course description

Course Overview

This course will cover the era known as the Classical Period (5th and 4th centuries BCE), from the earliest democracy to the death of Alexander the Great. The focus throughout will be on the people, means and measures that developed or hindered democracy. The subject matter will be approached through popular topics and include an assessment of the benefits and limitations of the source material, particularly in relation to the roles of women, slaves and other minority groups.  The Classical Period was a time of great innovation in architecture, art, literature and warfare. The survival of its cultural legacy will be examined by a look at modern film and literature with the final view reflected in Homeric epic.

The course outline is designed to connect the ideas and developments that encapsulate the Classical Period through popular themes of ancient culture. The approach will look at key figures and cultural aspects of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Beginning with an examination of how democracy arose as a unique institution to Athens, this theme is pursued throughout the course through analysis of other topics. 

This course offers a unique insight into the importance of the developments in the Classical Period (5th and 4th centuries BCE) through topics familiar to a modern audience.  It will enable the student to appreciate the key figures and concepts, how they apply to modern society and how they are portrayed in film and literature.  It is an engaging subject and the variety of topics will hopefully encourage further interest.  Further to this, the ability to assess source material is a particularly valuable life skill and ancient texts offer a unique advantage in acquiring this skill.

The course focuses on the early development of a democratic constitution, which we maintain in an adapted form today.  The origins of democracy were pursued in the ancient world through all social activities and this course unveils themes we recognise through popular culture.  It allows the student to reflect on the ancient topics, the relevance to our own social system, and encourages interest in such areas as literature, theatre and philosophy.  The student will be encouraged to think critically about the course content, an aspect of adult education that enhances personal development.  Certain aspects of the course enable innovation in teaching, such as setting up opposing groups to show how Aristotle saw differences in constitutions e.g. how democracy turns into tyranny. Given the variety of topics this is sure be an engaging and enjoyable experience.

Course Schedule 


Classes will be delivered online on Fridays 10.30am-12.30pm for eight weeks from 29 January to 19 March. The course will be engaging in that it allows for interaction such as group discussion on freedom of speech and on modern takes on ancient themes in film and television. Role play can be used, for example to highlight different types of political constitutions. Handouts will be given for each topic with follow up reading material if interested. This will be enhanced by PowerPoint slides, if available, which will incorporate clips of modern film adaptations for added interest. 


Content is structured as follows:

Democracy – The ideas of key figures such as Solon, Peisistratus, Cleisthenes, Themistocles and Pericles will be examined. The features and development of a functional democratic constitution will be assessed including why some societal groups were excluded and why others rejected the ideology.

Philosophy – The topic will address the spread of ideas and the impact of key figures particularly Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, including an examination of their major works and influence on modern thinking.

Gods, heroes and myth – How the myths of gods and heroes, such as the Twelve Olympians and Heracles, steered ancient society and influence modern approaches to classical studies.

Tragedy – This topic will introduce Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, the main playwrights. Looking at their works and examining the impact of tragedy on the audience in context.

Old comedy and New Comedy – Aristophanes to Menander. Examining the influence of Old and New Comedy through evaluating the sources, audience and context.

Wars and warfare – A study of warfare such as the Persian wars: particularly the major battles of Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae; the Peloponnesian wars: ancient Athens and Sparta; and the impact of Alexander the Great.  A variety of sources will be evaluated.

Homer, epic and modern perspective – An introduction to the origins of Homeric epic, its influence and legacy in film and literature.


Course Lecturer

Theresa Ryder, M.A. (Classics and Greek language), H.Dip. F.E.  She has a specialist interest the political history of Athens and has tutored in classics at Maynooth University. 

Entry Requirements

Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.


Short courses are not assessed. Students will receive a UCC Certificate of Attendance upon completion.

Closing Date for Application

Monday 18 January

Contact Details for Further Information

Regina Sexton, Phone: 021-4904700, Email: