ENVI 236
Demigods: Nature, Social Theory, and Visual Imagination in Art and Literature, Ancient to Modern Spring 2016
Division I
Cross-listed ARTH 236 / ENVI 236 / CLAS 236
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This course traces the obscure history of demigods (satyrs, centaurs, nymphs, Pan, etc.) from its origins in ancient Greek art and poetry until today. We pay special attention to three points: the relationship between the mythology of demigods and ancient political theory concerning primitive life; the relationship between the mythology and evolving conceptions of the environment, and the capacity of the visual arts to generate and transmit mythology that has a limited literary counterpart. Individual demigods occasionally interact with gods or heroes, and end up in the pages of a book. But animal-human hybrids are usually envisioned en masse and exist primarily in visual art, where they thrive to this day. The interpretation of demigods has changed over time, keeping up with developments in ethics and evolving hierarchies of genre and taste. Demigods have been subordinated to the status of decoration, or banished altogether. In antiquity, they are hardly ornamental. Embodied in satyrs, nymphs, Pan, and the others is a collective vision of an alternate evolutionary trajectory and cultural history. In this parallel world, humans and animals not only talk to each other, they live similar lives, intermarry, and create new species. The distinction between nature and culture is not meaningful. Male and female are more or less equal. The industrial revolution never happens. How much of the ancient conceptual framework informing the representation of demigods survives along with the visual imagery? We will examine the origins and mythology of the demigods in works of ancient art, including sculpture and painted vases, such as the Fran├žois vase and the Parthenon, and ancient texts, such as Hesiod’s Theogony and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. We will contextualize the representations within ancient intellectual history via texts ranging in genre from Old Comedy and political theory to theology, religious history, philosophy, and ethics (e. g., Aristophanes, Demokritos, and Lucretius). We will investigate the survival of the ancient myth of evolutionary alterity. This will include consideration of the imagery of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian painters such as Piero di Cosimo, Dosso Dossi, and Titian, the reevaluation of nature by the Romantics, Nietzsches’ Birth of Tragedy and twentieth-century artists such as Picasso. We will also explore the function of demigods in modern literature from C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling. Students who have some knowledge of the history of art (e. g., ARTH 101-102) will be well prepared to take this course. But it is designed to be comprehensible and meaningful to students with no background in art history. The requirements of the course include: attendance; preparing and answering questions for discussion; one midterm, one final exam, and one final paper.
The Class: Type: lecture
Limit: 40
Expected: 30
Class#: 3456
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: attendance, participation, midterm exam, final exam, final short research paper
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Art-History majors, Classics majors, sophomores, lottery
Distributions: Division I
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ARTH 236 Division I ENVI 236 Division I CLAS 236 Division I

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