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C LIT 357 B: Literature and Film

Meeting Time: 
MW 9:30am - 11:50am
PAR 160
Joint Sections: 
CLAS 432 A
James Clauss

Syllabus Description:

Classics 432 A and C LIT 357 B

Classical Mythology in Film

Autumn 2021

MW 9:30-11:50

Par 160

Instructor: James J. Clauss, Department of Classics

Office: Denny Hall M262F (difficult to find); tel. 543-2266 (department office phone)


Office Hours: By appointment


Required Texts:


  1. Fagles, The Three Theban Plays (Penguin)
  2. Hadas and J. McLean, Ten Plays of Euripides (Bantam/Doubleday/Dell)

Select Wikipedia articles


Read the material assigned for each topic (see below)

View and discuss the films.  It is important that students view the movies in class, as I will explain.


Midterm due Sunday, October 31 at midnight (Canvas).  Discussion during class (Monday, November 1).

Final projects due Wednesday, December 8, last day of class, at midnight (Canvas).

Final Examination due Tuesday, December 14, at midnight (Canvas). Discussion during exam time (Wednesday, December 15, 8:30-10:20).


Goals of the Course:


By studying major, in most cases authoritative, versions of ancient myths that were turned into films and comparing the ancient and modern renditions, students will be able to observe what modern cinematic narrators were drawn to and interested in achieving in their filmed versions of the myths and at the same time gain further insights both into the ancient stories and modern narratives. We shall focus on thematic differences and similarities, cinematic technique, and intended audiences, among other things, including how to read films as literary narratives. Finally we will explore in particular the mythological structure of the katabasis (see below), which plays out in the lives of every human being as well as many films.


Midterm and Final Essays


There will be two take-home exams, a midterm and final.  The examinations will cover information and themes pertinent to the ancient stories and include several essays regarding their modern renditions.  All information needed for these exams will be covered in class; there is no course book that will provide this. The exams should be uploaded to Canvas by midnight of the day before the exams. Class exam time will be spent in discussions.



Final Project


The final project involves the creation of a cinematic myth, either by way of a written description of an imagined filmed version of an ancient Greco-Roman myth that the student would make if s/he were a director/screen writer/cinematographer in an 8 page paper (double spaced, 12 point type; I will provide a sample story) or by an original film (we will see examples of student films during the class). Final projects are due the last day of class.  Examination of how the directors adapt ancient myths for their films will provide further models and inspiration for this project.  A major take-away from the project is that students will experience firsthand how one goes about imagining and plotting a mythic narrative in a cinematic form, but also how to read a film from a directorial/screen writer’s perspective, a skill that is easily transferable to all films.




For further information on the films, please consult


Clash of the Titans (1981), Desmond Davis, Director; art director Ray Harryhausen, screen writer Beverely Cross


Edipo Re (1967), Pier Paolo Pasolini, Director


Hercules Unchained (1959), Pietro Francisci, Director


Medea (1970), Pier Paolo Pasolini, Director


Desire under the Elms (1958), Delbert Mann, Director


Iphigenia (1977), Michael Cacoyannis, Director


Orphée (1949), Jean Cocteau, Director


The Searchers (1956), John Ford, Director


Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope (1977), George Lucas, Director


The Matrix (1999), Lana and Lilli Wachowski, Directors


Schedule of Films and Discussions

                            Monday                       Wednesday


Week 1                                                     Introduction


Week 2                Clash of the Titans                Discussion                   


Week 3                Edipo Re                       Discussion


Week 4                Hercules Unchained              Discussion


Week 5                Medea                                    Discussion


Week 6                Midterm                        Desire under the Elms                   


Week 7                Discussion                    Iphigeneia                   


Week 8               Discussion                    Orphée      


Week 9                Discussion                    The Searchers                       


Week 10              Star Wars                     Discussion


Week 11              The Matrix                   Discussion


Schedule of Readings


                  Monday                                Wednesday


Week 1                                           


Week 2      Oedipus Rex (Fagles)                      


Week 3      Oedipus at Colonus (Fagles)                                        

Week 4      Medea (Hadas)                    


Week 5      Hippolytus (Hadas)               


Week 6      Iphigeneia (Hadas)               


Week 7                                                                                           


Week 8  


Week 9                                   


Week 10       


Week 11                               


NB On the days of discussion, the first half of class will focus on the movie seen in the previous class and the second half will be preparation for the next film. Please do the readings prior to the day they are mentioned in the schedule.


Grades will be based on the following:


Midterm Essays                                                                   35%

Final Essays                                                                                   35%

Final Project                                                                                  30%

Important UW policy-related things to know:

  • The UW's Religious Accommodations Policy:“Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (Links to an external site.). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (Links to an external site.).”
  • The UW's Student Conduct Code: "The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at"(Links to an external site.)
  • Access and Accommodation: Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or  (Links to an external site.)DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


Elements of the Katabasis Motif


The journey undertaken by the hero leads to the realm of the dead (literal or figurative).


The traveler comes and goes, often at night and often through caves or over rivers, and frequently needs advice from a guide.


The region is forbidding, often in the control of a despotic ruler who commands frightening underlings.


One or more of those going with the hero on the journey frequently dies (a sort of sacrificial victim).

The purpose of the journey typically involves bringing back some important item, information or a person.


The hero effectively undergoes a death of the old self and rebirth into a new role.


The successful hero can attain one or more benefits apart from the purpose of the quest: power, knowledge, wisdom, courage, marriage, (re)integration into society, maturity, and/or the ability to face other quests in the future.



Catalog Description: 
The film as an art form, with particular reference to the literary dimension of film and to the interaction of literature with the other artistic media employed in the form. Films are shown as an integral part of the course. Content varies.
Department Requirements Met: 
Elective for both Literature and Cinema
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
September 24, 2021 - 1:54pm