Epics and Myths from the Ancient World – Halfway through the Journey

Dr Casey Strine, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in the Department of Biblical Studies, tells us about his project progress.

This year I am offering a module called Epics and Myths from the Ancient World for the first time. This module is for first year undergraduates who are interested to examine great texts from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, and Greece under three themes: creation and order; epic journeys; suffering and meaning. Together, we’ll investigate interpretative issues in each text, explore their relationship to religion, politics, ethics, and economics in the ancient world, and create an image-based narrative that uses themes from them to respond to the contemporary world. It is an ambitious agenda, but one that seeks to draw together the ancient and contemporary uses and impacts of these great texts.

So far we’ve had five sessions, each including a lecture on one of the ancient texts and a guest speaker who discussed their artistic practice. In week one I gave an overview of the ancient world and explored what a myth is, and Emilie Taylor (www.emilietaylor.co.uk) spoke about her socially engaged ceramics practice. Week two included a lecture on the political and social ideology of the Babylonian Epic of Creation, then a discussion with Ruth Levene (www.ruthlevene.co.uk) on how the search for knowledge shapes her work with photography, film, audio, and other contemporary media. The Egyptian Book of the Dead’s vision of the afterlife featured in week three before Fay Hield (www.fayhield.com) discussed folk music and storytelling through song. In week four I lectured on the worldview of the creation narratives in Genesis, Psalm 104, and Proverbs 8, while Carolyn Butterworth (profile here) from the School of Architecture unpacked how she uses a method called the ‘creative survey,’ which draws heavily on art practice. Finally, week five comprised my lecture on the political ideas implicit in the Epic of Gilgamesh along with Bill McDonnell from the School of English (profile here) leading the class through various techniques from his drama practice, especially how approach to the theatre of the troubled.

Sound like a lot? Seem like we’d all have intellectual overload? Does the phrase ‘drinking from a fire hose’ come to mind? You’re correct on all of the above. The students and I are still processing what we’ve heard (and in my case said). Good thing we have a four-week vacation to let it all settle in!



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