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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2004

T C 357 • Myths of Violence and War

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
39660 MW
3:00 PM-4:30 PM
hrh 3.102a

Course Description

How would you talk about, explain, remember or forget violence or killing that you had witnessed, experienced, or done? How did ancient Greek culture and late-nineteenth/twentieth century British and American culture deal with the concepts and realities of violence and warfare? How is violence used, controlled, encouraged, punished, experienced, remembered and explained by different societies and by individuals within those societies? What effects, short-term and long-term, does the experience of violence have on people and how do they use myths to deal with those effects? We shall consider these questions while reading, viewing and discussing a range of mythic forms for the 19th-20th and now 21st century: poetry and prose, fiction (historical and parable-form novels) and non-fiction (including biography, memoir, oral history, journalistic essays, and critical/analytical studies) and film (including documentary and the filming of a Greek play in production). We shall begin by reading Homer, Thucydides and Euripides and discussing how they inform us about the role of warfare and the nature of violence in ancient Greece at the beginnings of western civilization. We shall also be concerned with violence in society and its effects upon society and groups within society (Achilles in Vietnam, Bloods, Wisconsin Death Trip, The Forbidden Zone, Taxi Driver, A Father’s Story) and not just in the specially reserved and often socially sanctioned sphere of war. In this version of the course we shall concentrate on how individuals use ‘myths’ to come to terms (psychological, ethical, emotional, philosophical, personal) with violence that they have experience, witnessed, done or know about, but also with attempts to explain the origins of violence in individuals and societies (A Father’s Story, Wisconsin Death Trip, A Dream of Passion, “Gaza Diary”). We shall also spend some time discussing how recent incidents of violence get reported and why that is the way it is.

About the professor: Professor Palaima has lectured, written and taught extensively on the subjects of ancient writing systems, the reconstruction of ancient culture, decipherment theory, Greek language, and war and violence studies. He loves music (esp. Bob Dylan and traditional blues) and film, and hopes you do also. He is a regular contributor of editorials to the Austin American-Statesman and reviewer for the Times Higher Education Supplement. He teaches this course so that all involved, including himself, can see things in life more clearly.

Grading Policy

two 12-page papers (20%/30%) four 2-page film responses (5% each = 20%) one or two notes of class meetings (10%) discussion leading and active participation expected in class discussion (20%) 2 students will be chosen to lead discussion for each class meeting and one to write up a summary of discussion for circulation in the class. Films are viewed outside of normal class meetings. Students are required to read texts carefully, view films critically, and hear and feel what music says. All these forms of myth raise questions about the human response to the act of killing another human being and about the mythic recovery, presentation, and preservation of particular or universal memories of violence. Students are encouraged in both papers, but especially the second, to bring their outside interests, readings, and film viewings to bear upon the topics and material in this course. Attempts are made to bring distinguished visitors in for discussion. We shall naturally learn more about the realities of warfare in four different periods: late Greek Bronze Age and Homeric epic; fifth-century Greece; WWI; Vietnam. We shall also learn about forms of social violence and power. But we aim to learn most about the human heart and mind.


Homer, The Iliad (Lombardo translation); H.G. Wells, Island of Dr. Moreau; Euripides, Medea; T. O’Brien, The Things They Carried; L. Dahmer, A Father’s Story. Jack Schaefer, Shane. And a course booklet of selections from some of the following: S. Freud, “Disillusionment in Time of War”; J. Shay, Achilles in Vietnam; Thucydides, On Justice Power and Human Nature; S. Sassoon and W. Owen, selected poems; P. Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory; M. Herr, Dispatches; B. Edelman, ed., Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam; Wallace Terry, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans; Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip and The Forbidden Zone; Lyn MacDonald, Somme; S. Terkel, The Good War; J. Schaefer, Shane; Chris Hedges, “Gaza Diary”. Excerpts from Cormac McCarthy’s novels. Excerpts from Little House on the Prairie. Films: Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam; A Dream of Passion; Apocalypse Now; Taxi Driver [FILMS SUBJECT TO CHANGE]


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