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CLASSICS 2E03 Ancnt Wrld In Film

Academic Year: Spring/Summer 2017

Term: Spring

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Dr. Stephen Russell

Email: russelsc@mcmaster.ca

Office: Togo Salmon Hall 731

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23377


Office Hours: Office Hours: Monday through Thursday 5:00-6:30pm

Course Objectives:

Description and Objectives:


The emphasis of this class is on history and myth, studied through Greek and Latin literary accounts (in translation), and how those accounts are transposed onto film. In the history part of the course we’ll read about the promiscuous Roman empress Messalina, the heroic defence of Greek freedom by 300 Spartans, and the valiant but doomed slave revolt led by Spartacus. In the mythical part of the course, Greek drama (Electra, Medea, Oedipus) and heroic epic (Homer) will be prominent. We’ll look at a broad range of genres and interpretations, ranging from art house to peplum (Italian epic film), all of which will hopefully be stimulating.

Classes will be a combination of lectures and viewing of films. Comparison and contrast of versions in literature and film, estimation of the effectiveness of both, and analysis of various literary and cinematic techniques will be common features – and the thought and purpose behind the film/literary works will also be considered.

Regular attendance is important. Remember to take notes during class. Please do not walk out early, during a film, or make noises and disturb others who are trying to pay attention.

Some of the films may be available for a second viewing through the main circulation desk in Mills library after they have been shown in class. Please note that only ON CAMPUS viewing is permitted – and that you can only take a film out for 4 hours.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Text:

  • Stephen Russell – Film and the Ancient World (Volume 1)
  • Stephen Russell – Film and the Ancient World (Volume 2)

Method of Assessment:


Attendance                        20%
Quizzes (3 – 10% each)    30%        
Final Exam                        50%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Attendance is worth 20% of this course. You are allowed to miss only one class – this includes the first class – and then you will lose 2 points for every subsequent class that you miss. Since I am already granting you a missed class, MSAF forms will not be accepted for missed classes. (That is, your MSAF form will count as your allowable missed class.) At some point during each class I will hand out an attendance sheet, but I will not do so at a predictable time. You will only be considered present if your name is on that list.

There will also be three quizzes. Quizzes will be given on the dates indicated below in the “outline of classes” (May 11th, May 25th, and June 8th). Missed quizzes can only be made up if you satisfy both of these conditions: (1) you need to notify me during the week of the quiz via an MSAF form; and (2) you must be able to write the make-up quiz on the day/time of the scheduled make-up quiz. The make-up tests for each test will take place at 6:30pm in the same classroom on the following Tuesday – thus, the make-up for Quiz 1 will be at 6:30pm on May 16th, the make-up for Quiz 2 will be at 6:30pm on May 30th, and the make-up for Quiz 3 will be at 6:30pm on June 13th. Otherwise, failure to write a quiz will result in a grade of zero for that quiz.

The notes/slides from the class may be available via the McMaster “Avenue to Learn” site, although in certain circumstances, such as lack of attendance, I will reserve the right to not post the slides.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Outline of Classes:

1. May 2: Tragic Fate – Oedipus

Film: Incendies (2010: dir: Denis Villeneuve); plus a scene from Oedipus Rex (1967 – dir: Pier Paulo Pasolini)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 1)

Sophocles – Oedipus the King


2. May 4: The Gods, the Stage, and Hollywood Endings (Plus Introduction)


Film: Mighty Aphrodite (1995 – dir: Woody Allen)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 2)

Euripides – Hippolytus


3. May 9: Beginnings and Origins


Film: Ex Machina (2015 – dir: Alex Garland)



Assigned Reading: (Chapter 3)

Hesiod – Works and Days and Theogony

Aeschylus – Prometheus Bound



4. May 11: Tragic Women I – Medea Quiz #1


Film: Medea (1987 - dir: Lars von Trier); plus clips from Medea (1970 - dir: Pier Paulo Pasolini), and Jason and the Argonauts (1963 – dir: Don Chaffey)



Assigned Reading: (Chapter 4)

Euripides – Medea

Apollodorus – The Story of Jason and Medea (on A2L)



Supplementary Reading:

Ian Christie: “Between Magic and Realism: Medea on Film” (pp.144-165)



5. May 16: Rewriting History I


Film: Alexander (2004 – dir: Oliver Stone); I, Claudius (1976 – episodes 11 and 12); Rome (2005); Caligula (1979 – dir: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione, and Gioncarlo Lui); plus a scene from Quo Vadis (1951 – dir: Mervin LeRoy)



Assigned Reading: (Chapter 5)

Tacitus – The Story of Messalina;

Plutarch – The Demise of Antony and Cleopatra;

Tacitus – Some Stories about Nero;

Suetonius – Caligula



6. May 18: Rewriting History II


Film: The 300 Spartans (1961 – dir: Rudy Mate); plus a scene from 300 (2007 – dir: Zack Snyder), and Cabiria (1914 – dir: Giovani Pastrone).


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 6)

Herodotus – The Battle of Thermopylae

Aeschylus – The Persians


7. May 23: Comedy – Light and Dark


Film: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966 – dir: Richard Lester); and Plebs (2013 – ITV)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 7)

Plautus – Pseudolus


8. May 25: Comedy – The Foul and the Political Quiz #2


Film: Chi-Raq (2015 – dir: Spike Lee)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 8)

Euripides – The Cyclops

Aristophanes – Lysistrata



9. May 30: New Times, New Heroes


Film: Gladiator (2000 – dir: Ridley Scott)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 9)

Sophocles - Ajax


Supplementary Reading:

In Gladiator - Film and History (2004):

Martin Winkler – “Gladiator and the Traditions of Historical Cinema” (pp.16-30)

Allen M. Ward – “Gladiator in Historical Perspective” (pp.31-44)

Monica Cyrino – “Gladiator and Contemporary American Society” (pp.124-149)


10. June 1: Theme – Rewriting History III


Film: Spartacus (1960 – dir: Stanley Kubrick)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 10)

Publius Annius Florus – On Spartacus



Podcast/Radio Drama: Reuben Ship’s The Investigator (1954)




11. June 6: Tragic Women II – Electra


Film: Unforgiven (1992 – dir: Clint Eastwood); plus Electra (1962 – dir: Michael Cacoyannis) and Iphigenia (1977 – dir: Michael Cacoyannis)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 11)

Euripides – Electra

Apollodorus – The Cursed House of Atreus (on A2L)




12. June 8: The Homeric/Heroic Journey Quiz #3


Film: Le Mépris/Contempt (1964 – dir: Jean-Luc Godard); plus scenes from Life of Pi (2012 – dir: Ang Lee) and O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000 – dir: Joel Coen)


Assigned Reading: (Chapter 12)

Homer – The Odyssey (9, 11, 23)

Euripides – The Women of Trachis


Supplementary Reading:

Apollodorus – Perseus and Bellerophon (on A2L)

Hyginus – Hercules (on A2L)

Apollodorus – The Return of Odysseus (on A2L)


13. June 13: Epic Journeys and the Hero’s Quest


Film: Jacob’s Ladder (1990 – dir: Adrian Lyne); plus a scene from Apocalypse Now (1979 – dir: Francis Ford Coppola)

Assigned Reading: (Chapter 13)

Homer – The Iliad (1, 24)

Euripides – Heracles


14. June 15: Final Exam