Course Description

Societal celebration of influential people, mythical or real, raises them above others in public esteem and endows them with a high degree of fame, honor, and symbolic significance. Such heroic figures are often elevated and admired not only for their individual accomplishments, but also for the moral and ethical values and virtues that they embody as examples to others. Yet, the functions of heroes (and anti-heroes) may be controversial and their meanings contested. An exploration of the role of images and other forms of visual culture in the conception of heroism, and by extension virtue (character traits that are in some deep or fundamental way connected with being a morally good or admirable person), will present the opportunity to examine, among others, the following questions: What is the role of the visual arts in establishing and sustaining heroic status through which societies define and articulate their values? How do images shape an understanding of heroic significance? What are some of the religious and political uses of heroic images? What is the relationship between the historical person (if there is one) and the imaginative construction of the hero, or put another way, the relationship between history and memory? How do images of heroes shape the narratives of communal identity of which they are a part? Together we will first explore objects and texts from ancient Greece and Rome that address these questions from a variety of thematic and methodological perspectives, and then we will examine the survival and transformation of ancient conceptions of the hero in representations of America’s founding fathers, American frontiersmen, comic book superheroes, and the characters of the Harry Potter Series. 

Instructor: Susan Ludi Blevins, Ph.D.

Email: blevins.susan@wustl.edu

Office Room Number: Kemper Bldg. 217

Office Hours: Wednesday 12-1:30 and by appointment

Class Meetings: T/Th 10:00-11:30