Required Reading

Four weeks before the start of the NEH Institute, participants received approximately 35-50 pages of reading assigned by each visiting scholar as background for his or her lecture and seminars, and a bibliography of optional readings in various specialized areas. Participants were encouraged to begin the readings well in advance of their arrival in Athens in order to establish a common vocabulary, to identify thematic and disciplinary connections, and to begin to think about their individual projects. All materials will be made available to participants on a password-protected website, built and managed by the staff at the Institute for Humanities Research at UC Santa Cruz. This method of dissemination will also allow participants to upload materials they may wish to share with the group before and during the Institute.

Week 1: Facing Death in the Greek Literary Tradition

Yiannis Petropoulos: “Kleos Aphthiton (‘Undying Fame’) and a Hero’s Social Afterlife”
The Institute began with the earliest Greek texts, the epic poems of Homer. Selections from these poems will be read in conjunction with major secondary works on death and the quest for immortality in the epic tradition. Participants will also consult visual materials including funerary inscriptions, iconography and sculpture, and comparative data from ancient Near Eastern cultures.

Hesiod. Works & Days. Trans. Glenn W. Most. Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press, 2006 (Selections: 109-173).

Homer. Iliad. Trans. A.T. Murray. Loeb Classical Library, Second Edition. Harvard University Press, 1999 (Selections: 7.74-91; 9.401-16; 11.218-47; 12.310-28; 16.638-44; 17.423-47; 22.66-78, 300-5, 330-43).

Nagy, Gregory. “Hour One: The Homeric Iliad and the Glory of the Unseasonal Hero.” The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013 (26-47).

Vermeule, Emily. “Creatures of the Day: The Stupid Dead.” Aspects of Death in early Greek Art and Poetry. 1979. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981 (1-23).

Vernant, Jean-Pierre. “A ‘beautiful death’ and the disfigured corpse in Homeric epic.” Oxford Readings in Homer’s Iliad. Ed. D.L. Cairns. Oxford University Press, 2001 (311-341).

Recommended: Nagy, Gregory. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Revised Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. [Available online:]

Sheila Murnaghan: “Athenian Tragedy: A Drama of Survival”

Participants will read a major Greek tragedy that deals explicitly with life as a struggle against death, and will consider gender as a factor in how this play approaches mortality, including expressions of grief. These readings demonstrate how mortality is not simply a natural fact, but is also a culturally and a historically specific phenomenon.

Sophocles. Ajax. Trans. Paul Woodruff and Peter Meineck. Four Tragedies: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007.

Hesk, Jon. “Context and Tradition: Myth, history, and hero-cult.” Sophocles: Ajax. Duckworth Companions to Greek and Roman Tragedy. Duckworth, 2003. 17-24.


Week 2: “Mortal Bodies and Immortal Souls in Greek Medicine and Philosophy”

Kirk Sanders, “Philosophy Between Body and Soul”
Participants will read selections from the major ancient philosophical sources that deal with mortality and, in particular, Epicurean writings on the relationship between fearing death and living a good life. These necessarily include ancient Roman texts that constitute some of our major sources for Epicurean philosophy. Secondary readings focus on debates over the prospect of facing one’s mortality and its consequences in the philosophical tradition.

Epicurus. “Letter to Menoeceus” and “The Principal Doctrines.” The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia. Trans. Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.

Lucretius. Book Three (selections). The Nature of Things. Trans. A.E. Stallings. Penguin Books, 2007.

Philodemus. On Death (selections). Trans. W. Benjamin Henry. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.

Sanders, Kirk. “Philodemus and the Fear of Premature Death.” Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition. Eds. Jeffrey Fish and Kirk R. Sanders. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Warren, James. “Death and Deprivation.” Facing Death. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.


Nagel, Thomas. “Death.” Nous 4.1 (1970): 73-80.

Plato. Apology and Crito (selections). The Trial and Death of Socrates. Third Edition. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Rev. John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.

—. Phaedo (selections). Trans. David Gallop. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Xenophon. Apology of Socrates. Trans. Kirk Sanders.

Brooke Holmes, “The Medicalization of Mortality”
Participants will read selections from the major Hippocratic writings that focus specifically on medical approaches to death and dying. Secondary readings look at historical and theoretical accounts of patients’ symptoms as a lens through which to understand the doctor’s role in recognizing and treating life-threatening diseases. They also consider the ways in which the history of mortality is linked to the history of medicine.

Holmes, Brooke. The Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece. Princeton University Press, 2010 (148-162).

Lloyd, G. E. R. “Epidemics I” and “Science of Medicine.” Hippocratic Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 1984 (87-112; 139-47).

Recommended: Behr, Charles Allison. Aelius Aristides and The Sacred Tales. Amsterdam: A.M. Hakkert, 1968 (205-22; 223-35).


Week 3: “Visions of the Afterlife in Greek Mythology and Material Culture”

Yannis Tzifopoulos, “Mystery Cults and their Remains”
Participants will read a selection of published epigraphical texts that deal with views of mortality and the afterlife in ancient Greek religion. Secondary readings focus on how these epigraphical texts provide insight into religious beliefs and practices as described in the literary sources. Participants will also consult relevant inscriptions in the Epigraphical Museum in Athens.

Graf, Fritz and Sarah Iles Johnston. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013 (1-64, 94-136, 175-184).

Sarah Iles Johnston, “Myth and the Limits of Mortality”
Beginning with the so-called Nekyia, or descent to the underworld, in the Odyssey (Book 11), participants will read a selection of Greek myths dealing with conceptions of death, the afterlife, and the land of the dead. Secondary readings focus on myth as a source for making sense out of human mortality. “The Monkey’s Paw,” a short story about the desire to transcend death, illustrates the persistence of the topic into modernity. Participants will also look at visual materials relating to mortality in Greek myth, ranging from ancient Greek vase painting to contemporary visual media and film.

Homer. Odyssey. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000 (Book 11: 158-77).

Jacobs, W.W. “The Monkey’s Paw.” The Lady of the Barge. 6th ed. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906. <>

Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane. Reading Greek Death. Oxford University Press, 1995 (56-83).

Translated selections from other ancient works, as prepared and provided by the instructor, to narrate the stories of Orpheus, Castor and Polydeuces, Sisyphus, Alcestis, Asclepius.


Week 4: Participant Colloquia and Concluding Seminar

For the final seminar of the Institute, the Director will bring together the themes of the Institute in a comprehensive way and help situate the ancient Greek material in a history of mortality extending to the present moment.

Scheffler, Samuel. “Lecture 1: The Afterlife (Part I).” Death and the Afterlife. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013 (15-49; “Lecture 2: The Afterlife (Part II)” recommended).

Recommended: Hägglund, Martin. “Introduction: Of Chronolibido.” Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012 (1-19).