Renaissance Mythologies


Fall 2010


5th Floor Classroom


Andrew Morrall

This course traces the reemergence of the pagan gods during the Renaissance and their reintegration into European culture. No longer the objects of worship as they had been for ancient civilizations, and fallen into obscurity in the intervening ceturies, the Greek and Roman deities emerged in other forms and for other purposes in the fifteenth and sixtreenth centuries. Exactly what will be the subject of the course. Unlike many revivals of antique culture during the Renaissance, the reanimation of classical mythology took place chiefly within the sphere of the arts, emerging first, significantly, in the decorative arts – in the informal and suburban contexts of bedroom and bathroom decoration and gardens, on wedding cassone, writing cabinets and jewellery boxes, on maiolica dishes and fountain statuary. We will examine the influence of humanist scholarship and the revival of ancient texts, as well as the (initially) more important vernacular romances and reprints of medieval, moralised paraphrases of Ovid and astrological lore. From this fashionable iconography of pleasure, we will follow the development of mythology into more complex cultural forms of allegory and emblem across a wide variety of art works and media and investigate the ability of mythological figures to act as metaphors and symbols of abstract natural forces, of human behaviour and emotion. From thence we will explore the role of mythology in the political realm. The enduring success of classical mythology in early modern Europe may be said to reside in its elective affinities with important areas of culture, of leisure and fashion, but also morality, even science, and none more so than with the expression of power. From the second quarter of the sixteenth century, the ruling houses, princely states, free cities and republics across Europe developed iconographies in which the ruler or ruling body identified with powerful gods –with Jupiter, Apollo, or Diana – or with the mortal Hercules, aspiring to divine status -- to express a self-sustaining ideology of rulership. The ambition of the course is thus to establish a web of intricate relations between the many personal and public uses of myth in order to understand how they endured so powerfully and continued  to hold such a central place within European culture and society in the centuries following the Renaissance. 3 credits.