The study of classical antiquity may conjure up images of dusty texts, ancient ruins and dead languages, but this January, Assistant Professor of Classics Danielle La Londe was busy breathing life into the subject with her CentreTerm course, Classical Myth and Modern Film.
CentreTerm is Centre College’s three-week January term that gives students and faculty the opportunity to explore specific subjects in intensive ways; for La Londe, that meant turning her students into modern-day movie critics.
“I’ve always loved movies,” she says, “and the more I learned about the role of myth in classical antiquity, the more I saw connections between the ways in which films—especially science fiction, Westerns and war films—reflect contemporary social and political concerns by drawing on cultural and traditional character-types and the ways that classical literature—especially Greek tragedy and epic poetry—does the same by drawing on the characters of classical myth. The fun and creative atmosphere of CentreTerm seemed like the perfect environment to explore these connections collectively in the classroom.”
Students were paired into movie critic groups akin to Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert; they were responsible for reviewing a specific movie by analyzing key themes and debating the merits and flaws of the film.
At the end of the course, students presented their own ideas for films that drew upon mythic character types, film genres and themes studied in the class.
“My class builds upon a lot of the texts and ideas that are explored in the Humanities sequence, connecting them to a contemporary medium by showing how different Western cultures at various historical moments use different modes of artistic expression to explore the same ideas,” La Londe explains. “Additionally, we look at how the foundational texts of Western civilization are adapted and revitalized to make them relevant to a contemporary audience.”
The short and intense CentreTerm was the perfect time for La Londe to pursue this subject.
“The course focused on a couple questions rather than a broad survey, so I think students were able to sink their teeth into the material and think deeply about the issues,” she says. “Also, I think the course is a fun topic, and in the intense CentreTerm environment, keeping things fun and engaging is important.”
And though CentreTerm provides a unique and interesting break from the sustained intensity of traditional semesters, La Londe sees her CentreTerm course contributing to her students’ entire Centre careers.
“Coming back to the texts that students read during their first semesters at Centre and exploring them from this angle provides a nice sense of continuity and purpose to their educational experience at Centre,” she says.
By Mariel Smith