Life Lessons from the Great Myths : The Great Courses: Intellectual History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor J. Rufus Fears
  • Series: The Great Courses: Intellectual History
  • 18 hrs and 22 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Change the way you think about some of the greatest stories ever told with this examination of the most important myths from more than 3,000 years of history. The ways in which the human imagination can transform historical events, people, and themes into powerful myths that endure through the ages is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
To examine the core of the world's greatest myths and tales is to confront some of history's most basic human truths. These 36 captivating lectures comprise a powerful work of storytelling prowess and historical insight, exploring events and individuals that so gripped civilizations, they transcended to the level of myth and played an important role in shaping culture, politics, religion, and more.
Looking at myths from ancient Greece and Rome, from the Near East and the Middle East, from early and modern Europe, and from the United States, Professor Fears shows how myths convey higher truths too profound to be described in ordinary language. Decoding them, Professor Fears reveals how they serve as enduring sources of wisdom. For example, the rich tapestry of supernatural events in the Epic of Gilgamesh provided support for Mesopotamian politics, including the need for a divinely appointed kingship. The furious battles in Beowulf played an important role in cementing Germanic ideas of courage, heroism, glory, and honor. And the dramatic last stand at the Battle of the Alamo emphasized for Americans that liberty is worth any price.
The search for wisdom is one of life's great purposes, and there is much wisdom to be gleaned from the world's great myths. By the final powerful and stirring lecture of this course, you're sure to find yourself wiser than you were before you started.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Amaznig series of Lectures

Throughout the history of mankind myths have given us our higher. In this wonderful series Professor J. Rufus Fears looks at a number of these myths and examines what they meant in their own time and what they can teach us today.

The myths in this series cover the entire period of Western Civilization. From Gilgamesh and The Bible all the way through the Greek and Roman periods, the Medieval period, and up to our own times. Fears examines the kernel of truth in many of these myths and shows that most have some form of history behind them. He also shows that these stories convey truths that can serve in our own time. This means that while there is some history in the myths we shouldn't get bogged down in debating every historical fact. Instead we should look at what truths these stories convey and learn.

I am sure that there will be those who object to Dr. Fears' selections. They focus entirely on what we call the Western Tradition. Of course this encompasses nearly four thousand years of literature and history that spans the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the British Isles, and North America. These myths are the myths that inform us in the modern world. They contain the wealth of a cultural heritage that we ignore to our own poverty of mind and spirit.

Throughout the course there are a number of themes that Dr. Fears draws from these stories. Some of them are intended to resonate deeply with the audience in our own time. On multiple occasions he discusses the problems associated with pre-emptive war, particularly in the Middle East. Perhaps the American leadership and the American people could have avoided many of the mistakes of the past decade if we had spent more time reading the classics and less time on other subjects. He shows us the importance of following your dream.

This is true of the characters in the myths as well as those who pursued the study of these myths. On several occasions he points out the intrepid amateurs who ignored the "pot-bellied" professors and found Troy, Knossos, Mycenae, and other locations deemed as mere fantasy by the experts of their time. This is just one sample of the dry humor that he shares. Personally I found Dr. Fears speaking style to be quite enjoyable. With his soft Southern accent and the subject material he often reminded me of a preacher delivering a classic sermon that would be discussed in great depth after church.

I have read myths since I was a very young child and have always enjoyed them. In college I majored in history and took as many English courses as I could. There I saw first hand what damage has been done to our culture in the university setting. History and Literature studies no longer examine the higher aspirations and truths. Instead, History has become a dull plodding world of sociologists. There are notable exceptions, as the Great Courses show us. Literature studies have fallen prey to the post-modernist and the Freudian. It is refreshing to find a professor who still remembers that our stories, whether we call them history, legend, or myth, are what make us truly human. I plan to get everything I can find by Professor Fears and I hope that you will as well.
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- David I. Williams

Lots of lecturing, not much teaching

I listened to this as a part of the Crash Courses Mythology thing. At first I thought it would be a nice summarization of the things I learned from the other courses. However, it derails so completely from Classic Myth and World Myths that I am uncertain where Professor Fears gets his information from.

At first Professor Fears speaks at length about the Iliad and its status as a Great Book and the higher knowledge we receive from reading it. For instance, he claims that one of its major lessons is how terrible hubris is - thinking you know better than you actually do, and acting accordingly. He also says that the Iliad contains a "historical kernal of truth" - this will be an ongoing pattern.

Later he goes in some detail about a few other myths like Gilgamesh, but about halfway through the series he stops talking about ancient myths and begins talking about actual historical figures like Alexander the Great and Napoleon. The link between mythological truths and historical facts weakens until the professor is simply lecturing about the history of the United States without mentioning any mythology or stories at all.

One thing in particular that bothered me was that he makes a point of putting his personal views into the lectures which have very little bearing on the overall lesson. For instance, he claims that American culture will never die (in the form of rock and roll and McDonalds), and refers to any mention of Christianity as "right" and any mention of previous religions as "what they believed". I felt this glorification of his personal beliefs got in the way of the actual lessons, and made it more difficult to see what he was actually trying to teach.

Overall, I do not recommend this series if you are looking for a good introduction into mythology.
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- Angela

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses