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

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

Fundamentalist sermonizing

This could have-- SHOULD have-- been a fascinating discussion on how mythology is still relevant in much the same way Aesop's fables are. The first few segments did well enough, but when you listen carefully, you start to hear nuanced terms being used which hint at a certain (faith-based) bias.

Sure enough, once he gets to discussing Genesis and Exodus, it becomes apparent that he takes Judeo-Christian myths more or less literally, which removes this from an academic discussion and renders it basically a Sunday school lesson. I don't mind that he has a personal preference; I do mind when he dismisses science in favor of bronze-age fables.
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- Coral

Book Details

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