Greek Influence on English Literature

Looking Beyond for our Heritage

A Study of Greek Influence on English Literature

This is one of my favorite courses to teach for a variety of reasons. First, it gives students a firm anchor in literature and literary forms, so essential in understanding the greatest works ever composed in the English language. If I were to name some of the “greats” in poetry, drama and fiction, they would definitely include Keats’ odes and Milton’s epic Paradise Lost (poetry); Shakespeare’s tragedies (drama), and Thomas Hardy’s novels (fiction). I am not alone in this assessment. The amazing thing is that all of the above works are “Greek” in character, and students of this course will find out why. Another reason why this course is enjoyable to teach is that the stories themselves are so interesting—some difficult, but all engaging. Lastly, the course will give students a peek into other academic fields such as psychology, as the myths delve into our minds as no other stories seem to do (such as the Orpheus myth in which we learn about the psychology of grief or in the Naomi myth in which we learn about the psychology of hubris). Students will begin with a reading of mythology and Greek literature, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and then go on to read English and American works that borrow from the Greeks.


  1. The student will write about the literature or about topics suggested by the literature:

  2. Three two-page compositions

  3. One ten-page paper and oral report on any topic dealing with the literature we have read

  4. Student will write a dramatic presentation on the literature read.

  5. Student will write his own music, poetry, or prose work based on the Greek literature that he has read.


  1. Student will learn words taken from the literature read.

  2. Student will learn the Greek etymology of many English words.

Greek Influence Project

The student will create a work inspired by Greek Literature. The work may be a musical piece, a work of art, or literary composition. See Examples in Teaching for past examples.


Student will be given reading comprehension exercises designed to practice the student’s skill in scanning text for details, making inferences, and discovering the meaning of a word in its context.

Literature and Literary Analysis

  1. Some examples of the literary works studied in the course: Greek mythological stories, Hesiod’s Works and Days (excerpted), Hawthorne’s “Paradise of Children,” Milton’s Paradise Lost (excerpted), Spenser’s Fairie Queene (excerpted), Homer’s Odyssey, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Camus’s “Myth of Sysiphus,” Aristotle’s Poetics (excerpted) and works by a wide variety of English and American poets such as Poe, Emerson, Bryant, Tennyson and Keats.

  2. Critical works read include T. S. Eliot’s and C. S. Lewis’s essays on Hamlet.

  3. Student will learn the biographies of the various authors studied.

  4. Student will study the history of Greek tragedy and comedy.

  5. Student will examine various important Greek, English and American works, and write on their themes, techniques, and interpretation of myth. Student’s understanding of the text will be tested.

  6. Student will study the influence of Greek myth and literature on Western literature from the Middle Ages to present.

  7. Student will learn the various approaches to understanding Greek myth, including moral, historical, and psychological interpretations.

  8. Student will be tested on the literature in regular tests.