Life Lessons from the Great Myths

Course No. 3870
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course No. 3870
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Course Overview

Hector and Achilles clash on the battlefields of Troy. Arthur discovers a magical sword and becomes a powerful British king. Jesse James pulls off daring crimes across the American frontier. Myths and stories such as these have captivated billions of people throughout human history. But these and other moments are more than just mere entertainment; they also serve a more important purpose.

Great myths and grand tales teach people about the hopes and values of their cultures, and they impart invaluable life lessons that can teach, guide, and inspire. 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. And to examine the core of the world's greatest myths and tales—and the larger-than-life characters who figure in them—is to confront some of history's most basic human truths. It's also an engaging opportunity to better understand them, learn from them, and possibly even apply them to your own everyday life.

Change the way you think about some of the greatest stories ever told with Life Lessons from the Great Myths by award-winning Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma. A powerful work of storytelling prowess and historical insight, these 36 captivating lectures explore 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. Taking you from the battlefields of Alexander the Great and the ships of Viking explorers to the conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte and the rough-and-tumble drama of the American West, this is the kind of engaging, personally rewarding Great Course that only Professor Fears can deliver.

Walk the Universal Path to Wisdom

Mythology, according to Professor Fears, is an essential part of the universal path to wisdom. We study myths and the heroes who populate them for the same reason we study any subject in the humanities: to gain wisdom. Using his decades of teaching experience and his highly popular perspective on history, Professor Fears shows you how to find, hidden within these breath-catching stories, the core sets of principles for the lives of people from around the world and across time.

To make the epic scope of world mythology more approachable, Life Lessons from the Great Myths focuses on what Professor Fears considers the most important and popular myths from key eras and cultures from more than 3,000 years of history.

  • Myths from ancient Greece and Rome: You'll travel back to the veritable cradle of Western civilization and investigate how views on warfare, heroism, family, justice, and other human values were shaped by myths and tales about the Trojan War, the adventures of Jason and Theseus, the tragedy of the House of Atreus, the founding of Rome, the rule of Julius Caesar, and more.
  • Myths from the Near East and the Middle East: Focusing on the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and the books of Genesis and Exodus, you'll discover how ancient stories and events—including Gilgamesh's quest for immortality, the calling of Moses, and the bestowal of the Ten Commandments—can serve as the backbone for politics, culture, and spirituality.
  • Myths from early and modern Europe: Europe is also rife with its own mythologies and tales that built the foundations of the modern West and that still impart lessons on leadership. Among those you look at are chivalric Arthurian legends, Viking travels to North America, the Battle of Kosovo, and the near-mythic life of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Myths from the United States: America, you'll learn, was a fertile field for transforming history into myth and shaping the nation's unique approach to freedom and self-reliance. Here, you'll find out what you can learn from the lives and deeds of George Washington, Davy Crockett, Jesse James, General Armstrong Custer, and other bold American figures.

Throughout the course, you approach each myth from a perspective that considers both its (possible) historical roots and its hidden kernels of wisdom. Not only will you get a stronger sense of how myths work together to create a broad moral framework for civilizations, you'll see how in some cases—such as Julius Caesar's life serving as a direct inspiration for Napoleon Bonaparte's military career—earlier mythic and historical exploits inform and influence subsequent generations.

Uncover Enduring Sources of Wisdom

Every myth and story you explore in Life Lessons from the Great Myths—whether a completely unfounded story, such as the sinking of Atlantis, or one that can be verified by the historical record, such as the battle of the Alamo—have long since transcended into legend. And each tale conveys higher truths too profound to be described in ordinary, factual language.

Decoding them, Professor Fears reveals how they serve as vibrant and enduring sources of wisdom.

  • Oedipus, Agamemnon, and Orestes: The tragic lives of these ancient Greek figures offered Athenians pointed lessons on subjects such as decision making, leadership, and family values.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh: The rich tapestry of supernatural events in this riveting epic provided support for Mesopotamian politics, including the need for a divinely appointed kingship.
  • Beowulf: The furious battles between this bold hero and a bevy of monsters played an important role in cementing Germanic ideas of courage, heroism, glory, and honor.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte: Promoted by the military leader himself, the myth of this French emperor shows what it takes to achieve military and political success—but also to overreach and lose it all.
  • The battle of the Alamo: The dramatic last stand of Davy Crockett and other Americans at this Texas fort emphasizes the idea that liberty is worth any price, no matter what the odds of victory.

Relive the World's Great Myths

Professor Fears has won more than 25 awards for teaching excellence throughout his illustrious career as an instructor, lecturer, and historian. And with Life Lessons from the Great Myths, you'll see for yourself (if you aren't already a fan of this masterful orator) just why he has received such acclaim—from both his students and our own community of lifelong learners.

Professor Fears does more than just deliver insightful lectures. He tells vibrant stories with passion and drama, so much so that you'll find yourself not just learning about these myths and stories, but actually reliving them. You'll

  • watch the brothers Romulus and Remus fight over where to build the city of Rome and, in the process, give birth to an iconic ancient empire;
  • walk with Moses and the Israelites as they escape from Egyptian bondage and establish religious traditions that continue to this day;
  • charge with Jesse James as he commits his daring crimes and transcends into a veritable folk hero of the American frontier;
  • follow alongside American troops as they raise the U.S. flag over Iwo Jima for a photograph that would inspire the nation;
  • and much more.

The search for wisdom is, according to Professor Fears, the paramount purpose in life. 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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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Heroes, History, and Myth
    Embark on Professor Fears's latest course with this introductory lecture. First, untangle the relationship between human history and mythology. Then, see this relationship at work through two examples from American history: the life of George Washington and the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima during World War II. x
  • 2
    The Myth of Troy
    Travel back to c. 1250 B.C. and revisit the chaos of the Trojan War. Learn how this 10-year conflict began as a result of the classical Greek idea of hubris (abusing the limits of personal power) and how its story conveys powerful political truths about the tragedy of preemptive warfare. x
  • 3
    Homer and Mythology
    Continue your look at the Trojan War, this time focusing on the great book that tells its tale: the Iliad. As Professor Fears recounts breathtaking moments from this epic poem—including the stirring final battle between Hector and Achilles—he illuminates the profound truths about humanity contained between Homer's lines. x
  • 4
    In Search of Historical Troy
    How was it proved that the Trojan War was not mere myth but an actual historical event? Find out in this insightful lecture, which tells the story of how archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann uncovered a wealth of evidence that proved, once and for all, the historicity of this momentous event. x
  • 5
    Life Lessons from the Trojan War
    Conclude your look at the Trojan War by investigating the conflict's historical roots in a pre-emptive war for control over natural resources in the Black Sea. Then, close the lecture by looking at why the Greek empire declined, as well as lessons that you can learn from Homer's Odyssey. x
  • 6
    Jason and the Golden Fleece
    Turn now to another universal Greek myth: the adventures of Jason and his Argonauts as they voyage to find the mysterious Golden Fleece. In retelling this thrilling myth, Professor Fears uncovers some of its universal mythological themes, its perspective on human values, and its kernel of historical truth. x
  • 7
    Theseus and the Minotaur
    Fundamental to the national identity of Athens was the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. Follow along as Theseus battles this mythical monster and liberates his city-state from the tyranny of King Minos. Then, witness how archaeological excavations at the Palace of Knossos have revealed startling truths about these mythological adventures. x
  • 8
    Myth and Athenian Drama
    Discover how mythic stories from Greek tragedies helped convey the most important values to ancient Athens. After a brief look at everyday life under the Athenian democracy and Aristotle's ideas of the purposes of tragedy, focus on Sophocles' powerful plays about King Oedipus. x
  • 9
    Fate and Free Will in Mythology
    What was the intellectual and political climate responsible for the rise of Athenian tragedy? How were these tragic plays meant to work on the audiences watching them? And what ideas of justice and family are embedded in the myths of Tantalus, Agamemnon, Orestes, and other members of the bloody House of Atreus? x
  • 10
    Atlantis—Fact or Fiction?
    Can myths still impart powerful human truths when they're not rooted in historical fact? Find out here in this lecture on the lost continent of Atlantis, as described by the philosopher Plato. Learn why we should still consider this myth to be so important, and how it survived across the ages. x
  • 11
    The Epic of Gilgamesh
    Investigate one of the earliest and most memorable myths from the ancient Middle East: the epic story of Gilgamesh. With his characteristic storytelling prowess, Professor Fears lets you follow along as the Sumerian king battles monsters, journeys to the end of the Earth, and seeks answers to life's most important questions. x
  • 12
    Gilgamesh and History
    Now that you're familiar with Gilgamesh, unpack the historical kernel inside the myth. Peek behind the rich mythological tapestry of creatures and events and discover central facts about the birth of civilization in the Middle East, including the construction of great walled cities and a political structure rooted in authoritarian rule. x
  • 13
    The Book of Genesis
    While few people today take the mythic stories of the Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh seriously, it's a different story with the subject of this lecture: the book of Genesis from the Old Testament. Delve into the Judeo-Christian interpretation of how the world began and witness the dawn of the nation of Israel. x
  • 14
    Exodus—The Foundation of the Jewish People
    The Exodus is a seminal event in Jewish history. Follow the story's events—from the calling of Moses and the ten plagues of Egypt to the parting of the Red Sea and the bestowal of the Ten Commandments—and explore in detail some of their higher historical and moral truths. x
  • 15
    The Historical Power of Biblical Stories
    How do Genesis and Exodus define Jewish culture? How were ancient Egyptian views of monotheism passed on to the Hebrews through the rebellious pharaoh Akhenaten? Why could we consider that Moses himself may have been Egyptian? Learn the answers to these and other provocative historical questions about these great books. x
  • 16
    Aeneas—Rome's National Hero
    Learn how the Aeneid—Vergil's epic poem about the warrior Aeneas's arrival in Italy—uses mythology to celebrate the ancient Roman national identity. In particular, examine two fascinating episodes from this myth: the tormented love affair between Aeneas and Dido, and Aeneas's descent into the underworld to find his destiny. x
  • 17
    Romulus—The Founder of Rome
    Another myth central to the ancient Romans was the establishment of their city by Romulus around 753 B.C. Professor Fears details the dramatic events of Romulus's life and the dawn of the Roman Republic. While some historians dismiss Romulus's story as pure fabrication, see why Professor Fears believes otherwise. x
  • 18
    Lays of Ancient Rome
    Romans during the time of Julius Caesar often looked back to stories about the foundation of the republic—tales filled with the virtues of patriotism. Investigate one of the most popular of these stories: that of the noble Lucius Junius Brutus's revolution against the tyrannical rule of King Tarquin. x
  • 19
    Alexander the Great in History
    Follow in the footsteps of the warrior Alexander the Great as he rises to power and conquers almost the entire ancient world. Specifically, you'll explore Alexander's foresight and military prowess and see how these characteristics helped create the "myth" of Alexander the Great that endures to this day. x
  • 20
    Alexander the Great in Romance
    Taming the wild horse Bucephalus. Seducing the queen of the Amazons. Traveling to the ends of the earth in search of immortality. These are just three of the many stories you investigate—all of which form the "Alexander romance" that reflected the political and cultural attitudes of the Roman Empire. x
  • 21
    Beowulf—Historical Roots and Heroic Values
    Transition now to the Germanic tribes that conquered the western Roman Empire. First, gain some historical background on the dawn of the Germanic age and its emphasis on courage and heroism. Then, see these powerful values in action as you listen to the captivating—and sometimes frightening—epic myth of the warrior Beowulf. x
  • 22
    King Arthur—Fact or Fiction?
    Explore the cycles of myth that revolved around King Arthur, whose legend became a defining force in shaping English national consciousness and the highest truths of medieval Christendom. Among these are Arthur's surprising removal of Excalibur from its stone and his creation of the chivalric Knights of the Round Table. x
  • 23
    In Search of the Holy Grail
    Continue your analysis of the myth stories surrounding King Arthur. Here, Professor Fears draws you into the complicated romance between Arthur's queen, Guenevere, and his trusted knight Sir Lancelot; the violent treachery of Arthur's son, Mordred; and the final moments of Arthur's life and his inevitable passing into legend. x
  • 24
    Vikings in America?
    Did the Vikings discover North America? For a long time this was largely regarded as fancy, but in 1960, archaeological evidence established beyond a doubt that Vikings had settled there. Investigate how this discovery was made—and the role played by the journeys of Eric the Red and Leif Erikson. x
  • 25
    Vergil the Magician
    During the Middle Ages, the Roman poet Vergil became the center of a widely spread myth that portrayed him as a magician. How did this happen? What were some of the many stories surrounding this mysterious magician? And how did they affect the ancient poet's reputation in subsequent centuries? x
  • 26
    The Battle of Kosovo
    Fought on June 28, 1389, the battle of Kosovo between the Kingdom of Serbia and the Turkish Empire is still living history in the Balkans. Go inside the history and mythic legacy of this clash to learn how its higher truths about patriotism still inspire the Serbs and their modern nation. x
  • 27
    Julius Caesar in History
    Julius Caesar's life and deeds were a veritable blueprint for some of Europe's powerful rulers, generals, and even popes. Strengthen your understanding of Caesar's historical legacy with a closer look at his rise to power, his military genius, his dramatic assassination, and his influence on subsequent generations of politicians. x
  • 28
    Napoleon and the Mantle of Caesar
    Julius Caesar's greatest student: Napoleon Bonaparte, who in the early 1800s sought to unify Europe into a single, all-powerful empire. Gain new insights into this European figure's rise and fall from power. Then, witness the creation of the "Napoleonic myth" and its own lasting impact on history. x
  • 29
    Arminius and German Mythology
    What made the war chief Arminius, who defeated the Romans in A.D. 9, the quintessential historical and mythic hero of 19th-century Germany? What did the Roman historian Tacitus see in this remarkable individual? How did Arminius's story endure down through the centuries and shape German national consciousness? Find out here. x
  • 30
    Teuton versus Roman
    Continue exploring the mythological legacy of Arminius and the ways it helped support the reformation of German self-image in medieval and early modern Germany. Then, travel back centuries and learn how the fall of the Roman Empire laid the groundwork for the development of Germany and other European nation-states. x
  • 31
    Davy Crockett and the Myth of the Frontier
    In the course's final section, turn your eyes to America—a nation that, while relatively young, comes with its own unique figures and events that have achieved near-mythical status. Meet some of the most fascinating characters from the American frontier, including President Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett. x
  • 32
    The Alamo
    Like other great battles in history, the last stand at the Alamo has long been celebrated in poetry, song, and prose as a battle of mythical greatness and glory. Find yourself standing alongside American heroes such as Davy Crockett and William Travis as they defend Texas with bravery and patriotism. x
  • 33
    Jesse James and the Myth of the Outlaw
    Outlaws are universal figures in mythology, and outlaws have played a prominent role in U.S. history. What accounts for this cultural fascination? Learn the answer by closely investigating the life and law-breaking career of Jesse James, the most prominent outlaw in the American West, and his tragic death at the hand of a friend. x
  • 34
    General Custer—Hero or Villain?
    General Armstrong Custer and his last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn make up one of the most controversial figures and moments in the mythology of the Wild West. Was he American history's arch-villain? Or is there more to Custer—and his myth—than meets the eye? x
  • 35
    Reagan, Hollywood, and American Ideals
    Ronald Reagan, according to Professor Fears, translated the values from his highly popular Hollywood films into one of the most successful presidencies in American history. Here, survey the highlights from this momentous president's life and uncover the roots of his undeniably important, near-mythic eight years in the Oval Office. x
  • 36
    Mythology as a Path to Wisdom
    Learn why the study of great myths (and the historical kernels contained within them) is an essential aspect of the humanities—and an important marker on the pathway to true wisdom. Also, Professor Fears reveals the ultimate lesson to be learned from everything you've investigated in the past 35 lectures. x

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
J. Rufus Fears (1945–2012) was the David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his PhD from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was a Professor...
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Life Lessons from the Great Myths is rated 3.5 out of 5 by 68.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging I have listened and watched many of Dr Fears courses and they allows are entertaining and informative
Date published: 2019-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Life lessons from the great Myths I bought this course to stretch myself as i have always been a bit of a science nerd. I enjoyed most of the class especially the second half. Some of the early material held little interest to me and I had a difficult time remembering and identifying with so many names that i was totally unfamiliar with. I also enjoyed the depth of knowledge the professor showed even though sometimes he seemed a bit biased!
Date published: 2018-12-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Personal biases dressed up as knowledge I have viewed more than 100 Teaching Company courses. This one I had to abandon at lecture nineteen. In our current era of factual news being labeled fake and fake being promulgated as fact, I fear that the latter applies to this course, and I have lost confidence in Professor Fears.
Date published: 2018-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very enjoyable course I like the premise of Dr. Fears that many myths contain a kernel of truth, and that even those myths that do not include some historical truth can be of benefit for teaching values.
Date published: 2018-07-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Did NOT Like it so I sent it back! Rufus should stick to ancient history. His attempt to relate ancient history to the present just reflects his American Exceptionalism HALLUCINATION that is distorting/destroying our society.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gifted lecturer Dr. J. Rufus Fears makes any subject fascinating. He passed away a few years ago (much to the loss of the academic world), but any lectures you have from him are superb.
Date published: 2018-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thoughtfully organized course. I have immensely enjoyed all the previous courses by Professor Rufus Fears,and this one is no exception.He is a marvelous teacher,and his very personal style of lecturing , makes it a very real classroom experience.Its a great loss that he is no longer with us.
Date published: 2018-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Teacher Dr Fears is, in the best tradition of all history teachers, a teller of compelling tales. This isn't 'history'. This is educational entertainment.
Date published: 2017-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life lessons from the Great Myths. We love Rufus Fears' courses. His lecture style is more like storytelling. The lessons he draws are important.
Date published: 2017-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Fears Professor Fears is great (and greatly missed). His thoughts on any topic are worth hearing and considering, and his style is sufficiently engaging that I would seriously consider a course of lectures in which he read the phone book. The subject matter of this course was worthwhile and entertaining!
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Highly biased While the professor was clearly well-read and well-traveled, he suborned his knowledge to promote his personal political and religious biases. This was absolutely the worst course I have ever purchased.
Date published: 2016-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from J. Rufus Fears is the Best I have purchased every course that Professor Fears teaches. He is the tops. He tells history like a story - a smooth story. You cannot go wrong with any of his courses. Unfortunately, Professor Fears passed away two years ago. It is too bad he is gone, but he left us a great legacy in his courses. Gene K. Huddleston
Date published: 2016-07-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 19th Century Parochialism Dr. Fears does not feel compelled to address this subject in a scholarly and objective way. While myth is certainly more than engaging tales, magic and heroic action, Dr. Fears approaches the great myths of our civilization and others in a very subjective, often archaic way that is very limited in scope and very biased in point of view. I was extremely disappointed.
Date published: 2016-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Totally engaging I loved this course. Fears presented the myths in such an engaging style that they came to life. His points regarding human nature and history were both insightful and thought provoking. While I didn't agree with all his opinions, in particular his parochial views regarding America as being the beacon of democracy in the modern world, it was easy to put these aside and focus on the wonderful stories of Gods and heros he relates with such passiion.
Date published: 2016-02-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Extremely Disappointed - A Waste of Money I will be returning Rufus Fears courses on life lessons from the Great Myths & Great Books. I think these lectures bring your organisation into disrepute. His distorted historical representations are by his own admission driven by his belief that America has a special god given place in the world and he seems to be using Great Courses to promote his own brand of religious, right wing nonsense. I am an enthusiastic customer of Great courses and to be honest I am shocked that you are selling such nonsense which would be far more suited to some kind of church. Usually your products are really good.
Date published: 2016-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perhaps the Most Important Univ. Course of my Life Regarding any of those reviewers who gave a less than 5 star rating across the board, I simply don't know what they are talking about. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain - and most fools do." From the Ancient Greeks, to George Washington Crossing the Delaware, to Ronald Reagan ending the Soviet Empire, this lecture series explains how the oral history of mankind has served the invaluable purpose of conveying human beings' highest truths. I can honestly say this lecture series profoundly impacted my life for the better, not to mention giving me a new earned respect for the Outlaw Jesse James! :-) Please don't miss this lecture series, I truly believe almost everyone will benefit and appreciate this course. Thank you Great Courses!
Date published: 2015-07-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I bought an audio streaming/download version of Life Lessons from the Great Myths. I bought this course to use in a World History class I am teaching next year. I've been previewing it, and I'm not going to be able to use it in the class. I am very unhappy with the presenter and the point of view of the presentations. He takes a very Christian, American, Euro-centric point of view, and he makes a lot of historical claims that are just not accurate. I'm disappointed with this course, which is a first for me with the Great Courses. I'm going to stick with Vandiver's Classical Mythology
Date published: 2015-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Memory Eternal Prof. Fears His lectures take on new meaning since he completed this life in 2012.
Date published: 2014-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing 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.
Date published: 2014-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Fears' Best Ever Prof. Fears has an amazing talent for storytelling and an ability to inspire. In this series, he provides sustentative insight into the connection between myth and actual history, all the way from Troy up to modern times including some American “myths” also. His ability to “connect-dots” for us across many centuries is outstanding. If you want to know the connection between Rome, Christianity, and the King Arthur Legends; If you want to know the connection between Arminius and Hitler, and many more such connections throughout history, this course is the one course. His best work EVER, and the absolute best course I have taken from the Great Course company (and I have taken many scores). Prof. Fears, please keep doing what you are doing. Consider a series on the great spiritual/religious “hero’s” (Jesus, Mohamad, Gandhi, Moses, etc.) as your next project – wouldn’t that be great!
Date published: 2014-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great course Once I started this course I was hooked. Dr. Fears is a wonderful instructor for this course...complete with a sense of humor coupled with intellectual critique. There were moments during this course I wished I had done my Graduate with this professor. Please do yourself a favor and work your way through this's well worth the effort.
Date published: 2013-12-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Deeper Meanings in Myths Classical myths, heroic legends, and exaggerated tales of the exploits of a society's favourite sons and daughters may encapsulate fundamental truths, moral values, and timeless lessons. Professor Fears, an engaging storyteller, developed this theme insightfully in 'Life Lessons From the Great Myths.' He also helped me understand how hybris (or hubris) is a recurring tragic flaw for many characters in myths. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Fears tended to express views as though they were incontestable, as when he flatly asserted that Pericles was 'one of three great democratic statesmen in history, along with Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill,' and when, discussing fate, he likewise asserted that 'if you have the DNA, the genes, for breast cancer, you're going to get it.' Fears often spoke as a passionate, verging on jingoistic, citizen of the U. S. A. I do still recommend the course, but it might have been even better presented from a 'world citizen's' perspective.
Date published: 2013-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable series I was quite entertained by this series of lectures. While some of the material was familiar, I learned something new in each lecture. I would definitely recommend it.
Date published: 2013-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accepting the Challenge This review is an answer to the many negative reviews for this course. This is a course about the intersection of history and myth. History is a discipline that seeks the TRUTH of what happened. Myth works on us emotionally, conveying and promoting VALUES. There are two major categories of complaints: either Professor Fears is inaccurate historically or promoting his personal views. Both of these are seen to be unbecoming of a scholar. But give the man a little credit for knowing what he’s doing, and for having enough faith in us, his listeners, for understanding this approach. Stories can go from myth to history: He points out that the Trojan War, the tales of King Arthur, and the discovery of America by the Vikings were at one time thought to be pure fantasy. But a few archeologists took them seriously enough to discover new historical truths. Stories can go from history to myth: The Roman Empire suffered a devastating loss to the Germans in the first century CE. France would be ‘Romanized’. But Germany would remain free, autonomous. The historical fact, Fears believes, became a mythologized value in the 19th and 20th century in the wars between France and Germany. Fears also says that myths and the values they announce and reinforce are not always positive. He points to the powerful effect of the mythology of the Nazis in WWII. Finally, Fears shows that a historical story that becomes a myth can sometimes have changing values. General Custer was once a hero in American culture. But after the 1960s, Custer increasingly became a villain. Reviewers who complain about Professor Fears’ lack of historical accuracy or his biases aren’t accepting the challenge of this course. It is an exploration of the wide ranging play between truth and values in Western civilization, conveyed, as they always have been, through the stories we tell ourselves. I’ve listened to well over 100 Teachco courses and I know this course is different. But that is precisely what makes it so special. Hats off to Professor Fears.
Date published: 2013-08-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from more separation of faith and facts needed On previous courses with Professor Fears it was already obvious that he wouldn't let the facts stand in the way of a good story. But in this course not even the stories are in any way satisfying, the lectures feel like arbitrarily picked topics where the few facts are inundated in the Professors Christian missionary christianity . It is one of the few courses I regretted buying and I didn't finish.
Date published: 2013-07-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Exasperating to Listen To There are three things about these lectures that make them exasperating and ultimately led me to stop listening a little past midway through the series: (1) the regular occurrence of anachronisms (and not just metaphorically) in the lectures, (2) the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that sometimes comes out, and (3) the professor's disturbing lecture style. I understand that Professor Fears may feel a need to try to make these lectures relevant to his students and consequently might want to draw analogies to the present day. He often goes well beyond this, however, and introduces anachronisms into his telling of the myths and/or descriptions of the societies that originated them, leaving me questioning whether he really understands the context. Another curiosity is the chip on the shoulder that the professor seems to carry with respect to "the modern age." In his opening lecture, on George Washington, he suggests that people today do not believe that Washington was a genuinely religious and God-fearing man. From where does he get this idea? I learned my American History in public schools in the liberal northeast, and we were certainly never taught anything like that. Another example is his frequent complaint about the language he hears his students using on campus, in contrast to the elegance and majesty of many of the writers from whom the myths of the course come. Hmmm. The average 18-year-old Oklahoma undergraduate does not conduct his everyday conversations in the language of a Homer, Plato, or the Elizabethan scholars that wrote the King James Version of the Bible? I'm shocked! The final thing I found disturbing about these lectures is the professor's tendency to dwell upon violent acts and expressions of anger in the myths. When he does so, his voice takes on a terrifying quality, as if he genuinely feels the anger of the antagonists -- or, worse, enjoys the particular example of torture or gore that he is describing. My teenage daughter, riding in the car with me while I listened to one lecture, exclaimed, "Who IS that guy, Dad? He sounds like a creeper!" I couldn't have said it better myself. Perhaps were I watching a DVD, I might see a wink or a smile or something that would tell me the professor was just trying to spice things up, but on CD it really does seem bizarre.
Date published: 2013-06-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Take Out the Biblical and Modern Lectures This course is interesting and a point. When he's discussing many of the myths such as Gilgamesh, Greek/Roman, Arthur etc. it's a very good course. But when Prof. Fears moves on to Judeo-Christian myths he veers into trying to justify things like having the 10 Commandments in Federal Courts. It stops being a course about myths and more about trying to justify a Judeo-Christian revisionist history of America. Similarly, when dealing with many of the "modern" myths, especially Reagan, the Professor comes across as expressing his opinion and political beliefs. Take those lectures out and the course is great. Leave them in and it's somewhat all over the place.
Date published: 2013-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommened wth reservatons I did not care for this course as much as "The Events that Changed History". Yes, the Professor's Judeo-Christian bias does show through, although I believe he makes a sincere attempt to be respectful of other cultures and religions. I still enjoyed the stories and they way he tells them. And I learned something from almost every lecture. In addition to the religious bias, I would also warn others that this Professor also seems to have a, shall we say, "right-learning" philosphy of politics and eonomics. This is especially evident in lecture 35 about Ronald Reagan. For those who do not view Reagan as St. Ronald, this lecture will probably be disturbing. Aside from ignoring some of the obvious facts of the consequences of RR's policies (such as massive national debt), Professor Fears promotes the myth that the Berlin wall came down just because Reagan told the Russian Premier to take it down. Oh my. And in what I think is true irony (as defined by none other than Professor Fears), the Professor makes note of the fact that early in his acting career Ronald Reagan apparently came to have great compassion and understanding for people with epilepsy. Which is good. What the Professor fails to see is that Mr. Reagan did not seem to be able to muster that same sense of compassion and understanding for people with AIDS and, during his presidency, refused to support funding for research to help the thousands of people afflicted with this disease. Also, the Professor apparently does not see that at the end of his life Reagan became a victim of another scourge-that of Alzheimer's - and wasted away while his wife pathetically begged congress for funding for stem-cell research on this disease (which they refused-what goes around comes around maybe?). To me, if Ronald Reagan was a hero (which is debatable) this end to his life proved him to be as tragic a hero as any from a Greek poem or a Shakespearean play. I do think it speaks to the biased viewpoint of Professor Fears that he did not make this connection, especially considering the theme of this course. Having said all that, I would still say there is a lot of good material for thought and discussion. Again, as in my review of the "Events That Changed Hiistory" , I would simply caution people that this is not a "just the facts, 'mamm" course-it is a subjective anaysis of these tales and deeds. As such, you are free to agree or disagree with the Professor's viewpoints and conclusions. And I think that no matter which of those you do, you will still be entertained.
Date published: 2013-04-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from His Religious Bias Comes Through He is a great story teller and I enjoyed many of his stories/lectures. However, his christian religious bias came through in several lectures. For the most part, he ignored the wide range of myths in the worlds religions and implied more than just a kernel of truth to myth basis of his own beliefs.
Date published: 2013-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful stories If you want a great overview of history and want to enjoy learning it, get this course. Get all of his courses. Always supplement with other, more detailed history courses and you will never be disappointed. He loves history. He will make you love it too! Know thyself! Learn history! See where we are now. We are lost.
Date published: 2013-02-27
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