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Life Lessons from the Great Myths

Learn how myth encodes the core sets of principles for the lives of people from around the world and across time.
Life Lessons from the Great Myths is rated 3.6 out of 5 by 94.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from In fairness, my opinion is based on having only viewed half of the first lecture as that is as far as I could get. I quite quickly realized that this professor has a very specific world view which colors his teaching content. After which, I went to the existing reviews of this course and found many statements in other reviews with a one star overall rating that validated and confirmed my feelings regarding the biased and decidedly unscholarly content of this course. I am, quite frankly, surprised that this lecturer is a professor at a major university. While my review is scant on specific examples because I endured so little of the course, I feel confident between what little I saw and the other negative reviews that continuing would be a waste of my time and only lead to frustration. I'll be moving on to another course.
Date published: 2024-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an extraordinary course. Professor Fears is outstanding, entertaining, engaging and courageous in his recount of history and the great myths. Its one of those lectures you just hate to end, like losing a good friend.
Date published: 2024-03-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Proganda, not scholarship This course is an unabashed commercial for the "American Way." It often extols people and nations as shining examples of patriotism and virtue while neglecting their serious faults. It also contains factual inaccuracies. Would expect this from Liberty University but not a state university.
Date published: 2023-12-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Know What to Expect: A Sunday church class This course provided an exploration of mythical stories. The professor's engaging delivery style made the content enjoyable, especially for someone like me who had limited knowledge of these stories prior to taking the course. At the same time, the professor often incorporated his own subjective views into the lectures, often presenting them as interpretations of the deeper meanings behind the mythical stories. This aspect of the course gave it a distinct Sunday church class vibe, deviating from the expected rigor of a typical college class. Nevertheless, if we approach the preaching aspect with an understanding that it stems from an enthusiastic old man endeavoring to share his personal wisdom, we can appreciate the course for what it is.
Date published: 2023-05-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great Storyteller As others have noted, Prof. Fears is not your typical Great Courses' lecturer. He performs without notes, he is loud and animated, he is opinionated and judgmental, he can be dismissive of alternative interpretations, but what he is above all is a dramatic storyteller. Even though I disagreed from time to time with his conclusions or the lessons that he sought to draw from the myths that he discusses, I found the course a delight. Although not as insightful and comprehensive as his Famous Greeks course, which I think is the best of his offerings for the Great Courses, it is still a very fine course and well worth the time and expense. Strongly recommended!
Date published: 2023-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging in the themes of mythology J. Rufus Fears loves to tell a vibrant yarn to be followed by its historical context as well as the lessons contained within. Living a life with commitment and passion brings the heroic journey into our lives.
Date published: 2023-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insights The presenter does an excellent job of differentiating the way we use the term myth today versus the kernels of truth that were embellished as teachings of the myths we know of in the past. The presenter also has an engaging style for what could be a boring subject.
Date published: 2022-11-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Preachy but from a great professor I have taken all of Prof Fears courses and indeed he is a master storyteller! But this course (2009), at the end of his lecturing career, was just too preachy for me. If you want to enjoy and learn from this great prof, I suggest (2001) Famous Greeks & Famous Romans, or perhaps (2005) Books that have made history, books that can change your life.
Date published: 2022-11-01
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Change the way you think about the greatest stories ever told with Life Lessons from the Great Myths by acclaimed Great Courses Professor J. Rufus Fears. A powerful work of storytelling prowess, this 36-lecture course explores individuals and events that so gripped civilizations, they transcended to the level of myth. Taking you from the battlefields of Alexander the Great to the conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte to the drama of the America West, this is the kind of engaging learning experience only Professor Fears can deliver.


J. Rufus Fears

We are no wiser than the Athenians of the 5th century B.C., no wiser than Sophocles for our science of today has shown us the overwhelming power of genes, of DNA.


University of Oklahoma

Dr. J. Rufus Fears was 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 David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and Distinguished Faculty Research Lecturer at Indiana University, and Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. An acclaimed teacher and scholar with more than 25 awards for teaching excellence, Professor Fears was chosen Professor of the Year on three occasions by students at the University of Oklahoma. His other accolades included the Medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, the University Continuing Education Association (UCEA) Great Plains Region Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the UCEA's National Award for Teaching Excellence. Professor Fears's books and monographs include The Cult of Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology and The Theology of Victory at Rome. He edited a three-volume edition of Selected Writings of Lord Acton. His discussions of the Great Books have appeared in newspapers across the country and have aired on national television and radio programs. Professor Fears passed away in October 2012.

By This Professor

The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History
The Wisdom of History
Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life
Life Lessons from the Great Myths
Life Lessons from the Great Myths


Heroes, History, and Myth

01: 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.

33 min
The Myth of Troy

02: 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.

30 min
Homer and Mythology

03: 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.

30 min
In Search of Historical Troy

04: 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.

31 min
Life Lessons from the Trojan War

05: 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.

31 min
Jason and the Golden Fleece

06: 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.

31 min
Theseus and the Minotaur

07: 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.

31 min
Myth and Athenian Drama

08: 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.

30 min
Fate and Free Will in Mythology

09: 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?

31 min
Atlantis-Fact or Fiction?

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.

31 min
The Epic of Gilgamesh

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.

30 min
Gilgamesh and History

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.

31 min
The Book of Genesis

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.

31 min
Exodus-The Foundation of the Jewish People

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.

30 min
The Historical Power of Biblical Stories

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.

30 min
Aeneas—Rome's National Hero

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.

30 min
Romulus—The Founder of Rome

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.

31 min
Lays of Ancient Rome

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.

30 min
Alexander the Great in History

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.

31 min
Alexander the Great in Romance

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.

30 min
Beowulf—Historical Roots and Heroic Values

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.

31 min
King Arthur—Fact or Fiction?

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.

31 min
In Search of the Holy Grail

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.

31 min
Vikings in America?

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.

30 min
Vergil the Magician

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?

31 min
The Battle of Kosovo

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.

30 min
Julius Caesar in History

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.

30 min
Napoleon and the Mantle of Caesar

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.

31 min
Arminius and German Mythology

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.

30 min
Teuton versus Roman

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.

31 min
Davy Crockett and the Myth of the Frontier

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.

30 min
The Alamo

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.

30 min
Jesse James and the Myth of the Outlaw

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.

31 min
General Custer—Hero or Villain?

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?

31 min
Reagan, Hollywood, and American Ideals

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.

30 min
Mythology as a Path to Wisdom

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.

32 min