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Utopias Portal

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Representing Utopia through the Ages

While the idea of establishing an ‘actual’ utopia has been disparaged since the first half of the twentieth century from socio-political perspectives (e.g. the failed age of ideology from 1917-1945), literary and related cultural narratives have a long history of imagining and representing utopia (also paradise, the golden age, etc.). These utopias often function to criticize the problematic social norms and climates of their times as well as providing progressive imaginings for a better future, often based on certain ideals or virtues. In this module, we go on a chronological tour of different representations of utopia, including: the paleolithic utopia of hunter-gatherers (e.g. as discussed in Harari’s Homo Sapiens) (before 10,000 BC), the Bronze Age utopia of Minoan Crete (4000-1400 BCE), Plato’s mythical island of Atlantis (ca 400 BC), the pastoral utopia of the Roman poet Virgil (ca 40 BC), the New World utopia of Sir Thomas More (1516), the Enlightened, reasoned utopia of Robinson Crusoe (1719), Tolkien’s fantasy utopia of Númenor (ca 1940), and more.
Precepted by Hamish Williams

The Minoans and Modernity: Minotaurs, Labyrinths, and Other Myths

When one thinks of ancient, pre-classical civilisations, one thinks of Sumerians, Egyptians, Hittites, and, not least, Minoans. The Minoan civilisation, discovered around 1900 by English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, has often been styled as the first major European civilisation, equally proficient in technology and the arts, with a sea empire spanning across the Eastern Aegean. But how much of what we imagine about the Minoans is truthful and how much is modern mythmaking?

In this module, we will examine the immense impact which the discovery of Minoan Crete and its integration with the classical myths of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth has had on literature, movies, the arts, and even computer games. We will examine the works of Sir Arthur Evans, Pablo Picasso, Nikos Kazantzakis, Robert Graves, Mary Renault, Poul Anderson, and Stephen King, among others. In so doing, we will explore such key 'Minoan' concepts and phenomena as: the sublime, utopianism, feminism, irrationality and the unconscious, mythmaking, and European identity.
Precepted by Hamish Williams
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