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ELA 10: World Literature—Semester A

Swords, Sandals, and Stories: Shmoop-style

Before Katniss Everdeen fought to the death in the Hunger Games arena, before Harry Potter cut his teeth (and wand) on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and before a long-lived vampire named Edward out-sparkled the most blinged-out disco queen, epic and mythical heroes were wiping their feet on the carcasses of all the monsters they pwned. How would you like to head to Greece, Babylon, Anglo-Saxon England, and Iceland and meet some of these bad boys (and girls) of the ancient world?

In Shmoop's fantastical, Common Core-aligned, tenth-grade course on World Literature, you'll not only meet literature's original superheroes, but you'll also

  • take a ride on a flying carpet through the folktales of India and Arabia, and complete creative activities to better understand what gives these stories their awesome power to teach you, enthrall you, and save you from death.
  • learn how to make the Ancient Greeks cry in a project about mythology.
  • close-read a journey to Hell and back with Italy's most famous comeback kid.

Besides meeting the movers and shakers of the literary world, we'll also travel the world to figure out why we as human beings like stories. (Hint: it's not because of the s'mores passed around the campfire.) We'll also ask important questions like

  • what makes a hero a hero?
  • what's the point of war?
  • how does cultural identity get created?
  • why do we want to read stories about people killing their fathers and blinding themselves?

The first semester examines some of the biggies of the ancient world, including The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer's Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, and everyone's favorite, the Panchatantra.

P.S. World Literature (ELA 10) is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester A, but you can check out Semester B here.

Course Breakdown

Purchase units individually *

*Purchasing by unit includes course material only.

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Unit 1. Swords, Sandals, and Social Power

Myths are weird. Why would anyone think that the earth sits on the back of the turtle? This unit goes deep into the myth question by examining why we like to tell stories.

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Unit 2. Ye Olde Blockbusters of Ancient Epic

Ever wondered how to win kudos in 2000 BCE? In this unit, you'll read (sections of) the blockbusters of the ancient world: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and the Iliad.

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Unit 3. Another Hero’s Journey—Beowulf

Next we'll check out everyone's favorite Scandinavian hero, Beowulf. Turns out Old English bards have a lot to teach us about diction, syntax, and symbolism.

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Unit 4. Fables and Folk Tales Galore

Our tour of the ancient world takes a turn from larger-than-life heroes to the tales of the common folk with this unit on fables and folk tales. You'll get the scoop on stock characters, chill with a Jinni in The Arabian Nights, and meeting some talking animals in the Panchatantra.

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Unit 5. Near Eastern Tunes

This next unit takes us into the world of ancient Near Eastern poetry with Psalms, the Quran/Koran, ancient Egyptian love poetry, and a sweet poem by an Arabian prince named Imru' al-Qais. You're going to be so cultured.

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Unit 6. Grecian Mama’s Boy

We'll round out the semester by studying two plays. This unit explores the beginnings of drama with Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. If you think you know tragedy, just wait until you meet the guy who outwitted a sphinx, killed his father, and married his mother. Oh yeah, there was that whole self-blinding business, too.

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Unit 7. Hamlet

Who would win in a battle, Sophocles or Shakespeare? You'll debate the merits of their respective tragedies by reading through Hamlet. (Sophocles has got some hardcore characters, but Billy's got the angst down.)

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Unit 8. The Prince in Hell: Dante Meets Machiavelli

This semester is capped by two very different Italians who received and transformed the ancient literary tradition in different ways. We're talking Dante's Inferno and Machiavelli's The Prince, of course.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 7: Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

Myths aren't just about the origin of the world. They're also about really awesome people we call "heroes." Before hero became a bizarre word for "sandwich," it was an ancient Greek term that described people with a very specific mom or dad.

Heracles, ready for a night of clubbing.


Technically the word hero comes from the Ancient Greek word hêros, which referred to someone whose parents were a mixture of mortal and immortal. In other words, either mom or dad was a god (but not both—otherwise the offspring would also be a god). We're talking about mutts here.

Heroes were half-gods. They didn't necessarily live forever, but they could kick serious butt. They were prettier, smarter, stronger, and luckier than we are. Don't you hate them already?

Eventually we started using the word "hero" to mean "someone who exemplifies how awesome people can be, and who is usually the protagonist of a story." It's a little more complex, but you can already see why heroes fit so well into mythology: what better way to build up serious "social power" than to create a story about the perfect dude (or lady)?

The number one hero in the old days of Greece was Heracles. The Romans (and Disney) called him Hercules. Either's fine; he's not particular.

Heracles was the son of a mortal woman and Zeus, so you know he didn't take no guff from nobody. Let's learn more about Heracles and what makes a great hero, shall we?


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  • Course Length: 18 weeks
  • Course Number: 210
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10
  • Course Type: Basic
  • Category:
    • English
    • Literature

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