1.1 What is Myth?
Greek and Roman Mythology
University of Pennsylvania
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Myths are traditional stories that have endured over a long time. Some of them have to do with events of great importance, such as the founding of a nation. Others tell the stories of great heroes and heroines and their exploits and courage in the face of adversity. Still others are simple tales about otherwise unremarkable people who get into trouble or do some great deed. What are we to make of all these tales, and why do people seem to like to hear them? This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths. Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Are they a set of blinders that all of us wear, though we do not realize it? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.*********************************************************************************************************** COURSE SCHEDULE • Week 1: Introduction Welcome to Greek and Roman Mythology! This first week we’ll introduce the class, paying attention to how the course itself works. We’ll also begin to think about the topic at hand: myth! How can we begin to define "myth"? How does myth work? What have ancient and modern theorists, philosophers, and other thinkers had to say about myth? This week we’ll also begin our foray into Homer’s world, with an eye to how we can best approach epic poetry.Readings: No texts this week, but it would be a good idea to get started on next week's reading to get ahead of the game. Video Lectures: 1.1-1.7 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.• Week 2: Becoming a Hero In week 2, we begin our intensive study of myth through Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey. This core text not only gives us an exciting story to appreciate on its own merits but also offers us a kind of laboratory where we can investigate myth using different theoretical approaches. This week we focus on the young Telemachus’ tour as he begins to come of age; we also accompany his father Odysseus as he journeys homeward after the Trojan War. Along the way, we’ll examine questions of heroism, relationships between gods and mortals, family dynamics, and the Homeric values of hospitality and resourcefulness.Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 1-8 Video Lectures: 2.1-2.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 3: Adventures Out and Back This week we’ll follow the exciting peregrinations of Odysseus, "man of twists and turns," over sea and land. The hero’s journeys abroad and as he re-enters his homeland are fraught with perils. This portion of the Odyssey features unforgettable monsters and exotic witches; we also follow Odysseus into the Underworld, where he meets shades of comrades and relatives. Here we encounter some of the best-known stories to survive from all of ancient myth.Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 9-16 Video Lectures: 3.1-3.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 4: Identity and Signs As he makes his way closer and closer to re-taking his place on Ithaca and with his family, a disguised Odysseus must use all his resources to regain his kingdom. We’ll see many examples of reunion as Odysseus carefully begins to reveal his identity to various members of his household—his servants, his dog, his son, and finally, his wife Penelope—while also scheming against those who have usurped his place.Readings: Homer, Odyssey, books 17-24 Video Lectures: 4.1-4.8 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 5: Gods and Humans We will take a close look at the most authoritative story on the origin of the cosmos from Greek antiquity: Hesiod’s Theogony. Hesiod was generally considered the only poet who could rival Homer. The Theogony, or "birth of the gods," tells of an older order of gods, before Zeus, who were driven by powerful passions—and strange appetites! This poem presents the beginning of the world as a time of fierce struggle and violence as the universe begins to take shape, and order, out of chaos.Readings: Hesiod, Theogony *(the Works and Days is NOT required for the course)* Video Lectures: 5.1-5.9 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 6: Ritual and Religion This week’s readings give us a chance to look closely at Greek religion in its various guises. Myth, of course, forms one important aspect of religion, but so does ritual. How ancient myths and rituals interact teaches us a lot about both of these powerful cultural forms. We will read two of the greatest hymns to Olympian deities that tell up-close-and-personal stories about the gods while providing intricate descriptions of the rituals they like us humans to perform.Readings: Homeric Hymn to Apollo; Homeric Hymn to Demeter (there are two hymns to each that survive, only the LONGER Hymn to Apollo and the LONGER Hymn to Demeter are required for the course) Video Lectures: 6.1-6.7Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 7: Justice What counts as a just action, and what counts as an unjust one? Who gets to decide? These are trickier questions than some will have us think. This unit looks at one of the most famously thorny issues of justice in all of the ancient world. In Aeschylus’ Oresteia—the only surviving example of tragedy in its original trilogy form—we hear the story of Agamemnon’s return home after the Trojan War. Unlike Odysseus’ eventual joyful reunion with his wife and children, this hero is betrayed by those he considered closest to him. This family's cycle of revenge, of which this story is but one episode, carries questions of justice and competing loyalties well beyond Agamemnon’s immediate family, eventually ending up on the Athenian Acropolis itself.Readings: Aeschylus, Agamemnon; Aeschylus, Eumenides Video Lectures: 7.1-7.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 8: Unstable SelvesThis week we encounter two famous tragedies, both set at Thebes, that center on questions of guilt and identity: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Eurpides’ Bacchae. Oedipus is confident that he can escape the unthinkable fate that was foretold by the Delphic oracle; we watch as he eventually realizes the horror of what he has done. With Odysseus, we saw how a great hero can re-build his identity after struggles, while Oedipus shows us how our identities can dissolve before our very eyes. The myth of Oedipus is one of transgressions—intentional and unintentional—and about the limits of human knowledge. In Euripides’ Bacchae, the identity of gods and mortals is under scrutiny. Here, Dionysus, the god of wine and of tragedy, and also madness, appears as a character on stage. Through the dissolution of Pentheus, we see the terrible consequences that can occur when a god’s divinity is not properly acknowledged.Readings: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex; Euripides, Bacchae Video Lectures: 8.1-8.9Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 9: The Roman Hero, Remade Moving ahead several centuries, we jump into a different part of the Mediterranean to let the Romans give us their take on myth. Although many poets tried to rewrite Homer for their own times, no one succeeded quite like Vergil. His epic poem, the Aeneid, chronicles a powerful re-building of a culture that both identifies with and defines itself against previously told myths. In contrast to the scarcity of information about Homer, we know a great deal about Vergil’s life and historical context, allowing us insight into myth-making in action.Readings: Vergil, Aeneid, books 1-5 Video Lectures: 9.1-9.10 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. • Week 10: Roman Myth and Ovid's Metamorphoses Our consideration of Vergil’s tale closes with his trip to the underworld in book 6. Next, we turn to a more playful Roman poet, Ovid, whose genius is apparent in nearly every kind of register. Profound, witty, and satiric all at once, Ovid’s powerful re-tellings of many ancient myths became the versions that are most familiar to us today. Finally, through the lens of the Romans and others who "remythologize," we wrap up the course with a retrospective look at myth.Readings: Vergil, Aeneid, book 6; Ovid, Metamorphoses, books 3, 12, and 13. Video Lectures: 10.1-10.9.Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week. ***********************************************************************************************************READINGSThere are no required texts for the course, however, Professor Struck will make reference to the following texts in the lecture:• Greek Tragedies, Volume 1, David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, trans. (Chicago)• Greek Tragedies, Volume 3, David Grene and Richmond Lattimore , trans. (Chicago)• Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, M. L. West, trans. (Oxford)• Homeric Hymns, Sarah Ruden, trans. (Hackett)• Homer, The Odyssey, Robert Fagles, trans. (Penguin) • Virgil, The Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald, trans. (Vintage)• Ovid, Metamorphoses, David Raeburn, trans. (Penguin)These translations are a pleasure to work with, whereas many of the translations freely available on the internet are not. If you do not want to purchase them, they should also be available at many libraries. Again, these texts are not required, but they are helpful.
Skills You'll Learn
Art History, Greek Mythology, History, Mythology
4.8 (2,237 ratings)
Sep 28, 2022
Great lectures, awesome range of stories/myths covered, and a really nice analysis from the professor. You won't just learn about myths but you will also learn how to approach mythological texts.
Jul 1, 2017
Thoroughly enjoyable and instructive introduction to a different world and our historical and present interpretation of its meanings and mysteries. Would recommend to a friend or family member.
From the lesson
Welcome to Greek and Roman Mythology! This first week we’ll introduce the class, paying attention to how the course itself works. We’ll also begin to think about the topic at hand: myth! How can we begin to define "myth"? How does myth work? What have ancient and modern theorists, philosophers, and other thinkers had to say about myth? This week we’ll also begin our foray into Homer’s world, with an eye to how we can best approach epic poetry. Readings: No texts this week, but it would be a good idea to get started on next week's reading to get ahead of the game. Video Lectures: 1.1-1.7 Quiz: Complete the quiz by the end of the week.
1.0 Promo Video1:00
1.1 What is Myth? 14:42
1.2 Course Overview20:27
1.3 Ancient Ideas on Myth11:43
1.4 Ideas on Myth from the Modern Era15:50
1.6 Trojan War Aftermath and The Homer Question 14:24
1.7 On Reading Homer 14:43
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This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths.What is the summary of myth? ›
myth, Traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. Myths relate the events, conditions, and deeds of gods or superhuman beings that are outside ordinary human life and yet basic to it.What is a myth in a paragraph? ›
What is Myth? A myth is a classic or legendary story that usually focuses on a particular hero or event, and explains mysteries of nature, existence, or the universe with no true basis in fact. Myths exist in every culture; but the most well known in Western culture and literature are part of Greek and Roman mythology.What is a myth and examples? ›
A myth is a story that's told again and again and serves to explain why something is the way it is. A creation myth, for example, is a story that tells how the world came into being. You may have studied Greek or Roman myths in which gods and goddesses wage war and play tricks on each other.What is the main idea of a myth? ›
In the broadest terms myths are traditional stories about gods, kings, and heroes. Myths often relate the creation of the world and sometimes its future destruction as well. They tell how gods created men. They depict the relationships between various gods and between gods and men.What is myth and its function? ›
On the sociological level, myths do more than just explain things. They begin to give clear structure to the community by reinforcing moral order and validating the community's standards as true and correct. Essentially they help bind people to certain social order/group and moral code.How does myth start? ›
Myths and legends began to be recorded just as soon as humans mastered the technology of writing. Often the very first texts were hymns to the gods or collections of mythological stories that became organised into cycles, explaining how the world was created, how humans came into existence or why Death is necessary.What is a myth in writing? ›
Myths are fiction stories based on historical beliefs of ancient people. Webster's Dictionary defines myths as “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true; a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence.”How can I start the beginning of a story? ›
- Strategy 1: Begin with action or dialogue. ...
- Strategy 2: Ask a question. ...
- Strategy 3: Describe the setting. ...
- Strategy 4: Begin with background information. ...
- Strategy 5: Have the main character introduce himself or herself.
A myth is a traditional, ancient story that is fictional.
Myths were often written to explain natural phenomena and quite often involved gods and fantasy creatures.
myth, a symbolic narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief.Why are myths important? ›
Myths are sacred tales that explained the world and man's experience of it. Over time our language, literature, identity and culture have derived from mythology and we can understand diverse cultures and traditions because of it. Myths answer timeless questions and serve as a compass to each generation.What is an example of myth writing? ›
The myth of Pandora's Box comes from ancient Greek mythology and was used to explain why bad things happen in the world. The story goes that Prometheus gave the gift of fire to humans, but Zeus was deeply unhappy and wanted to punish Prometheus for this.What 3 things do myths explain? ›
But all myths try to answer basic questions such as: How was the world created? How did life on Earth begin? Why is there evil in the world? Myths explain the origins of Earth in many different ways.What are the 4 main purposes of myths? ›
Joseph Campbell, a leading scholar in the fields of mythology and comparative religion, explains that myth has four basic functions: metaphysical/mystical, cosmological, sociological, and pedagogical.What do myths include? ›
Elicit from them that myths—like other stories—contain the following elements: characters, setting, conflict, plot, and resolution. In addition, myths usually explained some aspect of nature or accounted for some human action. Frequently, myths also included a metamorphosis, a change in shape or form.What are the two purposes of myths? ›
Myths originally served two purposes: to explain and to teach. The Greek myths explained man's origins to the ancient Greeks. They described how the world and man were created and what kind of order existed in the universe.What are the characteristics of a myth? ›
- Myths are often told as if they were factual. ...
- Myths include gods and/or goddesses, and these figures often have supernatural powers.
- Myths include an explanation for how something came to be in the world. ...
- Myths often teach morals to their audience.
Introduction. There are four basic theories of myth. Those theories are: the rational myth theory, functional myth theory, structural myth theory, and the psychological myth theory.Why is a myth called a myth? ›
The word myth comes from the Greek word 'mythos' meaning the story of the people, fiction, utterance, tale, and/or legend. The traditional definition of myth is a widely held idea or belief that is false or incorrect, but the myth definition in literature is vastly different.
The Three Types of Myths: Aetiological, Historical, and Psychological.When were myths created? ›
The Greek stories of gods, heroes and monsters are told and retold around the world even today. The earliest known versions of these myths date back more than 2,700 years, appearing in written form in the works of the Greek poets Homer and Hesiod. But some of these myths are much older.What type of story is myth? ›
Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. Since "myth" is popularly used to describe stories that are not objectively true, the identification of a narrative as a myth can be highly controversial.Why is myth important in literature? ›
Myths are literature as fables, they provide literature with concepts and patterns, and they also provide literature with story, character, themes and pictures.What is a myth vs story? ›
It is, on the one hand, just a story—a traditional story that usually addresses a natural phenomenon, often involving supernatural beings; on the other hand, myth is also defined as a false belief based on fantasy or delusion—an “all made up” form of thinking.What is a good sentence starter for a story? ›
The wind swirled around me and the world went black... At first, I couldn't understand why I had woken up - then I felt the icy fingers close around my wrist... Walking through the graveyard, Chloe couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched... "Surprise!" They cried, leaping out from behind the door...How do you write the beginning and end of a story? ›
- Circular: repeats the opening, reflects the beginning in a way. ...
- Matching: opens with an image or idea and then ends with that image or idea changing or being used in some way.
- Surprise: ends in an unexpected way, but there are hints of what will happen placed throughout the story that become clearer after the ending.
Myths are stories that have been told for centuries and used to explain a natural phenomenon or teach a lesson.How do myths teach us? ›
Myths are stories created to teach people about something important and meaningful. They were often used to teach people about events that they could not always understand, such as illness and death, or earthquakes and floods. Legends are like myths, but they are slightly different.What is interesting about myths? ›
The word “myth” comes from the Greek “mythos”, meaning story or word. 2. A myth is different from a legend. The difference between myths and legends is that myths are usually a story with a deep meaning behind them, which often has strong connections with specific cultures and religions across the world.
A way of thinking according to the myth, whether it is conscious or not, and connected with the state of knowledge about the world.What is an example of myth origin? ›
The Norse god Odin created man from ash wood and woman from alder. The Machiguenga of Peru believe the were made by a god, Tasorinchi, who carved them out of balsa wood. The Tlingit of Alaska say the Raven created not only the first human beings, but also the first animals, as well as the sun, the moon, and the stars.What is a myth legend story example? ›
The tales of Odysseus from Ancient Greece and King Arthur from Medieval England are two examples of legends. Myths and legends can be found throughout the world. Many of these traditional stories feature similar subjects, but express the unique culture and history of the regions where they are from.How do you write a myth summary? ›
Write in simple, straightforward language.
Myths tell a story directly, as though it were relating fact. Avoid long, wandering sentences and detailed descriptions. Don't include your own, personal opinion, and present everything as fact. This tends to make the plot move pretty quickly.
1-Sentence-Summary: The Power Of Myth is a book based on Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer's popular 1988 documentary of the same name, explaining where myths come from, why they are so common in society, how they've evolved, and what important role they still play in our ever-changing world today.What are myths and legends summary? ›
Myths can be shaped by time and cultures but are collectively rooted in the need to account for and justify why things are the way they are. Legends are traditional stories told about a particular place or person, and can include elements of folklore, mythology or explanations for natural occurrences.What are the key elements of a myth? ›
Elicit from them that myths—like other stories—contain the following elements: characters, setting, conflict, plot, and resolution. In addition, myths usually explained some aspect of nature or accounted for some human action. Frequently, myths also included a metamorphosis, a change in shape or form.What causes a myth? ›
The question of origin asks why, if not also how, myth arises. The answer is a need, which can be of any kind and on the part of an individual, such as the need to eat or to explain, or on the part of the group, such as the need to stay together. The need exists before myth, which arises to fulfill the need.How do myths start? ›
Myths and legends began to be recorded just as soon as humans mastered the technology of writing. Often the very first texts were hymns to the gods or collections of mythological stories that became organised into cycles, explaining how the world was created, how humans came into existence or why Death is necessary.Why were myths created? ›
Myths are stories created to teach people about something important and meaningful. They were often used to teach people about events that they could not always understand, such as illness and death, or earthquakes and floods.
Zeus created a beautiful woman, who Prometheus would fall in love with, Pandora. When they were married, Zeus gave the couple a gift, a box with the words “do not open” written on it - knowing Pandora was extremely curious. Pandora couldn't resist her curiosity and opened up the box.
Common themes in myths include the struggle between the forces of good and evil, the quest of a hero, or the origin of some aspect of the natural world. Myths are often structured around the tensions between opposing forces in the universe, like light versus dark and good versus evil.