Classical Mythology/Myth and Symbol Syllabus

GRC 3001/English 2014, Fall 2012, TTh 930-1050, GL107
Dr. Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Professor of Classics
Office 327 Anderson, Phone 204 -3672, email:

Office Hours: T&Th 11-12, F 1130-1230, and by appointment
Course web site
TA: Molly Boyle

updated 20 November 2012


1.Course goals and purposes. An overview of the major myths and religion of Classical Greece and, to a lesser extent, Rome, mainly through primary sources, both literary and visual, with a particular focus on the role of heroes. We will also examine the nature and social function of mythology, studying different ancient and modern theories, and the legacy of classical mythology in modern art and literature, including popular culture. Students will learn how mythic narrative patterns and symbols function in Western culture. While we will stress the reading of primary texts and images, we will be reading them quickly because of the need to see myth as a whole; the Department also offers separate courses on Greek Drama and Classical Epic for students wanting a more in-depth study of those subjects. This course has no prerequisites in Classics, but all CLA courses at this level require that students have passed English 1002.

2.Methods. Myths from classical antiquity do not exist outside of their artistic embodiment. Thus, while we will use our books and computer resources to provide a base of information, our primary concern, once we have mastered the basics during the first few weeks, will be with how artists, both literary and visual, use myths. There will be a fair amount of reading, but I'll help you as much as I can; the course web site has guides for every section. Classes will be a mixture of lecture and discussion and students are encouraged and expected to contribute frequently. Students have the opportunity and responsibility to make class meetings as lively and interesting as possible. Don't be shy; Socrates was considered the wisest Greek because he admitted his ignorance. Moreover, please come see me in my office whenever you want; I am often there outside of official hours, but an appointment will insure my presence. I am also very accessible through email.

There is no standard textbook for this class. Textbooks provide oversimplified versions, often wrong, of Greek myth, and they do not provide an accurate, educationally sound, or stimulating curriculum. If you want a nice, clean packaged version of Greek myth, please do not take this course. But if you want to be challenged, to learn what these myths really were and how to think about them, then you are in the right place.

3. Mythology and Classics at Temple. This course fulfills part of the requirements for the majors and minor in Classics, as well as a minor in Ancient Mediterranean Studies. See me for details. If you are interested in Classics, subscribe to the listserv of the Classics student society Eta Sigma Phi.

4. Requirements and Grading

  • 66%: 6 quizzes. These will either consist of short answers or brief essays. In these quizzes you will typically be asked to answer factual questions, synthesize the materials read and discussed in class or interpret them. Review materials will be on Blackboard under "Course Documents." You must be on time the day of a quiz as the size of the class prevents the accommodation of stragglers. Quizzes cannot be made up unless you contact me before the quiz occurs. NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • 10%: a museum report on two objects, ancient or modern, that depict Greek and Roman myths. Details on Blackboard. Due: anytime before Thanksgiving.
  • 24% Final exam, research paper or creative project (requires approval; see below)

Research or creative project option:

1. Research. A student with at least an 80% quiz and midterm average may, instead of the final exam, write a research paper of 10-12 pages. This may be on any aspect of ancient Greek myth and religion, or on modern versions of an ancient Greek or Roman myth. A 2-page proposal, including initial bibliography, must be submitted by 31 October. The final paper would be due at the last class meeting.

2. Creative. If a student has skill and experience in some area of the creative or performing arts and has at least an 80% quiz and midterm average, that student may replace the final exam with a creative project based on some classical myth (an actual one, not one you have imagined). A brief narrative description should accompany the project. The student must clear this in advance with me by 17 November. The final version of these projects should be submitted at the last class meeting.

5. Blackboard: There is Blackboard course site ( to accompany and organize this course. You are enrolled automatically. I will post Powerpoint files in the Course Documents section. Please try to log on to Blackboard regularly to keep track of announcements. There will be an online forum for questions, comments, and shared information under Discussion Board.

6. Texts: We will be reading mainly primary sources. This might be initially more confusing, as we will sometimes use several volumes at once, so please pay attention to the codes in bold type for each volume. Do not take this course unless you plan to acquire the texts and read them; class notes will not provide enough knowledge to pass.

Available at University Bookstore under "GR Classics". The bold letter after each item is a code for the schedule of readings.

  • The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion, edited by Price and Kearns (OUP: 0-19-280289-5) O
  • Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae (Hackett: 978-0-87220-820-9) A
  • The Norton Anthology of World Literature Volume A (Norton: 978-0393-92450-3) N

  • On Blackboard (Course Documents) there is a PDF that contains a number of readings for the first few weeks. This is coded BB on the syllabus.

O is a reference work primarily for home study so you do not need to bring it to class. Pay close attention to the syllabus and class announcements so you know which texts to bring to class meetings. Use O to get the basics for the major myths and figures. There are study guides online for most of the major readings. "BB" indicates a brief text available in Blackboard under Course Documents.

You will find immediately that there are multiple versions of every myth. Try to keep the core version of each myth separate from the variations in each text. Think of the texts as being in dialogue with one another.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Blackboard will have notes for every class meeting, often with important images taken from the ancient world. You will be responsible for understanding these images. That means that you should be able to differentiate, based on what the notes provide, between images of Apollo and images of Zeus. Iconography is extremely important to understanding Greek myth, and the Web allows me to provide this to you without a textbook (thus saving you $15-20).

7. How to succeed in this class

    1. Turn off your iPod. No, it doesn't help you relax and concentrate better, but it does take up part of your available brain space. Your brain is wired to take on one task at a time. I have known students whose grades declined after acquiring an iPod.
    2. Read what I assign before class. Read it again after class if at all possible.
    3. Use the online study guides and Powepoints available at Blackboard.
    4. Attend class.
    5. Ask questions about what you do not understand.
    6. Turn off your iPod.

8. Electronic devices should be turned off
because they cause distractions to everyone. I prefer that laptops be closed, but phones should neither be seen nor heard. If you cannot go more than 80 minutes without texting, then this is probably not the right class for you in any case.

9. Schedule: ALWAYS READ YOUR ASSIGNMENT BEFORE CLASS Class discussions build on and supplement the readings. If you wait until after the discussion to read, you will miss much. Since this schedule is printed from the web site, it still shows the links as underlined passages. There are a few brief required online readings. The recommended online readings should stimulate those of you who are particularly interested or ambitious. Schedule is subject to modification, so please stay alert.





 Part I: The Gods and the Nature of the Cosmos

Aug 27- Sept 29

Familiarize yourself with introductory materials in A, as well as the maps on lvi-lix. BB: Xenophanes and Herodotus. A 75 on Tantalos and Pelops. O entry on "Olympics." (Recommended Nagy reading online about myth and the Olympics.) Begin Theogony BB

Introduction to ancient Greece and myth. Myth and the Olympics. Discussion of theories of myth and myths of creation.

Sept 4-6

T: Hesiod, Theogony BB, comparison with A 1-6 and N 56-8. For background read O entries on "Zeus," "Titans" and "Greek religion" (Recommended article about new findings on Greek religion before Zeus.)
Th: Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Hermes BB. Read O entries on "Apollo," "Hermes," "Ares," "Hades," "Hephaestus," "Poseidon". N 311.276-314.388; 569-72; and 1138-41. A 59-60 (on Asclepius)

Creation and the Succession Myth. Zeus and the Rise of the Olympian Gods. An overview of the nature and functions of the Olympian gods. Near Eastern sources. Patterns of heroism among divine initation myths.

Sept 11-13

Quiz 1 Tuesday. BB Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Tues.) and Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Thurs.). A 67.183. N 531-32; 1166-67. Read O entries on "Aphrodite," "Artemis," "Athena," "Demeter," "Hera," "Hestia."

Goddesses. Fertility, anger and mortality.

Sept 18-20

T: Hesiod, Theogony (Prometheus), and Works and Days; Aeschylus, selections from Prometheus Bound (BB). A 7; 21-2; 57.98-99. N 60-3; 1141-49. Read O entries on "Io," "Prometheus," and "sacrifice, Greek."

Th: BB Homeric Hymn to Dionysus. A 47-9 (Thebes). Read O entries on "Pentheus," "Dionysus" and "Dionysia."

Man in the cosmos: The challenge of Prometheus and the structure of sacrifice. Myths of early man. Dionysus and the Dionysian.

 Part II: Heroes, Heroines and Humans

Sept 25-27

Quiz 2 Tuesday. Tues: Gilgamesh N 10-41. Perseus. A 24-26.

Th. Heracles. A 27-38. Read O entries on "Perseus" and "Heracles."

The Hero I (Heroes, Centaurs and Amazons). Gilgamesh, Heracles and Perseus. The mythic hero in movies.

Oct 2-4

Conclude Heracles; Athenian and Cretan myths. A 45-6 (3.1); 66-68 (3.14); 70-5. Read O entries on "Aegeus," "Amazons," "Cecrops," "Erechtheus," "Erichthonius," "Theseus," "Attic myths and cults" and “Hippolytus.”

The Hero II (Theseus, Crete and the Myths of Athens). The mythology of the Parthenon

Oct 9-11

Quiz 3 Tuesday. The House of Laius. A 51-6, 125.85; N617-58. Oedipus the King. Read O entries on "Oedipus" and "Antigone". Online reading, the prologue of the Phoenissae (4 screens, through line 86) O entry on "hero-cult".

The Hero III: Oedipus -- Type and Anti-Type

Oct 16-18

Tues: Antigone, N 658-92 and reread Hymn to Demeter
Thurs: A 11; 14-20. Medea, N 693-724. Read O entries on "Argonauts," "Medea" and "Jason".

The Hero IV: Antigone, Medea and the Heroic Model

Oct 23-25

Quiz 4 Tuesday. Background and alternative versions: A 60-6; 76-82; see BB for fragments of Epic Cycle. Thursday: N. Iliad Books 1, 6, 8, 9; Read also O entries on "Troy," and major heroes. Recommended Nagy reading on Achilles and heroic glory.

The Trojan War and Heroic Epic

Oct 30-Nov 1

Tues: Finish Iliad (Books 16, 18, 22, 24)
Th: A 82-89; N. 1063-84 Aeneas and Troy's fall

The Fall of Troy and the End of Traditional Heroism

Nov 6-8

Quiz 5 Tuesday. Begin Odyssey. A 89-93. N. Books 1-8. Recommended Nagy reading on Odysseus and Achilles.

Odysseus and heroism. Odysseus in film

Nov 13-15

Continue Odyssey. Books 1-8.


Nov 20

Continue Odyssey. Books 1-8.


Nov 27- 29

Quiz 6 Thursday. Odyssey 9-12.
Vergil’s Aeneid Book 6. N 1106-25. Plato, The Myth of Er, BB

Myths of travel and the afterlife.

Dec 4

Skim Odyssey Books 14-18, then focus on 19-24. Finish Aeneid.

The myth of Rome and the transformation of Homer

Dec 13

Final exam. 8-10 in the classroom

Important Dates: Monday 9/10 is the last day to drop any course. Tuesday 10/23 is the last day to withdraw.

Disability disclosure statement: Any student who has a need for accomodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss the specific situation as soon as possible. Contact Disability Resources at 215-204-1280 in 100 Ritter Annex to coordinate reasonable accomoations for students with documented disabilities.

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