Classical Mythology/Myth and Symbol Syllabus, Fall 2014

GRC 3001/English 2014/Religion 2000
TTh 930-1050, Weiss 0B032
Dr. Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Prof. of Classics Office: 326 Anderson, 204 -3672
Office Hours: T&Th 11-12:30, F 11:30-1230
Course web site:
TA: Megan Holmberg,

updated 30 September 2014

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 Theater 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.

Because textbooks provide oversimplified versions, often wrong, of Greek myth, they do not provide an accurate, educationally sound, or stimulating curriculum; we use sourcebooks, not a textbook. 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.

What is Classics? Classics is the interdisciplinary study of the ancient mediterranean world, with a focus on Greece and Rome. If you are interested in TU Classics, please ask me to add you to the listserv classicalowls.

4. Requirements and Grading

  • 4%: Attendance and participation. I will not keep exact attendance, but we will keep a headcount for every class and I will learn your names and faces; I will know if you have attendance issues. It is difficult to pass this course, let alone get a good grade, if you do not attend class regularly. An important part of participation is simply asking questions: don't be shy!
  • 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. In order to be fair and consistent for all students, 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.
  • 20% Final exam, research paper or creative project (requires approval; see below)

Research or creative project option (instead of final):

1. Research. A student with at least an 75% quiz 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 75% quiz 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 31 October. The final version should be submitted at the last class meeting.

  • Extra credit. If you regularly take the practice tests (Blackboard>Assignments) during the period we are discussing the material on those tests, I will double your attendance and participation score, regardless of how well you do on the practice tests. However, taking all of them the week before the final will get you nothing.

5. Texts: We will be reading mainly primary sources, which might be initially more confusing, as we will sometimes use both 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. Both texts combined, even if bought new, should not cost more than $55.

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

  • Required: Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae (Hackett: 978-0-87220-820-9; ebook version) A
  • Required: The Norton Anthology of World Literature Volume A, Third Edition (Norton: 978-0-393-91329-3) N
  • Required use of online resource: The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion, edited by Price and Kearns O. See links below in the schedule. To access these links off-campus, you need to log in first here.
  • 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. There are other documents there for later in the semester.

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.

7. How to succeed in this class

    1. Turn off the music. 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.
    2. Read what I assign before class. Read it again after class if at all possible.
    3. Use the online study guides and Powerpoints available at Blackboard. Take the practice tests.
    4. Attend class.
    5. Ask questions about what you do not understand.
    6. Turn off the music.

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, unless I tell you otherwise. If you cannot go more than 80 minutes without texting or checking Facebook, 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. 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.

NB concerning codes in the schedule. Numbers refer to pages, but some pages have a second set of numbers after a dot; e.g. A 67.183 or N 418.287-420.395. The numbers after the dot refer to line or sections numbers, so A 67.183-85 means Apollodorus page 67, sections 183-185 (only one paragraph!), and N 418.287-420.395 means Norton Anthology page 418, line 287, through page 420, line 395.





 Part I: The Gods and the Nature of the Cosmos

Aug 26- 28

Familiarize yourself with introductory materials in A, as well as the maps on lvi-lix. N 1131-32: Xenophanes. A 75-76 on Tantalos and Pelops. O entry on Olympics and hero-cult. (Recommended but completely optional reading online about myth and the Olympics.) Begin Theogony N 40-44

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

Sept 2-4

T: Hesiod, Theogony N 40-44 and BB, comparison with A 1-6 and N 158-59, 1077-79. 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 418.287-420.395; 1079-82; 684-87. A 59.118-60.122

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 9-11

Quiz 1 Tuesday. BB Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Tues.) and Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Thurs.). A 67.183-85. N 637-38; 643; 1104-1110. Read O entries on Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hera and Hestia.

Goddesses. Fertility, anger and mortality.

Sept 16-18

T: Hesiod, Theogony (Prometheus pages 2-3 BB PDF), and Works and Days N 44-47; Aeschylus, selections from Prometheus Bound (BB). A 7; 21-2; 57.98-99; 156.76. N 163-66; 143-48. Read O entries on Io, Prometheus, and sacrifice, Greek.
Th: BB Hymn to Dionysus. A 47-49 (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 23-25

Quiz 2 T, then Gilgamesh N 99-151. Perseus. A 24-26.
Th: Heracles. A 27-42. Read O entries on Perseus and Heracles.

The Hero I (Hairy Heroes and Harry Potter). Gilgamesh, Heracles and Perseus. The mythic hero in movies.

Sept 30-Oct 2

Conclude Heracles; Athenian and Cretan myths. A 45-6 (3.1); 66-8 (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 7-9

T: The House of Laius. A 51-6, 125.85; N 707-46. Oedipus the King. Read O entries on Oedipus and Antigone. Online reading, the prologue of the Phoenissae (4 screens, through line 86). Th. Antigone, N 747-82, reread Hymn to Demeter

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

Oct 14-16

T. Quiz 3-4 (double quiz)
Th: A 11; 14-20. Medea, N 786-822. Read O entries on Argonauts, Medea and Jason.

The Hero IV: Antigone, Medea and the Heroic Model

Oct 21-25

T: Background and alternative versions: A 60-6; 76-82; 128-29.95-96; N 920-21; BB fragments of Epic Cycle.
Th: N
Iliad Books 1, 6, 8, 9; Read also O entries on Troy, and major heroes, beginning with Achilles. Recommended Nagy reading on Achilles and heroic glory.

The Trojan War and Heroic Epic

Oct 28-30

T: N Finish Iliad (Books 16, 18, 22, 24)
Th: Quiz 5; A 82-89; N 985-1007, Aeneas and Troy's fall

The Fall of Troy and the End of Traditional Heroism

Nov 4-6

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

Odysseus and heroism.

Nov 11-13

Continue Odyssey. Books 8-12.


Nov 18-20

T. Continue Odyssey. Books 13 and 18-20.
Th. Odyssey 20-24 and Quiz 6.

Odysseus and Gilgamesh. Odysseus in film.

Nov 25-27



Dec 2-4

T. Vergil’s Aeneid Books 1 and 4 N. 964-85, 1008-27

Th. Vergil’s Aeneid Book 6. Plato, The Myth of Er, BB>Course Documents>Myths of the Afterlife

Rome and myth:

  • Aeneas, Dido and heroic myth
  • The transformation of Greek myths of the Underworld.

Dec 11

Final exam. 8-10 in the classroom

Important Dates: Monday 9/8 is the last day to drop any course. Tuesday 10/22 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.

Statement on Academic Freedom:  Freedom to teach and freedom to learn are inseparable facets of academic freedom. The University has adopted a policy on Student and Faculty Academic Rights and Responsibilities (Policy # 03.70.02) which can be accessed through the following link:


Course directory | Temple Classics | Perseus