Classics 430:

Greek and Roman Mythology

Weekly Topics and Reading Assignments
(O = Ovid; P = Powell; other readings given as links)

Week 1:  Introduction
Date Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, Jan. 7
Introduction to Classics 430: Greek and Roman Mythology 
Introduction to the study of Mythology: what are 'myths?'  How do we study them?
P pp. 1-13
  • P map I (front.)
Wednesday, Jan. 9 Introduction to the study of Mythology: How does myth relate to culture?  Can we 'read' culture through myth?  What are the common themes of myth?  What are we to make of these themes? P pp. 14-39
  • P map II, p. 15
  • 'key terms' P p. 44
Friday, Jan. 11
Introduction to the study of Mythology, "A Small Slice of the Pie": origins (sumerian and semitic), thematic focus (mortals, not gods), geographical and temporal focus (classical mediterranean), approach (loosely anthropological, gendered), material (literary; epistolographical)
P pp. 47-62
  • P map III, p. 54
  • 'key terms' P p. 69
* Unless otherwise indicated, you will be held responsible for all maps and images in Powell that appear in our readings or on this syllabus or are otherwise indicated in class lecture.

Week 2: A Mortal Project--Creation of the Myth-Makers
Date Topic Readings Notes / Questions*
Monday, Jan. 14 Creation and the First Women: Eve and Lilith P pp. 130-131 (on original bisexuality and the idea of heterosexual love); read too these accounts of the creation of  Adam and Eve and of Lilith
  • Review P pp. 52-59
Wednesday, Jan. 16 Men as Givers, Women as Gifts: Prometheus and Pandora, the autochthony of Athenian men (Erecthoneus myth) P pp. 106-112 (Prometheus), 112-117 (Pandora), 117-119 (Women as containers); read too what Semonides has to say about women, and this bit from Plato's Protagoras.
  • Q: What are the common themes in the creation of women and men? How are men made?  How are women made? What are each of these beings they made 'of?' Why are men always made first when women are the ones who give birth? 
Friday, Jan. 18 Creation, Fall, and Re-creation: Deucalion and Pyrhha, Noah and the Flood P pp. 123-129; compare the story of Noah; compare this story from Ovid's Metamorphoses.
  • 'key terms' P p. 133
  • The term autochthony = "earth-born."  Q: Why are autochthonous origins important to a people?
*These Notes and Questions are intended to provide further guidelines about what you need to study and how you should be thinking about these texts (and tales).  Please note that they are not "optional extras," but rather represent elements essential to your comprehension of this subject matter.  If a map or a list of key terms appear in this section, you should plan to memorize the map, and to learn the terms!  If you see instead a group of questions, you needn't (necessarily) provide full answers to these questions--I will not be collecting written answers, in other words--but you will find that jotting down short answers (or bringing unanswered questions in to lecture) will help you prepare for the exams.

Week 3:  Who Gives This Woman? (Corrupted) Marriage Exchange as a Factor in Origination Myth
Date Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, Jan. 21 NO CLASS÷Martin Luther King, Jr. Day O: XVI (Paris to Helen) and XVII (Helen to Paris)*
  • An American 'hero?' Please consider honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work and memory today by joining in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service program at the University of Washington.   Last January, 200 volunteers from the UW community worked at 14 agencies in King County, serving meals at a homeless center, painting, cleaning, etc. For more information and on-line registration, go to:  Proof of participation in this program will earn you 5 extra-credit points!
Wednesday, Jan. 23 Rape and the Political World:  Helen and the Trojan War in poetry and History Read about stolen women in Herodotus, read P pp. 518-520 (on the judgment of Paris), 520-525 (on gathering the troops for the assault against Troy), 525-527 (on Helen's view from the walls of Troy), and read these bits about Helen from Aeschylus' tragedy, the Agamemnon.
  • Q: What ritual elements of the traditional Christian wedding ceremony might echo these themes of the transfer of women? What does the 'giving of a woman' (in marriage) imply about cultural or religious ideas of equality and human rights?  How might such ideas underlie extended cultural beliefs about personal rights and autonomy ("a woman's place")?  Can we disconnect ritual from its cultural implications?
Friday, Jan. 25 Rape and the Natural World: Persephone, Demeter, and the Cycle of Seasons P pp. 229-247 (Demeter and Persephone); compare to this the somewhat similar Egyptian myth of Isis, Osiris and Horus, P pp. 220-224
  • 'key terms' P p. 247
  • Q: Why is the exchange of women associated with agriculture and fertility? (reread the story of Eve, linked above)  Why might the ancient mind have linked these themes in the creation of its myths?
  • NOTES.2
*Read the full Introduction for each poem in the Heroides.

Week 4: Mythological Wives--Faithful,  Deceptive, and Consanguineous
Date Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, Jan. 28 Good Wives Need Tapestries: Clever Penelope and the return of Odysseus O: I (Penelope to Ulysses), P pp. 566-593 (Odysseus' return to Ithaka)
  • 'key terms' P p. 593
  • How does Penelope compare to the other women in the tale of Odysseus (Circe, Callypso, Nausikaa)?  What basic 'types' do these mythic women represent?  Are they even necessary to the story of the Odyssey as a whole?
Wednesday, Jan. 30 Bad Wives Need Tapestries, too:  Clytemnestra and the return of Agamemnon P pp. 555-563 (the return and murder of Agamemnon); read also about Iphigenia at P 522-525 and in the Agamemnon.  Read about the weaver Arachne at P pp. 213-215; read about weaving and politics in Aristophanes.
  • Think about the many ways in which women are traditionally associated with various aspects of 'weaving'  and its extension: the production of textiles ('oriental' carpets, tapestries), of woven containers (baskets), of wearable weaving (sweaters, etc.), of domestic and artistic property ('quilting circles'). 
  • Q: What social meanings or economic benefits might lie behind these ancient myths?
  • Q: What is symbolized by Clytemnestra's 'manliness?'
  • NOTES.2
Friday, Feb. 1 A Good Wife and Mother, but not necessarily in that Order:  The Story of Oedipus and Iocasta P p. 444-472 (on Oedipus and the Theban Cycle)


Week 5:  Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
Dates Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, Feb. 4 Amphitruo, Alkmene, Megara and Herakles
Heroic Birth, Marriage, and Madness
P pp. 345-356 (the early years--divine [male] and mortal [female] coupling as a means of "creating" a hero)
  • 'key terms' P p. 381
  • Q:  What culture heroes do we have in America?  What social purposes do these heroic myths and figures serve?
  • How does the 'divine / mortal' coupling of Zeus and Alkmene reflect stories of the creation of the sexes?
Wednesday, Feb. 6 Deianira and Herakles
Herakles as pre-Classical culture hero
O: IX (Deianeira to Hercules), P pp. 356-381 (the labors); what has Hercules become to us?
  • 'key terms' P p. 381
  • Consider Deianira as the 'poisoned woman': how are women in myth made to be 'poisoners' even when they don't intend to be?
  • Review weeks 1-5 for the Mid Term Exam
Friday, Feb. 8 MID TERM EXAM! none 
  • none


Week 6: Crete and Athens--Clash of the (Cultural) Titans!
Dates Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, Feb. 11 Theseus, Ariadne, and a particularly questionable judgment call on the part of Queen Pasiphae, or: 
Making friends and influencing people on the lovely yet rugged isle of Crete
O: X (Ariadne to Theseus), read too this excerpt from Catullus 64 and P pp. 421-425 (on Minos and Pasiphae), 429-432 (on Theseus and the Minotaur), 436-442 (on Cretan Myth and Archaeology), P pp. 251-254 (on Dionysos)
  • 'key terms' P p. 442

Wednesday, Feb. 13 Theseus as Classical culture hero: is Theseus to Democracy as Herakles is to Aristocracy? P pp. 397-409, 412-414 (on the birth and exploits of Theseus)
  • 'key terms' P p. 417
  • How do the exploits of Theseus compare to the labors of Herakles? 
Friday, Feb.15 Theseus and the Amazons
Warrior Women as the ultimate Athenian "Other"
P pp. 402-404; see too what these ancient authors had to say about the existence of Amazons; finally, here's an amusing link on modern portrayals of Amazons;  this one gives possible archaeological evidence for a race of 'warrior women.'
  • Q:  What do you think ancient configurations of the Amazon (as a kind of 'mirror' to the Greek male) might say about the Greek identity? 
  • Q: How does our 'modern' idea of the Amazon differ from the Greek?  How is it similar?  Why do cultures create, and how do they use, the idea of the 'warrior woman?'


Week 7: The Outsider Within--Women who Speak, Women who are Silenced
Dates Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, Feb. 18 NO CLASS--Presidents' Day O: IV (Phaedra to Hippolytos); 
  • none--but be sure to complete your readings for today!
Wednesday, Feb. 20 Something wrong with a foreign bride: Hippolyte, Phaedra, and Hippolytos P pp. 404-411
  • Q: What is 'wrong' with Hippolytos' choice to stay unmarried? 
  • Q: How does Hippolytos' character reflect that of his real mother?
  • Q: How have 20th - 21st century cultures expressed their anxieties concerning foreigners, ethnic purity, and increased immigration?
Friday, Feb. 22 The Threat of the Female Voice: 
Procne, Philomela, Tereus and Itys
P pp. 391-397
  • Q: What does this story say about the threat of female speech to the Greek man?  How is the 'female tongue' fetishized as a weapon?  How does Philomela eventually devise away around her unfortunate silence? 
  • Q: What does this story reveal about the fears men had about female kinship relationships?  How might these fears relate to marriage practices in antiquity and the 'control' of women?
  • Q: Can you think of modern comparisons to the Philomela episode?  [cf. the fictional Ellen Jamesians in John Irving's The World According to Garp
  • Q: Have we progressed much?  There are numerous criminal examples of crime victions having their tongues cut out following the act.  Also, check out these (quite chilling) discussions of what to do to women who 'cry rape.' 


Week 8: The Trouble with Travels (with apologies to Star Trek fans)
Dates Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, Feb. 25 The Troubled, Troubled House of the Aeolids: Jason and the Argonauts P pp. 473-489 (Phrixus and Helle, Jason and Pelias, the voyage of the Argo, Medea's initial help); Compare the story of Athamas and Phrixus (in Powell) to that of Avraham and Issac
  • cf. the Aeolus family tree, P p. 474
  • Q: Which large clothing company uses (what seems to be) the golden fleece as its logo?  (hint--they have a store in Seattle!)
  • Q: Compare the 'almost-sacrifice' of Phrixus to the 'almost-sacrifice' of Isaac and the 'actual' sacrifice of Iphigenia (review week Four, above).  Why do you think that this is a common or recurrent theme in these Mediterranean cultures?  What are the important differences in these stories? 
Wednesday, Feb. 27 Hell Hath No Fury:  Medea and Jason back in Greece  O: XII (Medea to Jason); P pp. 489-500 (on Medea and Jason once they return to Greece and finally end up in Corinth)
  • 'key terms' (through p. 500), P p. 507
  • Q: Does Medea need to make a 'choice' between fertility (her identification as a woman and mother) and 'autonomy' (her power as an individual)?  Can you think of other examples in Greek myth in which women are asked or required to make this choice? 
  • Q: Do modern cultures express any of these same 'tensions' between sexuality and power?
Friday, March 1 Modern Echoes of the Medea Story?: Susan Smith and the repercussions for feminism Read these excerpts from Peyser's book, Mother Love, Deadly Love: The Susan Smith Murders; Read this quote from the Reverend Jerry Falwell on what "feminism" means today (to him). 

News flash!  Read this recent article on the case of Susan Yates, charged with drowning her five children. 

  • Q: Why do we find female violence such cultural  anomaly, and why are we particularly horrified by the idea of mothers (as opposed to fathers) taking their children's lives? Why does such an act make a father a 'criminal,' but a mother a 'monster?' 
  • Q: Are women "naturally" less violent, more nurturing than men?  If so, why are violent or destructive women so often the topic of myth?  Is this just an example of the fear of 'bad women,' or is there something else at work here?


Week 9:  Go West, Young Man--Foundations and Myths of Rome
Dates Topic Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, March 4
Not Just 'Greece Re-warmed': The Individuality of Roman Myths, Gods, and Religion
P pp. 595-604 (Introduction to Roman Gods and Roman religious practices)
Wednesday, March 6
Abandonment and Destiny: One Man's Fate and the Founding of Rome
O: VII (Dido to Aeneas); P pp. 604-614
  • What does it mean that Aeneas had to abandon Dido in order to fulfill his destiny as the founder of Rome? 
  • Could Aeneas have taken Dido with him to Rome?  Why or Why not?
Friday, March 8
It's Murder to Found a City:  Romulus and Remus, the Rape of the Sabine Women, and the rest...
P pp. 614-625 (Romulus and Remus, the Sabines, Tarpeia, etc.)
  • How do women figure in these myths? 
  • How does the representation of these women compare to what we saw for the Greek world? 
  • No Roman Women?  What do you think about the fact that there are no 'original women' of Rome?  How does this compare to, e.g., the stories of creation and city foundation we studied for the Greek world?
  • Finally, why do you think that themes of violence play such a large role in stories of the foundation of a city?
  • Why is Lucretia a 'perfect woman?'  What does this say about the possibility of 'female heroes?'


Week 10: From History to Legend to Myth--the Makings of the Modern Hero
Dates Topics Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, March 11
Et tu, Brute?  Heroes of the Early Roman Republic and the ultimate 'humanization' of mythic tradition

P pp.  625-627 (Brutus, Horatius, Scaevola and other 'patriotic heroes')
  • Compare, e.g., the myths of Theseus and Herakles to the myths of Brutus, Horatius, and the other Roman Heroes.  What are the common elements in these myths?  Can we tell what is important for a culture by looking at its heroes?
Wednesday, March 13
The Modern Hero / The Modern Myth--we are still living in a world of mythic creation
  • Start reviewing for the Final Exam!
  • Consider some 'American Myths / Heroes' (Johnny Appleseed, stories of George Washington's youth, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, Lizzie Borden, Paul Bunyan, etc.): what are the common mythic elements to these stories?  Are women mythologized in America differently than men?
Friday, March 15 American Myth-Making:  How do the stories we tell, tell a story about us? Read through a bunch (by which I mean, 30 or so) of these urban legends and try to identify common themes.
  • Consider the 'Urban Legend' as a newly popular form of myth-making in America:  What do the stories you read for today have to say about our cultures concerns?  Have you ever been 'tricked' into relaying an urban legend?  What kind of cultural role might these legends play for us?


Week 11
Dates Topics Readings Notes / Questions
Monday, March 18 FINAL EXAM 2:30 - 4:30 It's probably too late to start now... Have a Good Spring Break!

Return to Mythology Main Page