Topic outline

  • General

    What Is Mythology?

    Nature is filled with tumult. The earth quakes, the skies rumble and glow, and the darkest of storms sometimes arise with little or no explanation. In the midst of this world, armed only with his imagination, early man developed stories of gods and goddesses to ease his fears and make sense of the universe around him.

    This online course is designed to guide students into an study of classical mythology where they will examine the cultures in which the myths were created, compare the myths across cultures and understand how the mythology of the ancients influenced - and continues to influence - the world in which we live today. 

    Welcome to the world of mythology.


  • Topic 1

    Defining Mythology

    Myths are humanity's earliest imaginative attempts to explain the universe, its creation, and its working.  The study of the mythology of a particular culture reveals many aspects of the general lifestyle and thoughts of that culture.

  • Topic 2

    Types of Myths

    Myths, while retaining certain similarities, will vary according to climate, custom, or social system.  There are many different types of myths, from creation myths, myths explaining aspects of nature, hero myths, and so on.  But all myths can be classified as either primitive or classical.

    View the PowerPoint below before moving on to the next lesson.
  • Topic 3

    Common Themes Found in All Myths

    Although many of the Greek myths have been around for over 2,000 years, the themes they address are still central to our lives today: love, hatred, anger, grief, jealousy, betrayal, fate, obedience, piety, death, war, friendship, happiness, and loyalty.

  • Topic 4

    Theories and Sources of Myths

    For about 2,000 years, scholars have speculated about how myths began.  Some believe that myths began as historical events that became distorted with the passage of time.  Others think myths resulted from man's attempt to explain natural occurrences that he could not understand.  The most important theories about the origins of myths were developed by Euhemerus, an ancient Greek, and four modern scholars--Muller, Tylor, Malinowski, and Frazer.

    During the early 1900's, the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung developed a theory about how myths reflect the attitudes and behavior of individuals.  He suggested that everyone has a person and a collective unconscious.  He believed that the collective unconscious is organized into basic patterns and symbols, which he called archetypes.  Myths represent one kind of archetype.  He believed that all mythologies have certain features in common.  These features include characters, such as gods and heroes, and themes, such as love or revenge.  Other features include places, such as the home of the gods or the underworld, and plots, such as a battle between generations for control of a throne.

  • Topic 5

    The Olympian Gods

    Cronus ruled the enormous Titans until his son Zeus seized the throne.  Zeus became the supreme ruler of twelve other gods, who succeeded the Titans: Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis and Hephaestus.  These gods were all said to live on Mount Olympus.

  • Topic 6

    The Greek Origin of the World

    Love was born from darkness and created Light; the creation of Earth was next and the first living creatures--children of Mother Earth and Father Heaven--were gigantic monsters (Titans, Cyclops, fifty-headed monsters, Giants, and Furies).  One Titan, Cronus, became lord of the universe for ages; then one of his sons, Zeus, became ruler of heaven and earth.  One Titan, Prometheus, sided with Zeus.  Humans were created (by Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus or by the gods, depending on which story you read).  Prometheus stole fire for man and was punished by Zeus, who had him chained to a rock, where eagles pecked at his liver.  In another account of the creation, Zeus sent a flood to destroy wicked mankind but deucalion and Pyrrha survived in a wooden chest and Zeus took pity on them.  The stones they cast upon the earth became humans.

  • Topic 7

    Comparing Other Versions of Creation

    Almost all cultures have their own myths of creation.  Although different in some ways, all societies of cultures share in certain common ideas.  This lesson will study the creation myths of the Hebrews (Genesis), the Babylonians (Enuma Elish), the Hindus (Rig Veda) and the Norse (Elder Eddas) in comparison to the Greeks (Theogany).  You will read various creation myths and look for common motifs among them.

  • Topic 8

    The Greek Origins of Humans and Evil

    Since all myths were originally transmitted orally, it is only natural to assume that numerous versions of the same myth would occur.  A storyteller might borrow a character from one tale, an incident from a second tale, then add his or her own imaginative idea, and a new myth would be born. 

    The creation of humanity is just such as example of a myth with a number of variations.  In one version, Prometheus creates man from clay.  in another, Zeus himself does this.  Still other versions do not name a creator specifically but say that Earth bore man spontaneously.  One story has human beings evolving, as it were, through various stages from the Gold Age to the Iron Age.

  • Topic 9

    Motifs in Common

    As a previous section studied the creation myths of several cultures to understand that all societies share in certain common ideas, this section concentrates on the stories of the creation of humanity, the fall, and the bringing of death into the world for the same purpose.  Summaries of various myths are included in the material provided. 

  • Topic 10

    The Lesser Gods

    This lesson will focus on the lesser Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  Although these gods and goddesses are less important than the Olympian gods, they are essential for any study of mythology as later stories will include some of them.

  • Topic 11

    The Two Great Gods of Earth

    Of the gods, only two were tryly mankind's friends--Demeter and Dionysus.  Demeter, Goddess of the Corn, was grief-stricken when her daughter Persephone was taken by the God of the Underworld.  Zeus freed Persephone, but her husband tricked her into eating a pomegranate seed, and she was forced to spend four months of the year in the worlf of the dead.  During this sorrowful time, Demeter made the earth wintry and leafless. 

    Zeus' son, Dionysis--God of wine--could be kind or cruel.  He rescued his mother, a mortal, from the underworld and took her to live on Mt. Olympus.  But his cruel side surfaced when he went to Thebes accompanied by the Maenads, women frenzied with wine.  When Pentheus imprisoned him, the mad women--including Pentheus' own mother and sisters made crazy by Dionysus--tore Pentheur limb from limb.

  • Topic 12

    Explanatory Myths

    One of the primary purposes of mythology is to explain imaginatively something which cannot be explained scientifically.  The early Greeks were very imaginative people, thus the great number of myths explaining the movements of the sun, or the various animals of beasts roaming the earth, or the cycles of nature. One of the chief observations was the birth, growth, reproduction and death cycle.  The stories of Demeter and Dionysus follow this cycle.  The mystery rites which gres up around the worship of these two gods gave hope to the people that humans too, might be reborn after death.

    Other types of explanatory myths include the flower myths and myths dealing with animals.

  • Topic 13

    Mythological Lovers

    "All the world loves a lover." The story of Cupid and Psyche is one of the most beautiful myths of the power of love and the necessity for trust in a true relationship.  Psyche (which in Greek means either soul or butterfly) discovers that "Love cannot live where there is no trust."  She also learns that the soul can be purified by pain and suffering and that love, once lost, can be regained if the lover is willing to pay the price.  Famous pairs of lovers include: Adam and Even, Anthony and Cleopatra, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara, Dagwood and Blondie, Venus and Adonis, Narcissus and Self.  You will be studying other famous mythological lovers.

  • Topic 14

    Greek Creatures and Monsters

    Monster myths developed for a number of reasons.  To explain unusual natural phenomena, often the occurrences would take the form of a monster.  For example, Charybdis (the whirlpool) and the Clashing Rocks were the cause of many sailors' deaths.  To account for the sunken ships and numerous deaths, these became monsters, eager to consume victim after victim.

    Monsters could also explain how wicked people might be punished by the gods.  An evil king might be changed into a wolf, or a beautiful maiden who had offended the gods by her vanity might become a hideous creature.  Monsters also symbolized the darkness and evilness of the underworld.  For example, Cerberus was the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Tartarus.

    Another reason for the creation of monsters was the excitement they added to hero tales.  If a hero fought and killed a bear, that was enjoyable or entertaining to relate.  If a hero fought and killed a nine-headed beast or a creature part lion, part serpent, and part goat-- that was excitement or adventure.

    Monsters, however, were not always pure imagination.  Perhaps a child was born with a birth defect (one eye or six fingers) and the villagers were afraid.  The story might be circulated that this creature was cursed. Exaggerations of the deformity might then occur and, instead of six fingers, the child might be said to have ten hands with six fingers on each hand.

    Thus, monsters could be real animals or real people with various deformities, they could be personifications of society's fears of the sea or of the forest or of anything unknown, or they could be simple natural occurrences which the people of the day could not explain.

  • Topic 15

    The Greek Underworld

    This section will give students an experience of the journey after death into the realm of Hades, with all its sections, rivers, and inhabitants of the underworld.

    The underworld has appeared in several stories you have read thus far.  Psyche and Orpheus both made journeys to Hades, and these descriptions tell something about the way into the underworld and the sufferers there found.  A description of the Abode of Sleep, near the river Lethe, appears in the Ceyx and Alcyone story.  The Furies, Fates, Cerberus, and others have also been met at various times. 

    A board game model will be used to follow the journey through Hades as it is described. 

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