Greek and Roman Mythology


Please select one of the topics below and write a clear, cogent, thesis-driven paper grounded in primary source material and well supported with textual evidence. The paper should be more than 2500words in length: it will be evaluated not on length but rather on its ability to argue effectively through the careful analysis of primary texts such as Homer, Hesiod, and the Homeric Hymns.

Required Text: Barry B. Powell, Classical Mythology, 8th ed., (Boston: Pearson, 2015) [Powell]

(1) Myth as mythos. Our term myth derives from the Greek word mythos, which has several meanings. Prominent among these in Homer and Archaic Greek poetry is “authoritative speech act.” This term describes an act of speaking that is so powerful that it can bring itself into effect. (E.g. Agamemnon’s commands to Chryses, priest of Apollo, in Iliad, Book I, presented in the first lecture.) Select one myth or set of myths from Homer, Hesiod, or the Homeric Hymns (all Archaic Greek texts) and explain how this definition of mythos is (or is not) helpful for understanding it. What does the connection between myth and mythos tell us about early Greek culture?

(2) Gendering the Mythic World. Hesiod’s Theogony provides an account of how Zeus came to rule over “men and gods.” This account serves to justify the (divine) structure of the world as it is known to Hesiod (and as it is portrayed in most of our Greek sources from the Archaic and later periods). Yet Hesiod’s telling of the origins of the gods also introduces obvious gender dynamics into the story of the origin of the world and the gods. It institutes the rule of the omnipotent male father (Uranus, Cronus, Zeus), even as this authority is often challenged and undermined by a crafty female deity (Gaia, Rhea). And such dynamics are not only a feature of Hesiod’s myths. Choose a myth or set of myths and analyze them from the perspective of gender: how are male-female, male-male, and female-female relationships depicted? What features are valued for each gender? Why?

(3) Myth and Place. Greek myths are often deeply connected with the geographical locations in which they transpire. (The Oedipus story, for example, is strongly linked with the mythological space of Thebes.) Choose a myth or set of myths (or legends) and examine the role that place plays in those stories. Where do mentions of place occur? What features of place are emphasized? How can we best characterize the relationship between myth and place?

(4) Human vs. Divine. One of the major structuring oppositions throughout all of Greek myth (and early Greek culture) is that between human and divine. Even as the Greek gods are anthropomorphic, they eat, work, and play differently than humans. Examine a myth or set of myths from the perspective of this binarism. What lessons does your chosen myth teach about the opposition between human and divine? How does this opposition structure the world physically, ethically, and morally?

(5) Myth and History. In popular speech, myth is sometimes opposed to history: the one is a discourse of fabricated stories, while the other is a discourse that aims, at least in some sense, to tell the ‘truth’ about things. Yet as we have already seen, myth may also be a great resource for reflecting Greek social and cultural history. Whether one looks to the rise of the polis or to Greek sexual mores, these historical ‘facts’ are often deeply embedded in the myths of the Greeks. Choose a myth or set of myths and examine how it negotiates the relationship between myth and history. Are these two terms opposed in your chosen myth or do they work together in some fashion? (n.b. This topic may require some additional research into the history of the Greeks, whether in the Archaic or Classical periods.)