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Chapter 1: Interpretation and Definition of Classical Mythology


As a preliminary you should read the Commentary for Chapter 1. Pay particular attention to the division of myth into myth proper, saga or legend, and folktale.


Investigate the offerings at the following site: http://www.gods-heros-myth.com/. Read through the general description of Greek and Roman Mythology and study the entries under Mythical Scholars to familiarize yourself with some of the foremost interpreters of myth.

Browse through the offerings at http://www.stoa.org/diotima. It remains a very important site for the study of women and gender in the ancient world. Its purview includes every facet of antiquity: literature, art, history, religion, as well as mythology. It should be consulted, should you wish to write a research paper on the role of women in ancient Greece or Rome.


Investigate Interpretations of Greek Mythology, edited by J. Bremmer, which contains a collection of essays that use various methodologies to approach the study of myth.

Read Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. It is an interesting, rewarding, artistic meditation on the nature of myth, the way myth is shaped and reshaped, and the contemporary significance of myth for understanding our world.

Consult the first two chapters of F. Graf, Greek Mythology: An Introduction, for a more complete understanding of myth and the scholarly approaches that have been brought to bear on this subject.

Read G. S. Kirk’s The Nature of Greek Myths for a sober, critical account of the various approaches to myth, their strengths, as well as their limitations.

For a solid introduction on the role of women in Greek mythology consult Mary R. Lefkowitz’s Women in Greek Myth.

In Byrne Fone’s Homophobia: A History read the chapter dealing with homophobia in ancient Greece. Assess his interpretations of the evidence in light of Dover‚ÄĚs Greek Homosexuality.

How would you judge Ivan Strenski’s criticism of mythographers and mythography in his Four Theories of Myth in Twentieth-Century History?

Assess Cynthia Eller’s criticism of the theory imagining a gynocentric golden age before the onslaught of patriarchy, as expounded by Marija Gimbutas.


View either Joseph Campbell and the Power of Mythwith Bill Moyers or The World of Joseph Campbell: Transformations of Myth Through Time. Assess Campbell’s comparative approach to world mythologies. How important is Greek and Roman mythology for his archetypal theories?

Essay Questions

  1. Discuss the importance of the theories of Freud and Jung for the study of mythology. How do they differ?

  2. What are the limitations of Malinowski’s approach to the study of myth? What are its strengths?

  3. What are motifemes? Into what five motifemes did Walter Burkert reduce Vladmir Propp’s original 31?

  4. What four basic assumptions can we make generally about the role of women in Greek society? What are the difficulties inherent in studying the role of women in the ancient world?

  5. How would you evaluate the contribution to the study of myth of either Sir James G. Frazier (The Golden Bough( or Jane Harrison (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religionor Themis).

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