Classical Mythology

 CLA 1-216-97
College Hall 013
Cornell College

Instructor:  John Gruber-Miller, 312 College Hall; phone: x4326; email: grubermiller

Class meetings: M-F 9-11:15 a.m.; three afternoons each week, usually M T W 1-3 p.m.

Office Hours: M W F 11:15-12 noon and always by appointment.

Resources | Argos
Metamorphoses Project: | Template 1 | Template 2
Student Feedback
Achilles | Apollo | Athena | Demeter | Helen

Required Texts:

Robert Fagles, trans. Homer. The Iliad. Penguin, 1990.
Stephanie, Dalley, trans. Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford, 1989.
Stanley Lombardo, trans. Hesiod. Works and Days and Theogony. Hackett, 1993.
David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, eds. Euripides II (The Cyclops, Heracles, Iphigenia in Tauris, Helen). Chicago, 1952.
A.D. Melville, trans. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Oxford, 1986.
Susan Shelmerdine, trans. Homeric Hymns. Focus, 1995.


  • Introduction to the some of the most famous and most important myths, legends, and folktales of the ancient world.
  • Introduction to the literature of ancient Greece and Rome.
  • Understanding of how to read various types of literature and how to interpret myths, legends, and folktales.
  • Understanding of the relationship between ancient and modern myth, and why myths continue to speak to us today.
  • Opportunity to explore important human questions about divinity and humanity, life and death, female and male, rational and irrational, freedom and necessity, etc.
  • Opportunity to improve both your verbal and written communication skills.
  • Ability to gather, use, and evaluate materials both from the library and the World Wide Web.
  • Ability to create and publish a project on the WWW using basic HTML code.


A daily journal assignment will be graded on completeness (one entry per class day) and on the degree to which you actively engage the material in your personal reflections. This journal is for you to ask questions and make comments about the course: to explore ideas generated by the readings, make connections with your own life, and to reflect on your progress doing research in the library and the WWW. Each entry should be written before we discuss a text in class. This will not only help you grapple with the text on your own terms, but it will help prepare you to participate actively in class.

Class discussion: I hope to foster an atmosphere in which students are free to speak their minds. We all (myself included) bring different backgrounds, preparation, theoretical perspectives, and values to this course. We all will learn from many sources: our common readings, each other, our discussions, and our research. It is, therefore, crucial to the success of the course that everyone show respect and courtesy to everyone else in the class, and a willingness to help each other learn and approach this material from new perspectives.

Informal writing assignments of various types based on class readings (approximately one for each section of the course). These essays are meant to be a chance to examine your own views, values and biases within the light of various readings. These topics will be announced in advance. Always make sure you keep a copy of your papers until after the course is over. I will not be responsible for losing the only copy of your paper.

Metamorphoses Project on the transformation of myth through time. In order to understand mythology in antiquity and its enduring relevance, groups of four students each will research one divinity or hero. More detailed instructions will be handed out later, but basically the project will involve the following steps:

  1. research (both in the library and on the WWW) and analysis of the various Greek myths concerning a particular divinity or hero;
  2. research (both in the library and on the WWW) and analysis of the various later transformations of myth concerning the same figure;
  3. exploration (both in the library and on the WWW) of the intersection between cult and mythology for the same figure, or discovery of a parallel figure in another society's mythology;
  4. creative project by the group showing their response to the divinity or hero they have researched. It may take the form of artwork, drama, music, story, video, etc. Ideally, it should engage one's mind, heart, and spirit.
Final Exam.  Study questions.


40% class participation, daily journal, and informal written assignments
40% web project on a divinity or hero
20% final exam

Schedule of Topics and Readings

Section I: The Experience of a Hero:

Day 1:    First definitions of "myth," "legend" and "folklore"
               Iliad, Bk 1: The wrath of a hero
Mythological Background to Homer's Iliad, by Prof. John Porter.
Day 2:     Iliad, Bks 2 and 3: Definition of a hero: Male and Female

Day 3:     Iliad, Bks 6, 9, 11: Friends, Family, Peers
               Informal Writing Assignment #1 DUE:

Excellence:  How does Homer define it for men and women?  Who in particular exemplifies excellence in Homer, both male and female?  Why?  How do you respond to Homer's definition?  Do you agree or disagree?  How would you define excellence in your own life?  Can you think of anyone today who exemplifies your definition of excellence?
Sample Student Essay 1 | Sample Student Essay 2

Day 4:     Iliad, Bks 14, 16, and 18: On the battlefield--war, love, injury, death

Day 5:     Iliad, Bks 22-24: Rage and Compassion
               Metamorphoses Project, Part 1A, due: Greek versions of the myth

Day 6:     Gilgamesh, Tablets 1-6: Hero and Friend.  Study Guide for Gilgamesh
               Metamorphoses Project, Part 1B, due: analysis of Greek versions of the myth

Day 7:     Gilgamesh, Tablets 7-12: Quest for Immortality
               Informal Writing Assignment #2 DUE

Death and Dying:  All human beings experience deep feelings (e.g., denial, anger, resignation, etc.) when a loved one dies.  The challenge is how do human beings cope with these emotions.  How does Achilles cope with death of Patroclus and his own mortality?  How does it compare with how the Trojans deal with the death of Hector?  How does Gilgamesh deal with Enkidu's death and his own mortality?  Are there parallels between the Homeric and Mesopotamian ways of dealing with the death of a loved one?  Have you experienced the loss of someone dear to you?  How did that experience compare with what we have read in the Iliad or Gilgamesh?  Does the experience of Achilles, the Trojans, and/or Gilgamesh--their questions, feelings, rituals--offer any answers for us today?
Sample Student Essay

Section II: Creation

Day 8:     Hesiod's Theogony: Genealogy and Cosmogony.  Study Guide for Theogony

Day 9:     Enuma Elish: the Contest for Creation
               Genesis 1-11: How many creation stories?  Study Guide for Creation

Day 10:    Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bk 1: A rationalized version of creation?
                Metamorphoses Project, Part 2A, due: later versions of the myth

Day 11:    Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries.  Study Guide for Demeter
                Metamorphoses Project, Part 2B, due: analysis of later versions of the myth

Day 12:    Homeric Hymn to Apollo: Apollo's oracle at Delphi.  Study Guide for Apollo
                Informal Writing Assignment #3 DUE

Creation and Knowledge:  What makes a creation myth a creation myth?  One way is to say that creation myths answer key questions that we as human beings need to understand their place in the cosmos.  What are the questions answered by Theogony, Enuma Elish, Genesis, and Metamorphoses?  Are these answered in the Hymn to Demeter or the Hymn to Apollo.  Choose either the Hymn to Demeter or to Apollo.  Can it be considered a creation story?  What elements are present in the hymn that are also present in the other creation myths we have read?  What questions would you want answered in a creation myth?  How would you want them answered?

Section III: Metamorphoses of Myth

Day 13:    Euripides' Helen: Phanton, femme-fatale, or faithful wife?

Day 14:    Euripides' Heracles: Divine or human madness?

Day 15:    Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bks 8-9: Helen, Heracles, etc.
                Metamorphoses Project, Part 3, due: cultic connection or parallel in world mythology

Day 16:    Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bks 5-6 and 12: Ovid's transformation of Demeter, Athena, and the Trojan War

Day 17:    Creative Projects due;
                Metamorphoses Project completed

Day 18:    Final Exam.   Study questions.

Last Update: 29 July 1999
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