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Introduction

Welcome to LLT121, Classical Mythology. I'm your instructor, Dr. Joseph Hughes, associate professor of modern and classical languages at Southwest Missouri State University. This is the telecourse version of LLT121, which means that the class is going to be primarily lecture format and, such time as you can contact me, I'll be happy to interact with you, but our primary vehicle of instruction this semester is going to be the course lectures, which are available from Continuing Ed, and also the text, by Morford and Lenardon. The class format is basically my giving lectures on the assigned portions of the book. Unfortunately, I won't be able to answer your questions immediately, but the contact information—that is to say my telephone number, my office number, my office hours and email address—will be available to you both in the syllabus and in the course study guide, which you will be able to get at the SMSU bookstore.

As a general rule, I like to think I'm pretty good about letting my students know what I expect of them. Some helpful study tips include if you see me talking about something over and over again, if you see me repeating a buzzword over and over again, the chances are very good that it's going to be on the text somewhere or another. The same thing if I take the trouble to write a term or information up on the blackboard. If I take time to write something up on the blackboard, it means it's something I feel is pretty important; if I write something neatly on the blackboard, that means I must really consider it very important. Also, you'll find the study guide very helpful. You'll find the questions of the people in the class very helpful, actually. Again, if you have any more questions about the course material, about the lecture, I'm always on campus, I'm always available at my office telephone number or my email.

Just an aside about the format of the lectures and the structure of the tests: There will be several quizzes during the semester and two examinations. This will be specified in the syllabus. The examinations will be multiple choice, matching, short answer and whatnot. There will also be essay questions. You will not have to guess what the essay questions are. I will give you an idea of what's going to be on the essay questions. Most of us—if not all of us—have had at one point or another in our life some professor whose purpose in life was to make the students look ignorant and insignificant and what have you. My other shortcomings aside, I'm not that type. The purpose of my exams is for you to show me that you're interested in this stuff, that you've been studying it, that you appreciate it, that you're motivated, and—most importantly—that you are well-taught.

With that said, I'd like to make a few remarks about the structure of the course itself. You'll notice that the title of the class is "Classical Mythology." I'll speak to this topic at a little bit more length in the first lecture. But I feel I should warn you right now that, as skeptical children of the 20th century—soon to be the 21st century—you would expect a college course to be able to provide you with a rational, cohesive overview of a given topic; much as elementary biology will tell you about the study of life forms; as geology will tell you about the study of the earth. Mythology is formed from two Greek words; mythos, which is a story you tell while waiting in line or sitting on a bus or something like that; and logos, rational account. The myths and legends we encounter in LLT121, Classical Mythology, are basically stories that ancient, dead, Greeks and Romans told for various reasons, but they told them in the first place because they were interesting and entertaining—not to explain their religious beliefs, not to explain their social practices, not to explain their idea of what made good literature or bad literature. Stories that they told to each other while they were sitting around the campfire and whatnot.

From these stories, we can deduce, we can arrive at conclusions about who these people were, these ancient Greeks and Romans, who told us these stories. We'll be able to find out what their social values were, what their religious beliefs were. We'll get some pretty good ideas, at any rate. Gender roles. It's all in there. But please keep in mind that these are just stories that are told to entertain and amuse and only incidentally explain things. And that, as such, we can't really expect coherency and consistency from them. If I can give you just one example, the ancient Greeks believed that the goddess Aphrodite was born from the splashing down of the severed genitalia of the sky god, Uranus. The ancient Greeks also believed that the goddess Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus, the grandson of Uranus, and his wife, Dione. Obviously, to the 20th century mindset, these cannot be true. They are mutually exclusive. But not to the ancient Greeks. The ancient Greek tendency, the ancient Roman tendency, is to reconcile these things. I can predict confidently that it will probably, at some point or another, drive you crazy, but it's part of the territory. Please bear with me.

I would like to close with just a few remarks on the question, "Why study classical mythology? Why study the marginally incoherent tales of some people who have been dead going on three thousand years, now. What does this have to do with me?" I have a lot of reason. You'll be subjected to them over the balance of the semester. But the image I keep coming back to: If you can imagine. You've all applied to Southwest Missouri State University. You've all gotten paperwork from Southwest Missouri State University. You can all probably, by now, close your eyes and see the official logo of Southwest Missouri State University, which is the portico—the front porch if you will—of Carrington Hall. Carrington Hall was built in the first decade of the 1900s—I believe 1905—and the design is a quote/unquote classical design, a classical design that was decided on, that was put together, because it emulated other classical buildings in the United States. These buildings in the United States were quote/unquote classically designed because many European buildings were quote/unqote classically designed; the porch, the triangular pediment, the columns, the steps leading up. For whatever reason—and we will get into this, too, I think—for whatever reason, the ideals, the artistic forms, and the stories of ancient Greeks and Romans have inspired, have motivated, have influenced the art, the literature, political thought, social values of people in Europe and actually around the world.

That's not to say we have to like the ancient Greeks and Romans. We don't have to. It's not to say we have to model our own values, our own beliefs, our own art upon the art and literature and values of the ancient Greeks and Romans, because we don’t have to. But, for better or worse, the stories we’re going to study this semester are stories passed on by people who are, in effect, our cultural great-great-great-great grandparents. To me, this is the most valuable thing of all about studying classical mythology, about studying the ancient world. We get an opportunity to look back across the years at the peoples whose civilizations built our own. I think that, when we look across the years, we catch them telling stories about gods and goddesses and heroes and whatnot—the reason things came to be—we meet these people, we look at these people, and we see ourselves. I hope that you enjoy Classical Mythology this semester. I hope that you learn a lot and I look forward to seeing you in our next class. Thank you.


Lecture One

Some of you, as I’m going to find out no doubt, already have a strong interest in classical mythology, in the civilizations of the ancient Romans and ancient Greeks. The rest of you will get one very soon. It does have what I would consider, at least, a good deal of inherent interest. I have been interested in ancient Romans and ancient Greeks since I was in junior high school. The ancients, as we’re going to find out, had a lot of strange ideas about how the world works, the way people ought to live their lives, and such like. I can guarantee there will be times when you reel back in your seats just wrapping yourself upside the head and laughing at the idea that serious people could actually believe some of the things we’re going to be talking about in this class. On the other hand, sometimes these ancient Romans and ancient Greeks were miles ahead of us in what they believed. Sometimes their outlook on life was something we could still learn from today. For all of the toga parties and all of the incidences of Zeus getting some other poor, mortal, woman pregnant, what we’re dealing with here is our own intellectual ancestry. For better or for worse, the Greeks influenced the Romans. The Romans influenced just about everybody in the Mediterranean world. Just about everybody in the Mediterranean world influenced us. Even today, many traces of Greco-Roman civilization exist.

Have any of you taken western civilization yet? Did you enjoy it? Your name is? Greer, did you enjoy it? I liked it but, I’m kind of strange. It’s all full of czars, Kaisers, and Holy Roman Emperors. These people are basically trying to say we are the continuation of the Roman Empire. Why? We’ll get to that. The Romans were ruled by a group of people called the Senate. The Senate in ancient Rome was a bunch of rich, old white guys from good families. What do we have today? Who’s in it? When you take a walk around campus and you look at Carrington Hall what you will see, I think—I’ve seen this thing on letterhead fifty gazillion times. Does Carrington Hall have pillars in front of it? Okay, good. What you’re seeing is horrible, I know, but if you can draw it better, come on up. What you’re seeing is an architectural style that the Romans borrowed from the Greeks and replicated it all over the Mediterranean world, and God knows where the Greeks stole it from. We’re not going to cover that very much. We’re going to meet the people that produced this architecture. We’re going to meet the people that produced this political culture. That, to me, is the real joy of studying about the ancient world. That, to me, is the real joy of studying classical mythology.

Our sources on Greek and Roman mythology, it says here, are depressingly scanty. Much of what interests us today about ancient civilizations did not interest the people who wrote ancient history back then. Back then, Roman history was written by rich Roman men. It was about rich Roman men and what they were interested in. The women were too busy having children. The slaves were too busy being slaves. The poor people were too busy being poor. The same goes for the ancient Greeks. However, we do have archeological information. We do have coinage that we have dug up. We do have paintings. Best of all to me— and I’ve read the histories, I’ve looked at the paintings—the best indicator to me of where these people were really at, who these people really were, is the stories they told to try to explain the world about them. This is so called classical mythology.

I wish I could say that we possess all of the stories in classical mythology in a convenient, prepackaged, form that is completely sensible and hangs together like our new Public Affairs Building will. However, there are variations on the stories that grow up side by side. Those of you who have siblings, brothers or sister, will get together, maybe when you’re thirty or forty, and talk about what it was like when you were young. It turns out that my younger brother was dragged out and beaten every day because my parents were really strict. Whereas, I thought they were really nice and forbearing to me. (Hi Mom. Hi Dad.) The point is that we’re going to get Version B, Version B, Version C, and Version D of some of these stories. You’re going to want to jump out of your seats and say, “Wait a minute, that’s not the way I heard it.” I’m going to be forced to reply to you, “Stop being a skeptical child of the 21st century,” because there are two different versions of many of the same stories. To give you one example, the goddess Aphrodite was born when the severed genitalia of the god, Uranus, dropped down and hit the ocean. Your name is? What do you think of that story, Mark? Be brutally honest with me. You’re trying to tell me it sucks, right? It is rather silly. In it’s own context it makes sense. How about if I were to tell you the goddess, Aphrodite, was actually the daughter of Zeus and his wife Dione? It’s more like it. I mean the child of a man and a woman or a god and a goddess. To the ancient Greeks, each of these explanations is equally valid. I know what you’re thinking, Jennifer. If you’ve got two people in this room who say, “I am Napoleon Boneparte,” what do you know for a fact? Well, at least one of them is lying. It can’t be A equals A and B equals A. It’s one or the other. Park that at the door, folks.

Another thing is that sometimes the stories gives out. It fills your mind with details that make no difference whatsoever to you. But the really interesting parts are lost. All we can do in these cases is make guesses. I love making guesses. Your guesses will be welcomed, too. I don’t have a horrible lot of certainty about the things that we’re going to cover in this class, but don’t worry. I think it’s going to work, anyway. Finally, my final plea to you people. It says here, “Suspend your 20th century disbelief.” We have indeed advanced a long time, a great deal, since the times of the ancient Romans and ancient Greeks. But, at the same time, the one thing I can guarantee you about the year, 2525, if we’re all still alive, is that we’ll look back at what people believed in the year 1996 and laugh. We think we’re so advanced. We think we have civilization down, but people in the year 2525 are going to look at us like a bunch of buffoons. So, please, let’s not do this to the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. A certain amount of giggling cannot be helped. But don’t laugh, because the same thing will happen to our civilization with time.

Number two is I would like you to show some imagination. If you will, try to imagine yourself in the year 1400 BC. No lights, no food, no motor cars, no books, no fancy clothes, no overhead lighting. Some of the explanations you’re going to hear about things are going to make a lot more sense. Finally, number three, try to enjoy yourselves. The reading is sometimes long. It’s usually long. Sometimes the lectures are interminable. But, for better or for worse, these stories are a part of what remains of our cultural ancestors in the ancient Romans and ancient Greeks. God knows it’s not going to make you rich to master this stuff. But I think you’ll come to see, as I did, that it has a good deal of inherent worth and a good deal to say about how we live our lives. Any questions on that up to this point? Anybody have any questions for me? Have I talked too fast? Have I missed anything that needs to be covered?

People who mess with their hair are in trouble. I envy people who have hair. What is classical mythology? If I could share just a little anecdote about myself with you, a very brief one. When I first taught classical mythology here many years ago, I didn’t even think to answer this question. I didn’t think to ask this question. “This is Classical Mythology, darn it. That’s what you’re here for, so tough.” But then I started wondering, “What is classical? What is mythology?” I have two degrees in classics. There was a time when, “What are the classics?” I couldn’t answer right off the top of my head. I felt ashamed. What is mythology, anyway? Let’s start with mythology. What is mythology? Mythology is an ancient Greek word, built on the Greek word “mythos.” I don’t make an awful lot of money to do this but, there are the satisfactions of the job—listening to the whole class go for the backpacks, pull out the pencils. It just gives me a special feeling inside. It comes from the Greek word “mythos” and the equally Greek word “logos.” To start out with, “mythos” or “myth.” It simply means a story that is passed on by word of mouth. I know what you are going to say. Today, a myth means something that is not true. When I tell you Elvis is still alive, Elvis is still the king, you could jump up and say, “that’s a myth.” You would probably mean, “that’s false.” But, to the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans, “myth” just meant a story that was passed along by word of mouth.

The stories you might have heard, for example, about your great grandparents or your grandparents. I know a few stories about my grandparents that were passed on by word of mouth. I have no reason to believe they’re not true. These fall in the category of myths, something passed along orally. For example, how many of you are familiar with the story of the three little pigs? Is there anybody who is not familiar with the story? How many of you first encountered that story when you read it? Makes my point. How many of you know the story of George Washington and the cherry tree? What was that one all about, Phil? George Washington chopped down the cherry tree and his dad said, “George did you chop down that tree?” George said, “I cannot tell a lie. I chopped it down.” That was passed along by word of mouth. It never happened. There is an example of a myth that was made up. I ask you to park at the door your conception that a myth, in and of itself, is necessarily untrue. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. It’s more often the traditional shaggy dog story. “You know, my mythology professor was telling me today...” Some of the things I say are true. But sometimes I have to admit I’m going to make things up just to see if you believe them. Just to see if you’re paying attention to me. But if it’s passed along by word of mouth, it is a myth.

The word, “logos,” on the other hand, means a rational account. For those of you who read ancient Greek, the beginning of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning there was the Word.” Okay, the Greek word that John uses for “the word” with a capital “W” is “logos.” What it is is expression plus reasoning, expression for a purpose. Over here, in mythos, is a story I can tell you to teach you a lesson or it’s a story I can tell you to amuse you. It’s something that can be true. It’s something that can be false or kind of in between. Whereas logos is always true. Logos is told for a purpose. Logos is right. That’s why, for instance, we have, in addition to mythology, we have geology, biology, anthropology, psychology and 57 other -ologies, all of which you can take for general education credits. Biology is the study of life forms. Geology is the study of the earth. Not the, “let’s sit around and talk about the earth” but to try to understand the earth for what it is and life forms for what they are is -ology. That’s mythology, the orderly, recent, study of a bunch of stories that people told each other to shock, amuse, and entertain and inform each other. There is a basic contradiction here, isn’t there? To try to bring order to the myths of the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans is kind of like, maybe, herding cats or something. Trying to catch the wind. But, for better or worse, that’s what we’re going to try to do. I just hope that you don’t hold me responsible for the loose ends.

What is a classic? This is the part I really didn’t think needed to be justified. I have two degrees in classics, the study of ancient Greek and Latin literature and language. Somebody once asked me, “What do you teach?” I said, “the classics.” He smiled and said, “Classical what? Classical Hindu? Classical Chinese? Classical Vietnamese? Classical Maya?” I thought he was being a wise guy, but he had a very good point. Classical is not strictly restricted to the ancient Greek and ancient Roman civilizations. A classical anything can occur in any civilization. Very briefly, to me a classic… you don’t have to write this down. This is just a working definition. We’ll probably change it later on. I always do. Does anybody have an idea about a classic car in his or her mind? What’s a classic car? Okay, ’57 Chevy. Why is a ’57 Chevy a classic? Because it is old. Because it has a look to it that has not gone out of style. You wish they made cars that were still that good looking. There is even songs about ’57 Chevys, now. It’s part of our cultural fiber.

Do any of you remember a time when the Coca-Cola Company decided they would make their product taste more like Pepsi. You remember that. You name is? Regina. Do you remember that? They called it New Coke, right? Did you try any of it? Not to offend anybody’s sponsors here, but it tasted like Pepsi, which is fine. But if you want to drink Pepsi, you buy Pepsi. When the bottlers of Coca-Cola recognized what a mistake they had made, they brought back the old formula. They didn’t call it, “the same old Coke we used to sell.” They called it “Coke Classic,” which not only implies it is the same old Coke, but it’s the same old Coke that Americans have loved. It’s the same old Coke that’s a part of American life. As a Classic Coke, it exists on a level where Pepsi doesn’t dare come after it. I actually prefer to drink Pepsi, but, for what it’s worth, the word, “classic,” built them out of a big jam because it suggests “old,” “important,” “something that is striven for and almost never reached.”

Another thing is classical rock and roll. Do we have a classical rock and roll station in this town? More or less. They play songs that are old. Are all of them good? Yes? No? No, some of these classical songs are pretty bad. Are you familiar with the band called Styx? I was in high school when they made albums. They were bad then. They are bad now. But they count as a classic. I hope I haven’t offended anybody. If I have, that’s too bad. I’m a very tolerant, caring, loving person in everything except for taste in music. There, I’m right and you’re wrong. A lot of the stuff in classical mythology, a lot of the stuff in classical civilization is like the old rock band, Styx. It stunk even then. There’s no telling why it survived. But it did. Not all classics are profound or good or realistic. But, for better or worse, it’s wrapped up in our cultural fiber. In short, a classic is something from a bygone era that, for whatever reason, is wrapped up in our culture, too. We can’t help it. It’s used as a yardstick to measure present day experience. It has lasting value and appeal and validity. It may or may not be Greek or Roman.

What I would like to do just for the last couple of minutes is to go over just a little bit of the three definitions. By the way, when I write something on the board, that means it’s a very good chance that it might appear on a test or a quiz someday. If I write it neatly, that means it’s even more likely. True myth is one of three categories of traditional stories. The other ones are legend and folk tale. A true myth is simply a story passed along by word of mouth which is believed to be true by its society. It usually takes place in, one, primordial time. “Primordial” just simply means “when the earth was young,” before they even started counting time. You don’t read about true myths happening last week. The characters in a true myth are usually supernatural, by which I mean gods, goddesses, monsters and the like. You don’t meet Bob, a clerk at Get-N-Go, in a, quote, unquote, true myth. Finally, a true myth usually, but not always, has an aetiological function. Here’s what I mean by “aetiological:” An aetiological story just explains why something is the way it is. Why is the sky blue? Because God decided to paint it blue. That’s an aetiology. A true myth is usually—but not always—an attempt to explain why something is the way it is.

Let me give you just one example of a, quote, unquote, true myth. You may know this one. The god Hades, god of the underworld, was having a tough time finding a wife. Once the nubile young goddesses found out what he did for a living, being king of the underworld, it was kind of tough to get a second date. So he went to his brother, Zeus, who was the number one god of the ancient Greek universe and said, “Can I take your daughter, Persephone?” We’ll get back to this story later. Then Zeus said, “yeah, okay.” He didn’t ask Persephone. Didn’t ask Persephone’s mom. So one day, as young Persephone, this lovely young lady goddess, was strolling through a field picking flowers, Hades, god of the underworld, came roaring up in his chariot, dragged her into the chariot, and dragged her down to the underworld to be his wife. To make a long story short—for right now—Persephone wasn’t happy to be in the underworld as Mrs. Hades. Persephone’s mom, the grain goddess, Demeter, was not happy about this arrangement, either. Since Demeter was the goddess of grain, she decided to hold off all of the grain growing until she got her daughter back.

Unfortunately, while Persephone was in the underworld, she had eaten of the fruit of the pomegranate, which means that she had to spend, forever after, six months down in the underworld and six months on Mount Olympus with her mom. This is primordial time, supernatural characters, aetiological function because it explains—to the ancient Greeks—the seasons. When Persephone is in the underworld, Demeter, her mother, is not happy. She will not allow the grain to grow. That’s winter. When Persephone is back with her mother, Demeter is happy. She allows the grain to grow. That’s spring and summer.



Category number two is legend or saga. Number one, legend or saga usually takes place in historical times. That is to say, we can usually slap a year on it. Number two, it has heroic characters. Number three, its function is usually historical. Let me just give you an example. Right around 1200 AD in Britain there was a highwayman who was named Robert of Loxley. His job was to rob people he ran into on the highway. He would take all their goodies away from them and maybe let them live, if he was having a good day. He was a real dude. Over the years people started passing around stories about Robert of Loxley. By the time you probably heard about Robert of Loxley for the first time, he lived in Merry Old England. He was heroic. Why? He was Robin Hood, darn it. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor. His historical function is: Let us all remember the great heroes who have worked hard to make things nicer for poor people like us, when, in fact, he was just a robbing, murdering thug. Sometimes a legend takes on proportions greater than its subject deserves. That happens. Finally, this is where we’re going to begin in our next exciting class. We’re going to talk about folk tales and fables. I have a really good example of a folk tale or a fable that I can tell you about on Wednesday. We don’t have time for it here. Suffice it to say that folktales tend to happen in “once-upon-a-time.” They have anti-heroic characters, pigs, cyclops, etc. Finally, they have educational function. We’ll get to that in our next exciting class.
Directory: josephhughes -> myth -> TranscriptsWord
TranscriptsWord -> Good morning and welcome to llt121 Classical Mythology in which we take up probably the second oldest story in the book, the second oldest great epic in western literature, the Iliad of Homer
TranscriptsWord -> Good morning and welcome to llt121 Classical Mythology
TranscriptsWord -> Sit right back and you’ll hear the tale, the tale of a faithful myth that started one fine Theban day when Zeus stole a fleeting kiss. It proceeded past a kiss, Zeus being the incredible fertile god that he is
TranscriptsWord -> Good morning and welcome to llt121 Classical Mythology. In our last class, we were examining the concept of the Ages of Humankind. Hesiod was the first to write it down, circa 750 bc
TranscriptsWord -> Good morning and welcome to llt121 Classical Mythology. I guess, if there's a lesson for this particular lecture, it's that Zeus abhors a wise guy. The official title of this unit, Unit Three is All that Zeus

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