Mythology Syllabus 2015-16

Levels of Questions: Use this as a reminder of the three levels of questions.  Use this guide to help you craft better discussion questions for graded discussions and tests!

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Intro to Mythology

This introduction unit will help us to create a foundation and a common vocabulary. for working with Mythology.

Throughout the semester, we will refer to the recurring themes and motifs in the myths we read.  We will practice finding these on our own, but we will begin with the “Great Themes of Myth” outlined by Dr. Roy Willis in World Mythology: The Illustrated Guide:

  • Creation:  The origins of the world
  • Cosmic Architecture: The structure of the universe
  • Humanity: Causes of life and death
  • Supernatural Beings: Gods, spirits, and demons
  • Cosmic Disasters: The end of the world
  • Heroes & Tricksters: Agents of change
  • Animals & Plants: Energy, transformation and kinship
  • Body & Soul: Spirit and the afterlife
  • Marriage & Kinship: Myths of the social order

Key Vocabulary, Concepts, and Themes

  • Monomyth/Hero’s Journey (J. Campbell)
  • Collective Unconscious (C. Jung)
  • Proto-science
  • Myth (academic term vs. vernacular)
    • Definition
    • Purpose and historical significance
  • Fairytale
  • Folktale
  • Legend
  • Morality
  • Culture
  • Pantheon

Readings and Materials

  • Introduction to Parallel Myths by J.F. Bierlein–Annotation assignment
  • “Why Myth?”Annotation assignment
    • Contains “Why Myth?” an excerpt from The Power of Myth, an interview of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers, as well as basic information on Campbell and Jungian Archetypes.
    • Citation information for “Why Myth?”

Activities and Assignments

Creation Stories

Creation myths are some of the oldest stories in existence. They explain the origins of human beings and/or the world, and each reflects the core values and beliefs of its culture of origin.

Key Vocabulary, Concepts, and Themes

  • Genesis
  • Motif
  • Theme
  • Archetype
  • Paternalism and Imperialism
    • The effects of colonization on mythology
  • Void/Chaos
  • Cosmology

Readings and Materials

  • Hebrew
    • “In the Beginning” (or the King James version of Genesis 1:1-2:24) –From World Literature textbook
  •  Greek/Roman
    • Edith Hamilton’s Mythology
  • Inca
    • “The Fable of the Origin of These Barbarous Indians of Peru, According to Their Blind Opinions.”–The origin myth of the Incas as told by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa in his History of the Incas (link to Project Gutenberg ebook version of the text)
    • Inca QUIZ (open book)
  • Yoruba
  • Japanese
    • Creation Myth from Genji Shibukawa: Tales from the Kojiki (This PDF file also includes “Records of Ancient Matters: Vol. 1” as translated on, which is optional reading)
  •  Chinese
    • “The Creation of the Universe and Human Beings” – From World Mythologytextbook
  •  Blackfeet
  • Navajo
    • “The Five Worlds”— From World Mythologytextbook
  • Norse/Teutonic
    • From “Gylfaginning [The tricking of Gylfi]” in the Prose (Younger) Edda
  • Maori/New Zealand Polynesian
    • “The Creation Cycle”–From World Mythology textbook

Activities and Assignments

Apocalypse & Flood Myths

The other side of creation myths, Apocalypse stories tell of how the world will end.  These prophetic stories often illustrate a culture’s vision of the afterlife, the consequences of breaking moral codes, and even proto-scientific ideas about how the world works.

Key Vocabulary, Concepts, and Themes

  • Eschatology
  • Revelation
  • Deluge
  • Apocalypse
  • Armageddon

Readings and Materials

Activities and Assignments

Epic Heroes

Epic poetry comprises some of the oldest literature in existence, and heroes from cultures around the world reveal to us their cultures’ values, morals, and beliefs. While most epics follow the same basic pattern, each is an artifact of its culture, and these legendary stories contain elements of both history and myth.

Key Vocabulary, Concepts, and Themes

  • The Monomyth:  This entry includes quotes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces for each of the 17 steps of the monomyth (a.k.a. Hero’s Journey).  You may also view the notes we reviewed in class.
  • Characteristics of an Epic Hero (Click link for full explanations, or see below for a shortened version)
    1. National Hero: embodies a nation’s values
    2. Superhuman: Brave, strong, intelligent, etc.
    3. Noble Birth: Parents are kings, gods, etc.
    4. Unusual Birth
    5. Raised away from home (w/o knowledge of birth); Returns home as an adult; becomes leader (see Monomyth)
    6. On a Quest (see Monomyth)
    7. Friends and foe alike are supernatural: Foes are super-evil, friends are deities or otherwise magical
  • Legend (vs Myth)

Readings and Materials

  • Indian: Hindu Epics
    • World Lit Textbooks
      • The Ramayana (“Battle between Rama and Ravana”)
      • The Mahabharata (“The Hundred Questions”)
      • Checklist for Hindu Epics
  • Celtic Epics
    • Fionn mac Cumhaill- “The Salmon of Knowledge”
    • Cuchulainn– Excerpts from the Tain Bo Cuailnge
    • Key Characters of the Tain
    • Listen to Ronnie Drew tell stories of these heroes. Please note that his versions are linked with the oral tradition, and may not be 100% “accurate” to the texts provided in class due to changes to the stories over time and the existence of many varied versions.
  • Norse/Germanic:
    • Stories of Siegfried (or Sigurd) from the Volsungasaga and the Niebelungenlied
  • Persian (Iran)
    • World Lit. Textbooks: from The Shahname: “The Tragedy of Rostam and Sohrab”

Activities and Assignments

 Study Guide for the Epic Hero Unit:  Some classes will take a short quiz to accompany their discussion of this unit.

Tragic Heroes and Anti Heroes

Tragic heroes tell us about who we are, and warn us of what we should never do. They give us the release of catharsis, and keep us grounded by showing the pitfalls of hubris or other tragic flaws. Most of all, they deal with the supernatural in the form of prophecy, fate, and in some cases even witches, gods, and demons.

Oedipus Rex

  • Full Text of the play from MIT. If you are absent, you may read the missed section(s) of the play here. Please note, however, that this version is a different translation from the one in the textbook. As such, you may wish to also refer to Shmoop (below) for a summary or clarifications.
  • Shmoop– A study guide for Oedipus Rex that includes a summary, a review of themes, a list of characters with descriptions, important quotes, and so on.




Short Stories

Arthurian Legends: How myths and legends survive into the modern day

The Legend of King Arthur is one of the most enduring stories in Western cultures. It has its origins in Britain, though no one knows whether or not there ever was a real Arthur. In spite of this uncertainty, this legendary figure has been built up by writers through the centuries, altered to fit with cultural norms from various areas and time periods, and updated for modern film and tv audiences. Because of its familiarity and endurance through the ages, this legend provides a great platform for discussing how myths exist in today’s world, and how they are treated by modern peoples.

King Arthur Myths