Stories are important. They are how we keep track of great (or awful) things that have happened, how we teach our children, how we understand strangers. They help us stay connected with our past and dream about our future. It is with this in mind that we will consume the great stories of Western civilization (World Literature will cover the others) with the hope that we will be inspired, enlightened, and entertained.
- 1 Course Description
- 2 The Reading List
- 3 Section One: Everything’s Connected
- 4 Section Two: What We’re Going to Do with the List
- 5 But [insert religious text] isn’t a myth!
- 6 References
The purpose of this class is to help us all gain a better understanding of the human condition—what it means to be a person. We continue to read (and allude to) these ancient great stories because they have tapped into something that tells us what it means to be human. To this end, we will work (through discussion and writing) to find connections between these works and modern ones, how to decode a Symbol or Metaphor, and how to unlock the meaning of a difficult story or Poem using other works.
The Reading List
Our primary text in this course will be Rolfe Humphries’ translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. While Ovid was Roman, not Greek, his telling of the stories is always lively, sometimes melancholy, sometimes horrifying. Ovid was Shakespeare’s main source of Greek mythology and his telling has inspired countless adaptations and allusions throughout the centuries. We will supplement Ovid with Hesiod’s Theogony.
The Starring Cast
- Bacchus and Apollo
- Hades and Persephone
- Icarus and Daedalus
- Narcissus and Echo
- Orpheus and Eurydice
- Prometheus and Epimetheus
- Pyramus and Thisbe
- Abraham and Sarah Genesis 12
- Cain and Abel
- Judith and Holofernes
- Salome and John the Baptist
- The Good Samaritan - Luke 10:29-37
- The Prodigal Son - Luke 15:11-32
- The Creation Story - Genesis 1:1-2:7
- Jack and the Beanstalk
- Beauty and the Beast
- Little Red Riding Hood
This list is by no means exhaustive, and we will be supplementing it throughout the session.
Section One: Everything’s Connected
In this brief section, I will outline how we make connections in literary works and how this skill applies to everything else, because (that’s right)—everything’s connected. We will also look at Metaphor, Symbolism, and the few terms we will be using throughout the year to talk about these great stories.
Section Two: What We’re Going to Do with the List
Consume, discuss, compare, repeat.
I don’t like the “close reading” moniker, but that’s what you’ll be doing. I’ll show you how to do it in the first few days of class, but essentially: Take time away from everything else to read, look up words that you don’t know, and write down your thoughts as you read.
I’ll present a brief history of any story that warrants it, but discussion will primarily be led by you guys. So, come to class with something to talk about. Every day. Even if we don’t have required reading for the night (which will be rare), keep these stories in your mind; you’ll be surprised how often they come up.
Allusions and connections are what this class is about. If you write down similar consumables as you read, keep the stories in mind, and talk about them in class, this semester will become a unified series of connections.
Of course. The connections will make you more insightful, more interesting; the writing will make you more logical, more cogent. We’ll talk about specific assignments when the opportunity presents itself.
But [insert religious text] isn’t a myth!
A note about mythology and the “myth” word: In addition to the classic Greek myths, some Western legends, and even fairy tales, we will be reading books from the Hebrew Bible and a few from the Christian New Testament. It is important to understand that the word “myth” does not mean these stories are untrue, or do not have religious value to some people; a myth is simply an important story. The truth or religious value of these stories (as important as these may be) does not concern us—the way they have impacted later literary works does. Thomas C. Foster, author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, says it best:
The connection of religion and myth sometimes causes trouble in class when someone takes myth to mean “untrue” and finds it hard to unite that meaning with deeply held religious beliefs. That’s not what I mean by “myth,” though. Rather, what I’m suggesting is the shaping and sustaining power of story and symbol. Whether one believes that the story of Adam and Eve is true, literally or figuratively, matters, but not in this context. . . . What we mean in speaking of “myth” in general is story, the ability of story to explain ourselves to ourselves in ways that physics, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry. . .—can’t.
So I hope none of you take offence when religious texts are lumped together with stories no one believes true. Both types of stories are important to us in this course, and for the same reason: these stories have impacted people and their understanding of the world since the day they were first told.
- Bate, Jonathan. Shakespeare and Ovid. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.Google Books
- McNamara, Jeremy. "'Ovidius Naso was the Man': Shakespeare's Debt to Ovid". Monmouth College, The 1992-93 Fox Classics Lecture. Illinois. n.d. 
- Foster, Thomas C. How To Read Literature Like a Professor. New York: Harper Collins, 2003. 64-5.