Copyright  2001, Joseph J. Hughes
Last reviewed: 13 August 2001

I.   The Nature of Classical Myth
     A. Etymology of "mythology"
        1. logos = rational story told to inform or explain
           a. "in the beginning was the Word"
           b. Colleges are full of "-logy"
        2. mythos = story told for its own sake
           a. "there was this guy"
           b. gets an unfair rap in modern society
     B.	usually defined as "traditional story"
	1. "traditional" means:
	   a. handed down over the ages
           b. explains society to itself and presents models of behavior
	   c. anonymous and subject to change
        2. "story" means:
           a. has plot: beginning, middle and end
           b. has characters and setting
     C. What is a classics?

II.  Major types of myth
     A.	"true" myth
        1. remote location, set in prehistoric time
	2. divine or superhuman protagonists
        3. explains natural phenomena--aetiological
        4. Example: "Rape of Persephone"
     B. Legend (also called saga)
        1. recognizable location, set in historic time
        2. heroic human protagonists
        3. preserves history, teaches morals--commemorative
        4. Example: Robert of Locksley
     C.	Folktale
        1. set in "once upon a time"
        2. ordinary people as characters, sometimes animals
        3. entertains and also instructs in proper behavior--didactic
        4. Example: Three Little Pigs 
     D.	Cautions
        1. differences in interpretation entirely possible
        2. can also occur in combinations
        3. Example: Odysseus and Polyphemus
III. The Development of Classical Myth
     A. Archaeological Evidence
        1. Great Mother Earth Goddess figurines from the Near East and Aegean
        2. oldest freestanding sculptures in the world (oldest is about 8000 years old)
        3. exaggerated sexual organs, plump buttocks and breasts = fertility
     B.	Near Eastern Myth; Mesopotamia (Tigris-Euphrates rivers)
        1. Sumerians
           a. first to develop city-states (around 3000 BCE)
           b. developed cuneiform: the earliest myths known are recorded in it
           c. male sky god, destructive queen of heaven
           d. also a great mother goddess; gods are anthropomorphic and humanistic
        2. Semites
           a. Babylonians, who produced an epic poem of creation, Enuma Elish
           b. Hebrews, who produced the Old Testament
        3. Other Sources
           a. Hittites, who were Indo-European (i.e., not Near Eastern in origin)
           b. Egyptians, with their limited mythology
     C.	Greek Origins
        1. Indigenous Greek culture
	   a. strong emphasis on mother earth goddess
           b  possibly matriarchal society?
           c. peaceful and literate
           d. Minoan culture on Crete (2200-1450 BC)
        2. "Achaean" culture (from central Asia)
           a. male divinity supreme,lots of subordinate deities 
           b. strongly patriarchal culture
           c. warlike and illiterate
           d. spoke Indo-European language    
        3. Mycenaean culture on mainland Greece (2000-1200 BC)
           a. Indo-Europeans invade Balkan peninsula
           b. conquest followed by assimilation
              1). Achaeans get upper hand linguistically and politically
              2). Indigenous Greek beliefs still endure
           c. Greek myths as we know them originated from this age
IV.  Ages of Greek Myth
     A. Dark Age (1200-800 BC): myths sung by oral poets
     B. Archaic Period (800-480 BC):  knowledge of myths come from writings of this time
        1. Iliad and Odyssey, by Homer; both long epic poems
        2. Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days
        3. Cyclic Poems, Homeric Hymns,vase paintings
     C.	Greek Myth in the Classical Period (480-323 BCE)
        1. Rhapsodes, who gave oral presentations of the epics
        2. Choral poets: Pindar
        3. Tragedy: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides
     D.	Greek Myth in the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BCE)
        1. scholarly poems and collections: e.g., Callimachus; Apollodorus
        2. Roman appropriation of Greek Myth and Roman Legend
           a. Vergil's Aeneid
           b. Ovid's Metamorphoses
           c. Livy's history    

Return to LLT 121 Notes Table of Contents