ENG 204 B World Mythology, Winter 2005
To ENG 204 World Mythology Course Index
WWW Myth Links

Professor Michael Webster  Office: 129 LHH, Allendale. 331-3071
e-mail: websterm@gvsu.edu Hours: 11:15-12 TR, 1-2 MW, and by appointment
homepage: http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/ Class meets: 10:00-11:15 TR, 161 LHH 
Blackboard: http://bb.gvsu.edu   

Required Texts:

Also, we’ll read Genesis 1-11:9, but I did not order Bibles with the bookstore: you can easily find a translation of the Old Testament on your own. Here's a link to The Book of Genesis (Revised Standard Version). You may also want to compare / contrast eight different translations of the Bible at the Bible Gateway site.

Content: This course will introduce you to those Western and Eastern mythologies that have had the greatest impact on the Western tradition. These are Greek and Norse mythology in Europe and Hebrew, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian mythology in the ancient Near East.


Broader Aims: to see how myths function as building blocks of culture. Note: The aim of this course is not, as Northrop Frye says, to lead you "toward or away from any position of belief."  Rather, "The academic aim is to see what the subject means, not to accept or reject it"(xx). Some students may resist being led towards belief, while others may resist being led away from it. This course encourages respect for individual beliefs while also exploring the many ways of reading and understanding religious stories.

Method: We will learn to interpret myths and cultures by asking and attempting to answer some of the basic questions that people from antiquity to the present have asked about these tales. Stated broadly, some of these questions are:  What are myths? What do they have to do with religion? With psychology?  With the natural world? With the history and society of the peoples who produced them? How do they relate to rituals and morality? What are we to think of the similarities and differences in these traditional stories? In what ways are myths practical? In what ways are they true or false?

Questions:  "The love of wisdom begins in wonder," said Socrates.  We learn by asking and working out answers to questions.  The study questions in the packet are designed to stimulate your thinking and activate your reading, to highlight important issues, and to prepare you for in-class discussion.  I ask three kinds of questions, reading and interpretive, and critical.  Reading questions ask about feeling, subject, content, plot, the literal story-line.  Interpretive questions ask about thinking, theme, figurative language, symbolism, and form.  Critical questions ask about evaluating, judging, taste, period, history, politics, and ethics. Good questions have no real "right" or "wrong" answer, only better or worse answers according to the evidence and reasoning you can bring to back up your opinions. Interpretive and critical questions usually contain phrases like "do you think" or "why do you suppose."

Requirements: Of course, you will be expected to do the readings on time, attend class, and participate with vigor and intellectual curiosity. The stories we will read in this class will be baffling, challenging, and exciting. You shouldn't need much prodding from me to read and enjoy them. However, I will not hesitate to give you a pop quiz if I feel you are not keeping up with the reading or discussion. We will have three short assignments (20-25%), one midterm, one short paper (20%), a final exam (20%), and an undetermined number of short response papers, or possibly quizzes, which with class participation, will count for 15-20%.

Writing: This course is NOT designated SWS. However, it is an English course, and papers will be graded very carefully, so proofread carefully! Because grades are meant to reflect your effort in a course, plagiarism will be punished severely. At the least, you will receive an F for the paper; you may fail the entire course. For more information on the University's policy on plagiarism, see sections 223.00 and following in the Student Code.

The Writing Center is a place where students can discuss their writing with student consultants prepared to respond to their work. The Writing Center offers assistance on prewriting, drafting, revising previous drafts, editing, and citing sources.

Writing Center Locations:  
Allendale Campus 
201 STU / 331-3451
Pew Campus
Grand Rapids
101B DeVos / 331-6407
Meijer Campus
Room 119

Hours vary: check the Writing Center home page at http://www4.gvsu.edu/wc/

Attendance: Since I've structured this course around discussion rather than lecture, your attendance and your participation are vital. Those who are absent (in body or mind) will find the course less interesting and the material more difficult than those who attend and participate. You cannot "make up" the discoveries and the intellectual give-and-take created by a classroom full of individual personalities. You also deprive the class of the unique perspective that only you can bring. If you have questions about the readings, please raise these concerns in class. If you feel hesitant to participate in class, please come to my office and talk with me about it. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it definitely makes the grade go lower. Those who miss more than one week of classes without legitimate excuse will lose half a letter grade for each additional absence. Work is not a legitimate excuse for absence.

Schedule of Readings, ENG 204

Note: Finish all readings before class meets. (Quizzes may occur at any time!)
Dates, Topics, Questions Readings
Week 1 [Jan. 11 & 13] Introduction; Greek Myth: Beginnings 

What are myths? Why do we study myths? Myths in our lives? In what ways are myths true and / or false? 

Hesiod, Introduction (3-8), Theogony: Creation (30-34), Kronos, Ouranos, birth of Aphrodite (34-38); Children of Night and Monsters(38-40; 43-47).
Creation (64-65); Kronos, Ouranos, birth of Aphrodite (65-67); Children of Night and Monsters (67; 69-70) [Notes, pp. 92-95.] 

Packet: "Definitions of Myth,""FAQs about Myth" (includes Bascom's Three Forms of Narrative and Definitions of Myth), "Ways of Interpreting Myth," "Terms often used in discussing myths," "Gods and Men in Greek Religion," "Greek History and the Gods," "Characteristics of Oral Composition," "Reading Hesiod's Theogony" (with Notes and Questions)." 

Week 2. [Jan. 18 & 20] Greek Myth: Gods and Goddesses

In what ways are myths true and / or false, literal or metaphorical (symbolic)? 

Hesiod, Introduction (8-9), Theogony: Rise of Zeus (56-61); Zeus defeats the Titans ("Titanomachy"), ends succession (68-86); 
Prometheus the trickster, creation of woman (61-68). 
Hesiod, Works and Days: Strife (94-97) Prometheus and Pandora, 2nd version (97-100);  The Five Ages of Man (101-05). [Optional: Fables & Wisdom (105-10).] 
Packet: "Prometheus, Pandora, and the Five Ages," "Tricksters," "Ways of Interpreting Myth." 
Graves, "Deucalion's Flood," (handout). 
Principle # 1: myths can be read as literally true religious stories, but often reveal surprising meanings when read as false metaphorical representations. 
Week 3 [Jan.25 & 27] Greek Myth: Gods and Goddesses

Why do gods act so much like humans?

Rayor, Homeric Hymns: "Introduction (1-13), #2 "To Demeter" (17-34); #3 "To Apollo" (35-53); #4 "To Hermes" (55-74); #18 and 19, "To Hermes," and "To Pan" (93-95); #5 and 6 "To Aphrodite" (75-84); #7 and 26 "To Dionysos" (87-89; 97). Read also the notes for Hymns 2-9 (107-139)

Packet: "Notes and Questions for Homeric Hymns," Notes and Questions for The Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Week 4 [Feb. 1 & 3] Greek Myth: Gods and Goddesses and Heroes.

How are myths influenced by the local culture? In what ways do archetypal patterns cross cultures? 

Rayor, Homeric Hymns: #8 "To Ares" (89); #20 "To Hephaistos" (95); #27-32 "To Artemis, Athene, Hestia and Hermes, Gaia, Helios, Selene" (98-102). 
Homer, Odyssey: books I-VII (11-87), 

Packet: "Notes and Questions for Homeric Hymns," "Reading the Odyssey," "Odyssey Notes and Questions," Webster, "The Hero's Three-Part Journey." Campbell, "The Keys" (handout). 
Principle # 2: Myths have various levels of meaning. 

Week 5 [Feb. 8 & 10] Greek Myth: Heroes.

What is a hero? Why do hero stories follow similar patterns? 

Homer, Odyssey: books VIII-XIII (88-157). 

Packet: "Odyssey Notes and Questions," "Oedipus," "Patterns in Hero Stories," "Odysseus Follows Propp." 

Handouts on Greek heroes (Perseus, Theseus, Orpheus). 

Week 6 [Feb. 15 & 17] Hebrew Stories: Creation and first humans.
How is the biblical story of creation like / unlike other creation stories?
Genesis 1 - 5. 

Packet: "Hebrew Society, History, Religion, and Texts," "Genesis Notes and Questions" 

Week 7 [Feb. 22 & 24] Hebrew Stories: the Flood and tower of Babel. Genesis 6 - 11:9

Packet: "Noah and the Flood Questions," "Two Flood Stories?," "Noah's Descendants." 
Friedman, "The Flood" (handout). [Midterm] 

Week 8 [March 1 & 3] Norse Myth: Creation, powers and treasures of the gods.
Seth Schein Visit: 
October 19 at 1 p.m. in 174 LSH. Topic: Myth in the Odyssey.
Crossley-Holland: Norse Myths, Introduction (xiv-xxxii), Myths 1-4 (3-17); Myths 6-11 (26-58) and Myths 13 and 14 (65-74). Read notes 1, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11 (Crossley-Holland 181-200). Packet: "Questions on Norse Myth," "Shamans and Shamanism," "John Barleycorn."
[March 7-11] Spring Break!
Next Week: Cracow, March 17-20
Week 9 [March 15 & 17] Norse Myth: Adventures of the gods, Balder, and Ragnarok  Crossley-Holland: Norse Myths Myths 16, 17, 19, 24, 26, 28-32. Read notes 24, 28, 29 (esp. pp. 229-230), 30, 31, 32. Packet: "Questions on Norse Myth." 
Week 10 [March 22 & 24] Sumerian and early Babylonian Myth: Origins and Gods Packet: "Mesopotamian Deities," "Sumerian Myth," "Atrahasis," Notes 

Wolkstein: Inanna: "Preface" and "Introduction" (xii-xix), "Inanna and the God of Wisdom" (11-28), "The Descent of Inanna" (51-90), "The Joy of Sumer" (107-110). After you finish "The Descent," read Wolkstein's interpretation, pp. 155-169. 

Optional: Kramer, "Sumerian History, Culture, and Literature" (115-126). 

Week 11 [March 29 & 31]
Babylonian Myth: Gods and Heroes
Foster: "Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld" (129-143). Wolkstein: "The Huluppu-Tree" Part I (3-9; interpretation 137-146). 

Packet: "The Huluppu-Tree," "The Babylonian Creation," "Adapa the Man," "Etana and the Eagle

Week 12 [April 5 & 7] Babylonian Myth: Gilgamesh Foster: The Epic of Gilgamesh Introduction (xi-xxii); tablets I-V (6-45). Packet: "Notes and Questions to Gilgamesh" [First version of paper due.]
Week 13 [April 12 & 14 ]
Foster: The Epic of Gilgamesh, tablets VI-XI (46-95). 
Packet: "Notes and Questions to Gilgamesh
Week 14 [April 19 & 21] 
Egyptian Myth;
American Indian Creation Myths and Review of Themes (Underworld journeys, Hero journeys, Goddesses, Floods, Origins)

Final Exam:
Finish Gilgamesh; "Egyptian Myth" (packet and handout). 
[final paper due]
Erdoes and Ortiz, American Indian Myths (handout). 
Videos: Popol Vuh and/or Campbell on Navaho hero-twins.


day, April  a.m.

Back to ENG 204 World Mythology Course Index

Short response papers

These short response papers will help you begin to interpret myths, find symbolic and metaphoric meanings in myths, and serve as a basis for further class discussion. While doing these first responses, you should be reading carefully "Frequently Asked Questions about Mythology," "Definitions of Myth," (packet), "Ways of Interpreting Myth" # 1-6 (packet), and Hesiod, Introduction (3-8), Theogony: Creation (30-34), Kronos, Ouranos, birth of Aphrodite (34-38); Children of Night and Monsters(38-40; 43-47). For help with this exciting but challenging text, consult "Reading Hesiod's Theogony" (packet).

1: True or False? Form groups in class of 3-5 people. Discuss in what ways are myths true and / or false, logical and / or illogical. Then write on the same question. Look for concrete examples in Hesiod. (For example, in what ways does the creation of the world by birth seem logical and natural, and in what ways does it seem false and far-fetched?)

This response will help you discover some meanings of Principle # 1: myths can be read as literally true religious stories, but often reveal surprising meanings when read as false metaphorical representations.

Note: It’s absolutely natural to be puzzled at the start of this class. Remember, though, that puzzlement can lead to enlightenment if you keep asking those questions and thinking. Feel free to speculate and to think symbolically and metaphorically.

2. Finding Motifs and Meanings. Read "Ways of Interpreting Myth" # 7-12 (packet). I will assign each group some questions from the packet on the stories in Hesiod's Theogony. In addition to answering the questions, consider ways in which your section of the story can be seen as exhibiting historical, philosophical, moral, or natural elements (ways 2-4); and / or offering explanations for natural events, for puzzling phenomena, or for local customs and institutions (ways 5, 6, and 7); and / or containing archetypal metaphors or symbols (way #8), ritual patterns (way #9), psychological archetypes (way #10), or folktale or storytelling motifs (way #11). Indicate on your paper which questions you are answering.

Principle # 2: Myths have various levels of meaning.

Criteria: Demonstrate that you have read the story carefully. Discuss specific details. Quote (give line or page numbers) and analyze those quotes. Connect your question(s) with the various levels of meaning in myth.


1. Greek and Roman sites:

[Contains information on all aspects of the ancient Greek and Roman world. Now featuring a nice accurate biography of the legendary Greek hero Herakles (Hercules). 2. General Myth Indexes: [Maintained by Christopher Siren, this is the best index to myth sites I’ve found. Lists by region loads of sites, mostly re-tellings of myth stories, some good, some of dubious quality and accuracy. Even Siren's own excellent FAQ sites on Near Eastern Myth contain minor inaccuracies.] [To try the nonframe version for faster loading , add <nonframe.html> to the end.] 3. A Good Norse Myth Site: Germanic Myths, Legends, and Sagas: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/mythlinks.html