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CLAS 203 Midterm 1 Review Notes

Course Code
CLAS 203
Study Guide

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CLAS203 Lecture Notes
CLAS203 Lecture 1 & 2 Notes
There is no easy way to package myth into a simple definition. There are times
where a story you recognize as a myth, but it does not fit into the definition of a
The word myth comes from the Greek word “mythos”, which means “utterance”,
something that is said like a story of some kind, but not a written story but rather
a spoken story.
Myth is not limited to the Greeks; it is a universal phenomenon among human
beings, and of every culture.
Myths are as old as language itself, and before spoken language, myths could be
portrayed in stone tablets, artworks, etc.
Earliest written myth was The Epic of Gilgamesh which appeared around 7th
century B.C.
Myths are terribly difficult to define. While some like Hercules are well known,
others like the many Titans or Giants are not always known individually.
Therefore, it is hard to define myth itself.
Myth is a “traditional story with collective importance.” Traditional from Latin:
trado which means to ‘hand over by mouth generation after generation. During
that time as one generation hands to another generation, the myth changes.
Myths were orally transmitted.
Myths maintain contact with past; the past of a particular culture or society.
Myths transmit inherited experience to future; what were the experiences of the
people living at the time of the creation of the stories of the heroes?
One of the functions of myth is to explain society to itself, its concerns and
Myths can have certain characteristics which apply to all myths:
Time: past or unreal
Place: real, surreal, past real
oTransmission: spoken, anonymous
Subject to constant change
Teller: no claim of responsibility for content
There are various ways of classifying myth:
oBy principal character (central character of story)
Divine myth: focus on supernatural beings (Gods, Goddesses,

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Personifications of natural forces (Sky, Sea, Earth)
Abstractions (Love; Eros)
Superior to humans in power
Control forces of nature
Supernatural characteristics: size, power, appearance
Events in unreal time and place
Legends: focus on human beings
Hero: more than human (mortal)
Extraordinary qualities: courage, strength, beauty, skill
Divine parent/frequent divine input (most often from god, but
sometimes goddess; sometimes not born from god, but
affiliated afterwards to a god/goddess)
Doers of great deeds
oGreat wars
oGreat quests
oSlaying Monsters
oFounding of cities
Assumed by Greeks to have really lived
Set in distant past/unreal places
May contain element of historical truth
Folktale: focus on ‘ordinary men and women
Are ordinary men and women
Low social status
Victims, persecuted
Has some unrecognized virtue
Often has happy ending, just reward
Supernatural present as magic, spirits, etc.
Great variety of tales
Distinctive aspect: motif (regularly appearing, identifiable
narrative pattern)
Type: Larger pattern of motifs
Most Greek myths: mix of legends/folktale
oBy function
Etiological myths: (Greek aition ‘cause’)
Are myths that talk about why the world is the way it is
(customs, culture, etc.)
Divine myths: explain the way the world is
oThe origins/destruction of the elements of the
universe (i.e. ‘creation myths’)

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Legends: Explain events in the human past
oExplain and justify human present
Folktales: Explain patterns of human behaviour
oEntertain, teach
The study of myth:
oRecording and compiling the myths of a given culture
Recorded by members of the culture for goals other than that of
study/preservation of myth
Many variants: confusing, incomplete
Primary source: literature
Oral and written works differ significantly
Written text not necessarily a true record of oral tale – may reflect
previous literary versions
Archeology: Artifacts and art clues to myth not often clear as to:
who told them, when/where they were told
oAnalysis of the role specific myths played within the culture
Examine functions of specific myths in context of a given society
Myths told by/to someone on some occasion: identify teller,
audience: gender, status, etc. (Male usually told legends to
audiences of men; women told legend NOT proper)
Function: etiological? Enhanced prestige of teller/listeners?
Justified order of society? Expressed protest?
oStudy of how the myths of one culture are related to the myths of cultures
Examine migration patterns
Examine transformations and adaptations of myth to the needs and
traditions of the adoptive culture (inter-culture myth, compare and
oAssessment of the deeper human significance of myth (myth
Long history of interpretation dating back to antiquity (what function
does myth fulfill for us)
Allegorical, philosophical, psychological, structural, etc.
Never conclusive
Maps to know:
oThe Ancient Mediterranean: inside front cover of textbook
oGreece. The Aegean Sea and Western Asia Minor: inside back cover of
oSouthern and Central Greece: page 21 of textbook
oBecome familiar with the places that are most prominent in lectures and
reading material. Associate places with persons/gods, stories, why these
locations are important, etc.
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