Classics Midterm 1 Notes
Introduction to Classical Mythology
One thing is certain: There is no single theory of myth that can cover all kinds
Definitions of myths will either be too limiting or too broad
General definition: a widely accepted story that is actually false
o Derived from the Greek word muthos meaning word, tale, and
speech. It is a narration consisting of a beginning, middle, and an end.
A story that is ultimately an entertaining speech
o The antonym is logos which is a persuasive speech.
Myth is a traditional tale with secondary partial reference to something of
collective importance. It is a traditional story typically involving supernatural
beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation or justification
for something such as the early history of a society, religious belief or ritual
Myth is a many faceted personal and cultural phenomenon created to provide
a reality and unity to what is transitory and fragmented in the world.
It is a way of comforting people from what would be the unbearable world.
Myth and fact are not exclusively different:
o A story embodying eternal values may contain what is imagined to be
scientifically correct in every factual detail. At the same time, another
may form a myth that is far from being factually correct
Myth is the highest reality
Since there are no specific definitions, myth can be divided into various
1. True Myth versus Saga/Legend:
True Myth: defines stories that concern gods/ humankinds relations
Saga or Legend: has a perceptible relationship with history, whether it is true
2. Folktales and Fairytales
These refer to stories of fantastic beings with magical powers or special talents
Folktales main role is for entertainment.
Fairytales are shorter forms of folktales
3. Myth versus Religion
Both are inextricably entwined.
A tale may be believed by others both factually and spiritually.
Greek and Roman religious ceremonies and cults were given authority by
myths. This is seen with the worship of Zeus at Olumpia, Athena in Athens and
Demeter at Eleusis. Historical Background of Greek Mythology
For a long time, it was believed that Greece had not been inhabited before the
Neolithic period; however, new evidence shows that the country was settled in
the Paleolithic times (before 70 000 B.C)
From evidence, it is clear that religion was very important. Many female idols
were discovered with their sexuality exaggerated by swollen breasts, butt and
This was the era of most importance for the rise of mythical stories and beliefs.
It was the time of the development of cities.
The Bronze Age is divided into 3 major periods:
Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 B.C)
This was the period of early Minoan Era in Crete
Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 B.C)
Minoan civilization grew to maturity and grew to greatness during this time.
Cnossus was the main location of the Minoan civilization. It was the capital of
This extended from the islands of Aegean to mainland Greece
It was a place with no walls, suggesting their confidence in security of the sea
and ships. The civilization had highly developed religion of fertility mother-
They had introduced the importance of labyrinth- which may have meant
Power of Minoans collapsed around 1400 B.C, where power shifted to
Late Bronze Age (1600-1100 B.C)
Dominated by Mycenaean civilization (Greeks)
Invasion by Indo-Europeans on mainland Greece gave them the title as first
It is believed that a lot of their advancements and arts were adopted from the
Palace was surrounded by cyclopean walls (believed to be built by the giant
Cyclopes of myth). They had to tholos tombs for the dead, which signifies their
belief of the afterlife.
Their religion worshiped a sky-god, Zeus. But there is a good compromise of
Minoan religion also existed.
Linear B: These were baked clay tablets that told stories about the era
A lot of the facts and ideas derived from these
Through these, names of mythical gods and potnia (mistresses/lady) arose.
Michael Ventris was first to decipher the tablets.
Insight on Troy and Trojan War:
Hisarlik is believed to be the site of ancient Troy
There were nine settlements believed to be Tory on Hisarlik Hill., beginning
from the Early Bronze Age.
Troy was a revered site of Greek honor and glory.
7 of these settlements took place during the Minoan Mycanaean period
o Troy 2: Interesting because archeologists believed to have found the
location of Priam and Trojan War but they were wrong. Also found
treasures= Gold of Troy/ Priams Treasure.
o Troy 3-5: occurred from early to middle Bronze age
o Troy 6: Another archeologist believed this was the actual site of the
Trojan War because of all the destruction found. However, many
believe that the destruction was due to an earthquake
o Troy 7: Many evidence point to this location to be the actual Trojan
War (Tory 7a) because of the destruction by fire and siege.
It is believed that Troy was a major centre for commerce and trade. As well
issues of the economy may have been the major reason leading up to the
The end of the Bronze age and beginnings of Age of Iron is believed to have
occurred because of the destruction of Troy 7
Myths of Creation
There are many theories on the creation of myths. Stories arising from Homes,
Hesiod and Ovid all present many variations:
Believed that Titans Oceanus and Tethys are responsible for the origin of the
Believed the world was a flat disc surrounded by ocean with a dome around
representing the Heaven and the underworld.
He wrote a book called The Birth of Divinity Theogony meaning the birth of
This book begins with Zeus daughters, the Muses, teaching Hesiod the song of
how the origin of gods, earth, river, and sea began.
The beginning formed from Chaos (yawning void). It is not merely empty
space; yet rather space big enough to be impacted by the heat of Zeus
Gaia refers to the disc-shaped Earth
Tartarus is what is beneath the Earth. It is a dim, murky place. It goes as far
beneath the earth as the Heavens is above, taking 9 days to reach the bottom.
Erebus is the gloomy darkness of Tartarus.
Eros, also known as Cupid by the Romans, represents love, desire, and physical
emotion. It is the generative force of procreation through mating.
Without it, other generations of gods would not exist.
Wrote a book of poems called Metamorphoses. They focused on stories
involving transformations of some sort.
His idea also starts with Chaos. However, Chaos here is not a gaping void but
rather a crude and unformed mass of elements from which a higher power
Ovid was Roman and did not understand the earlier conceptions.
Marriage of Uranus and Gaia
Uranus was the sky god and the son of Gaia (mother earth and first deity
according to Hesiod). They are believed to be of equal power. Together, the sky
and earth are responsible for the regeneration of new citizens. This scared, or
holy union is referred to as hieros gamos in Greek. She mated with her son and
o 12 Titans: Some were important individually but they were most
powerful as a group
6 Males and 6 FemalesNames: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius,
Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe,
Tethys, and Cronus.
Cronus was the youngest and the worst one, as he hated his
A lot of sibling mating:
Oceanus and Tethys: produced 3,000 daughters and
Hyperion (God of Sun) and Theia: Produced Helius,
Selene and Eos. Helius is also God of Sun.
Cronus and Rhea: Again they were gods of Sky and
Earth. They gave birth to Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades,
Poseidon, and Zeus. Cronus found out that one of his
children will be mightier than him and take throne. To
prevent this, he swallowed each of his children as they
came out of the womb. She secretly gave birth to Zeus
and instead gives a stone to Cronus to swallow.