Paper Topics, Classics 220: Greek and Roman Mythology
For the ‘W’ credit in Classics 220, please select one of the topics below and write a clear, thesis-driven paper
grounded in primary source material. The paper should be roughly 2500-4000 words in length: it will be
evaluated not on length but rather on its ability to argue effectively through the careful analysis of primary texts
such as Homer, Hesiod, and the Homeric Hymns. (You may also choose an alternative topic, but it must be
approved by Barbara and myself.)
n.b. If you are unaware of how to find primary source material, please ask Barbara or myself!
(1) Myth as mythos. Our term myth derives from the Greek word mythos, which has several meanings.
Prominent among these in Homer and Archaic Greek poetry is “authoritative speech act.” This term
describes an act of speaking that is so powerful that it can bring itself into effect. (E.g. Agamemnon’s
commands to Chryses, priest of Apollo, in Iliad, Book I, presented in the first lecture.) Select one myth or set
of myths from Homer, Hesiod, or the Homeric Hymns (all Archaic Greek texts) and explain how this
definition of mythos is (or is not) helpful for understanding it. What does the connection between myth and
mythos tell us about early Greek culture?
(2) Gendering the Mythic World. Hesiod’s Theogony provides an account of how Zeus came to rule over “men
and gods.” This account serves to justify the (divine) structure of the world as it is known to Hesiod (and as
it is portrayed in most of our Greek sources from the Archaic and later periods). Yet Hesiod’s telling of the
origins of the gods also introduces obvious gender dynamics into the story of the origin of the world and the
gods. It institutes the rule of the omnipotent male father (Uranus, Cronus, Zeus), even as this authority is
often challenged and undermined by a crafty female deity (Gaia, Rhea). And such dynamics are not only a
feature of Hesiod’s myths. Choose a myth or set of myths and analyze them from the perspective of gender:
how are male-female, male-male, and female-female relationships depicted? What features are valued for
each gender? Why?
(3) Myth and Place. Greek myths are often deeply connected with the geographical locations in which they
transpire. (The Oedipus story, for example, is strongly linked with the mythological space of Thebes.)
Choose a myth or set of myths (or legends) and examine the role that place plays in those stories. Where do
mentions of place occur? What features of place are emphasized? How can we best characterize the
relationship between myth and place?
(4) Human vs. Divine. One of the major structuring oppositions throughout all of Greek myth (and early Greek
culture) is that between human and divine. Even as the Greek gods are anthropomorphic, they eat, work,
and play differently than humans. Examine a myth or set of myths from the perspective of this binarism.
What lessons does your chosen myth teach about the opposition between human and divine? How does
this opposition structure the world physically, ethically, and morally?
(5) Myth and History. In popular speech, myth is sometimes opposed to history: the one is a discourse of
fabricated stories, while the other is a discourse that aims, at least in some sense, to tell the ‘truth’ about
things. Yet as we have already seen, myth may also be a great resource for reflecting Greek social and
cultural history. Whether one looks to the rise of the polis or to Greek sexual mores, these historical ‘facts’
are often deeply embedded in the myths of the Greeks. Choose a myth or set of myths and examine how it
negotiates the relationship between myth and history. Are these two terms opposed in your chosen myth or
do they work together in some fashion? (n.b. This topic may require some additional research into the
history of the Greeks, whether in the Archaic or Classical periods.)
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