Classical Mythology

Course No. 243
Professor Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
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Course No. 243
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Course Overview

From Athena to Zeus, the characters and stories of classical mythology have been both unforgettable and profoundly influential. They have inspired and shaped everything from great art and literature, to our notions of sexuality and gender roles, to the themes of popular films and TV shows.

Classical Mythology is an introduction to the primary characters and most important stories of classical Greek and Roman mythology. Among those you will study are the accounts of the creation of the world in Hesiod's Theogony and Ovid's Metamorphoses; the gods Zeus, Apollo, Demeter, Persephone, Hermes, Dionysos, and Aphrodite; the Greek Heroes, Theseus and Heracles (Hercules in the Roman version); and the most famous of all classical myths, the Trojan War.

How Should We Study Mythology?

Professor Elizabeth Vandiver anchors her presentation in some basics. What is a myth? Which societies use myths? What are some of the problems inherent in studying classical mythology? She also discusses the most influential 19th- and 20th-century thinking about myth's nature and function, including the psychological theories of Freud and Jung and the metaphysical approach of Joseph Campbell.

You consider the relationship between mythology and culture. What are the implications of the myth of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades—as recounted in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter—for the Greek view of life and death, marriage and gender roles?

What are the origins of classical mythology? Professor Vandiver examines similarities between the Theogony and Mesopotamian creation myths and considers the possible influences that the prehistoric Greek cultures, the Minoans and Mycenaeans, may have had on classical mythology.

She also cautions you about the dangers of probing for distant origins. For example, there is little evidence, as many today believe, that a prehistoric "mother goddess" lies at the heart of mythology. This notion may simply be wishful thinking—a modern myth about ancient myth.

In addition, Professor Vandiver explores the challenges we face in studying mythology—which is rooted in oral tradition and pre-literate society—through the literary works that recount them. How do we disentangle the original myth from its portrayal in Aeschylus's The Oresteia, or Sophocles's Oedipus the King? The more renowned the author, the more difficult this task becomes.

From the "Truth" of the Minotaur to Ovid's Impact on Shakespeare

Professor Vandiver's approach makes classical mythology fresh, absorbing, and often surprising. The many such topics you will consider include:

  • The fact that most scholars see significant flaws in the work of Joseph Campbell, one of the best-known and most popular theorists of myth. They believe he makes a variety of assumptions—that myth has a spiritual meaning, or that certain narrative elements are the same in all cultures—that he fails to support, or that are highly questionable.
  • The differences between the classical notion of the gods and our concepts of what gods, or God, should be. The ancient gods did not create the universe or earth, were not omniscient or omnipotent, were not consistently good, and did not even care much about humanity.
  • The absence of a well-defined belief in the afterlife in Greek mythology and religion. In general, it was the opposite of what we believe: both less important and less pleasant than this life.
  • The small kernel of truth, as represented in the "bull-leaping" fresco of Knossos, that may lie at the heart of the myth of the Minotaur, the half-man, half bull-like monster.
  • Chronological inconsistencies in mythology. For example, in the story of Theseus, characters interact who in other stories did not even live at the same time.
  • The way various mythological depictions of females—the Amazons, the myth of Medea, and such monsters as Medusa and Scyllare—present Greek males' anxiety about women's power, particularly their sexual power. This theme is embodied in Medea's name, which means both "genitals" and "clever plans."
  • The Romans' near wholesale "borrowing" of Greek mythology, in the context of their ambivalent view of Greek culture. They considered the Greeks to be better artists, poets, and rhetoricians than they were, but also saw them as decadent, "soft," and treacherous.
  • The extensive influence of Ovid's Metamorphoses on the works of William Shakespeare. Because of this relationship, Ovid has had an incalculable effect on English literature.

In her final lecture, Professor Vandiver surveys aspects of the enormous influence that classical mythology has had, and still exerts, on Western Civilization. She offers her opinions as to why this is the case. She also demonstrates that the ancient gods, monsters, and heroes are very much alive and active today in contemporary beliefs in UFOs and visits from extraterrestrials and in popular entertainment such as Star Trek and films such as the Road Warrior and the Terminatorseries.

A Popular and Top-Award Winning Teacher

"Professor Vandiver is an outstanding teacher with a clear mastery of her subject," writes Teaching Company customer Barbara Brumbaugh of Auburn, Alabama. "She examines the subject in impressive depth, yet keeps the lectures interesting and accessible to non-specialists."

Professor Vandiver is the 1998 recipient of the American Philological Association's Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching award given to American classicists. She also teaches the related Teaching Company courses The Iliad of Homer, The Odyssey of Homer, and Virgil's Aeneid.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    We set the stage by defining key terms and outlining some problems that develop when studying classical mythology. The course approach will be to include synopses of specific myths, discussions of their cultural background, and examinations of larger issues implied by them. x
  • 2
    What Is Myth?
    Although myths are very old, most of the self-conscious theorizing about them dates from only the last two centuries. What do the most influential theorists say about the origin, nature, and function of myth? What distinguishes myth from legend and folklore? Can myth be understood as a subcategory of something else, or does it play some psychic role that is universal across particular cultures? x
  • 3
    Why Is Myth?
    This lecture continues our examination of ideas about myth, including psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, structuralist approaches of Claude Lévi-Strauss and others, and the work of Joseph Campbell, a psychological and metaphysical theorist of myth. x
  • 4
    “First Was Chaos”
    In his Theogony, the Greek poet Hesiod describes the creation of the universe through the creation of the gods, and the multigenerational struggle for cosmic power that followed. How does Hesiod's version of the creation story compare with the much later Roman version preserved in Ovid's Metamorphoses? x
  • 5
    The Reign of the Olympians
    How did Zeus become the king of the gods? What is his role as the patron deity of justice and xenia, the guest-host relationship so important in Greek culture? What is to be made of Zeus's marriages and his fathering of other Olympians, including Athena? x
  • 6
    Immortals and Mortals
    Hesiod's Theogony, and his poem Works and Days, tells of Prometheus and Pandora. What do these myths—of the Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, and of the first woman, who unloosed evil in the world—say about the Greek view of society and of women? What sort of gods do we find in Hesiod? What sets them apart from humans? x
  • 7
    Demeter, Persephone, and the Conquest of Death
    One of the most famous classical myths is the story of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. Does this example of an aetiological myth shed light on gender relations and marriage practices in Athens? Does it reveal anything about the relations between humans and gods in the world of myth? x
  • 8
    The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Afterlife
    This great religious ritual held in honor of Demeter and Persephone seems to have promised a happy afterlife to its devotees. After investigating it, you will examine contrasting views of the afterlife found elsewhere in Greek myth and religion, including Homer, the myth of Orpheus and its associated cult of Orphism, and teachings about reincarnation. x
  • 9
    Apollo and Artemis
    Two of Zeus's most important offspring are Apollo and Artemis. Each of these twins has a characteristic set of functions and associations. Apollo, the god of reason and moderation, is also the god of disease, plague, sudden death for men, and prophecy. Artemis is the goddess of wildness and wild things, of the hunt, the young of all creatures, and of women in childbirth (though herself a virgin). Are there unified interpretations that can cover such multiplicity? x
  • 10
    Hermes and Dionysos
    Zeus's two youngest sons are Hermes and Dionysos. The former has many roles and appears to be the god of boundaries. Why is Dionysos, the god of wine and drama, different from all the other Olympian gods? What difference does that difference make? x
  • 11
    Laughter-Loving Aphrodite
    The Greek goddess of sexual desire is vividly depicted in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, which tells the story of her affair with the mortal Anchises. What is revealed about the Greek view of sexuality here? How does it compare to the Roman view of passion, as seen in Ovid? x
  • 12
    Culture, Prehistory, and the "Great Goddess"
    Stepping back from Greek myth itself, you will examine the similarities between Mesopotamian myth and Hesiod's Theogony with a view to cross-cultural influences. Next you trace the influence of the two great prehistoric cultures of Greece itself, the Minoans and the Mycenaeans. Finally, you learn about the theory that there was a prehistoric "Great Goddess." x
  • 13
    Humans, Heroes, and Half-Gods
    How do humans fit into the creation accounts of Hesiod and Ovid? The former's Works and Days depicts a deterioration of humanity over time, while the latter paints a picture very different in tone and content. Do the heroes in these stories reflect a memory of the Mycenaean Age? x
  • 14
    Theseus and the "Test-and-Quest" Myth
    This lecture focuses on the Athenian Theseus, who saved the youth of his city by penetrating the Labyrinth and killing the monstrous Minotaur who dwelt at its center. His story is an excellent type of those myths in which the hero must face and overcome dangers and difficulties in pursuit of a worthy goal. x
  • 15
    From Myth to History and Back Again
    The encounter of Theseus with the Minotaur raises fascinating theoretical and interpretative issues. This strange story of a man-eating half-bull imprisoned in a maze is open to interpretation from a number of viewpoints, including those of psychology, ritual, and history. x
  • 16
    The Greatest Hero of All
    This lecture examines the larger-than-life deeds of Heracles, the greatest of all Greek heroes—and the one with the most contradictions. His own tendency toward excess led to the need for his famous Twelve Labors. These in turn took him farther and farther away from the center of the known world. Is he a figure for Greek culture itself? x
  • 17
    The Trojan War
    So many authors drew upon the Trojan War that it became the most famous episode in all of classical myth. What drove the Achaeans on their expedition against "windy Ilion"? What settled the destinies of all involved? Was it fate? The gods? Human action? Why did the Greeks see the Trojan War as marking the divide between the Age of Heroes and the rest of human history? x
  • 18
    The Terrible House of Atreus
    The myth of the House of Atreus is a harrowing, multigenerational narrative of cannibalism, murder, incest, and revenge. It revolves around a hereditary curse that both causes and is caused by the actions of several members of the same family, including Agamemnon, the Greek commander in the war against Troy. x
  • 19
    Blood Vengeance, Justice, and the Furies
    The House of Atreus fired the imagination of the great Athenian dramatist Aeschylus, whose Oresteia reshaped the traditional story into brilliant theater. Tragedy to the Athenians was no mere entertainment, but a collective experience highly ritualized in form and vital in function. What are the issues and emotions that Aeschylus explored in his trilogy? Do they bear implications for our understanding of the myth itself? x
  • 20
    The Tragedies of King Oedipus
    The myth of Oedipus—and especially the version presented in Sophocles's unforgettable plays—has struck profound chords in 20th-century thought. Freud's interpretation is the most famous, and Lévi-Strauss's structuralist reading has also been influential. How do they appear in the light of classics scholarship? And what do classics scholars make of Oedipus's terrible tale? x
  • 21
    Monstrous Females and Female Monsters
    Among the female figures in Greek myth who break out of women's usual roles are the Amazons, a race of female warriors said to have fought such heroes as Achilles, Theseus, and Heracles. The lecture also examines another foreign woman, Medea, who is most famous for her marriage to Jason. Finally, we will discuss the possible genesis of these figures in male anxieties about the role of women. x
  • 22
    Roman Founders, Roman Fables
    Why did the Romans "borrow" so much of their art, literature, and myth from Greece? How and why did the Romans take over—and modify—the legend of the Trojan War? How does this reflect on the native Roman foundation myth of the brothers Romulus and Remus? x
  • 23
    “Gods Are Useful”
    Ovid's Metamorphoses is our main or only source for many famous classical myths. Who was Ovid? What was the nature of the Roman context in which he composed his very literary, ironic retelling of these myths? Can we ever hope to recover the "original" stories that lie behind Ovid's versions? x
  • 24
    From Ovid to the Stars
    Ovid's influence in later European culture—including, very prominently, the works of Shakespeare—is profound and well worth tracing. Even today, classical mythology in general remains a force in high culture and pop culture alike. The whole genre of science fiction, for example, is a testament to the power of both ancient myths and the enduring mythic impulse. x

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  • 168-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Elizabeth Vandiver

About Your Professor

Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at...
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Classical Mythology is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 158.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Missed the Mark I understand that classical mythology is a gap in my knowledge. I understand that it is referred to broadly in literature and art. That's why I turned to this course. But it seems Professors in this field would rather tell you about the concept the myth than the myths themselves. Three introductory lectures was way too much. I'd rather have spent the time being exposed to more of the stories. The Professor repeats herself too often and doesn't spend enough time on the myths themselves. I was looking for someone who could bring these stories alive and well as giving me an appreciation for what they have to say. I'm still looking. There remains a gap in the Great Courses. You really need a good series on Greek Myth.
Date published: 2018-09-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting! I am taking a course Classical Mythology and so far this course goes along with the book but not in quite as much detail. As I am still at the beginning of my class I haven’t decided if I want to listen to the course prior to reading the chapter or vice versa. I do somewhat follow the chapter as I am reading the book.
Date published: 2018-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Elizabeth Vandiver Mrs. Vandiver knows her mythology and is an excellent speaker. I loved the course.
Date published: 2018-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course! With each myth covered, the professor goes into just enough detail and context to familiarize the listener with the story and background for it, but this course does not limit itself to a mere retelling of myth. The professor provides keen insights and thoughtful analysis to fully understand the myth from a number of angles and perspectives, and she carefully distinguishes what we know, what we don't, and what is her own opinion. I was very pleased with this course and will definitely take it again to absorb the material even more thoroughly.
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Professor Vandiver is always outstanding. I would purchase any course that she teaches. Her presentation is clear, organized, and interesting. She ranks among the very best lecturers in The Great Courses series.
Date published: 2018-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Anything by Professer Vandiver! Professor Elizabeth Vandiver teaches with passion and her enthusiasm and constant insights and connections have me longing for more. I will try to get anything she has recorded!
Date published: 2018-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughly enjoyable Nice introduction to Classical Mythology. Now it's time to go look for more in-depth courses & check out the lecturer's other courses.
Date published: 2017-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent Classicist very good treatment of Classicism should be used in conjunction with The Iliad and the Odyssey
Date published: 2017-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Extraordinary I've loved reading Greek and Roman mythology since I was a child, but I could never have expected how much more my appreciation for this subject would deepen until I listened to this course. Put simply--this course is a joy! I loved every single lecture, and unlike some other courses, I finished it from beginning to end without ever wanting to stop. You could enjoy this course if you simply like listening to extraordinary stories. (They certainly didn't tell them that way when I was a kid!) You could also enjoy it if you want an experience more like an actual college course--she gives a wealth of rich information and her teaching style is very accessible. I also looked at the course outline after I finished listening and think that her Bibliography of selected readings looks like a goldmine to help find the best translations if you want to go further. I really got my money's worth from this course and I'd buy anything that this Professor wanted to teach me.
Date published: 2017-06-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Struggled Granddaughter gave this to me as a gift so no thought of returning it. I struggled with the class, but based upon the other reviews, probably just me. No one connects with every instructor. The first three classes have me wondering if academics aren't overthinking the whole subject. We will never know those people - how they thought, who believed and what they believed - so can be as many different theories as there are speculations on certain authors as to the motives behind their writings, without considering there might be none - it was just a story that came to mind. Would rather have had the first chapters give background on how the people who believed lived in those days. Maybe an understanding of their way and quality of life might help understanding. Will probably revisit the class later and skip the first three chapters, see if my perception has changed.
Date published: 2017-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting I really enjoyed this series of lectures and thought they were very well presented.
Date published: 2017-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classical mythology I first purchased this class on tape. I have already listened to it multiple times. I appreciate it so much that I recently repurchased it on cd. The price was so reasonable. The professor is excellent in both content and presentation. Actually, all of her classes are equally excellent. Although I had prior knowledge of the topic, none is required to appreciate this material.
Date published: 2017-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just Short of Reading the Original Manuscripts I enjoyed this in-depth survey course with my wife. We came away super impressed. I had previously taken the "Aeneid" course by Professor Vandiver and looked forward to sharing this new experience with my wife. This is a quick-paced, relatively in-depth course that confers knowledge and satisfaction on the viewer. Prof. Vandiver is unimaginably knowledgeable on the topic and her enthusiasm is manifest in her relating of mythology details (names, dates, events) and then goes on to tie it together with the sociology, cultural attitudes, daily life and general experiences of the classical-period Greek citizen, both men and women. This is traditional lecture format delivered by an expert lecturer. After this course, you will also enjoy a more "story" oriented and raconteur-style retelling of these myths in The Great Courses' offerings by Prof. Rufus Fears. The myriad Gods, Demi-gods, Heros and mortals sometimes bewilder. But, Prof. Vandiver ties it all together in lecture after lecture until your pantheon (no pun) is complete and understood. Short of actually reading original manuscripts by Homer, Hesiod,Herodotus or Thucydides, I say this enjoyable and enlightening course is just shy of reading their manuscripts in the original Greek. Good, solid course.
Date published: 2017-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Extraordinary What a gem! My prior exposure to mythology came from the usual college coursework and personal reading. This course significantly elevated my understanding and appreciation for the myths themselves, as well as the sociological/psychological underpinnings of mythology in general. Content & Organization: The organization is superb. Topics flow seamlessly and elegantly from one to the next. By beginning with the sociological and psychological theories of myth interpretations/functions, Professor Vandiver provides the necessary tools for examining each of the individual myths and figures through various lenses. The subsequent discussions of gods and heroes is captivating. I found Professor Vandiver's treatment of Knossos and the Minotaur to be a particular highlight. I also loved the inclusion of Mesopotamian mythology: the comparative and historical/critical approach is enlightening. The content of the course is deliciously meaty. There is virtually no superfluity. Professor Presentation: Professor Vandiver's command of the subject makes the course absolutely gripping and adds tremendously to the course's value. Pace, tone, and clarity are all outstanding. I purchased the audio version for listening during my commute, and I was delighted. Professor Vandiver lectures with authority but not with hubris (to use a good mythological term). I am a professor myself (biomedical) and I can comfortably say that Professor Vandiver's oratorical skills are exceptional. This is certainly one of my favorite courses from TGC!
Date published: 2017-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not about Gluten-Free Baking I thought this course was going to be about how to bake gluten-free breads and pastries. It is actually about Classical Mythology, and while the content is excellent, there are no baking tips given. At any rate, this was an outstanding course. I listened to Vandiver's Odyssey series and then I listened to Schenker's Ancient Greek Literature series. I've reviewed them both. Classical Mythology might be my favorite of the three. The course is well organized and masterfully presented. Listening to it was like watching a pastry chef who really knows what she's doing. I could have used a bit more on Ovid, but that's such a minor complaint that I am cursing myself for even bringing it up, but since I've typed the sentence, and since my backspace key is broken, it's too late to take it back. Vandiver is one of my favorite lecturers on this website. I've got a couple of her other courses, and I'm going to listen to them while I make some cookies or cakes or some dessert. The opening lectures were also quite good in framing the topic of mythology. I wouldn't have minded a few more of those "myth-studies" lectures, but now I'm getting greedy. One piece of advice: if you are baking or cooking while listening to these, be careful. I had a souffle explode on me and I also burned some carrot-cake muffins. I only blame myself though.
Date published: 2016-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than I expected. I decided to listen to this set of lectures after reading Jo Walton's The Just City. It had been sitting in my digital library for a couple of years for no reason other than I was waiting for the perfect time to delve into it. In the back of my mind, I was thinking it would be a set of lectures along the lines of Bullfinch's Mythology. While there were plenty of myths discussed, the strength of this series is the historical context and intriguing analysis Elizabeth Vandiver put forth. Moreover, I was fascinated by her presentation. She has a marvelous handle on the English language and is brilliant. I found myself often surprised by the myths and in particular, the curse of the House of Atreus. I read the lecture notes that came along with the lectures and found them very helpful as I know relatively little about the classic world. I hope Classical Mythology and her other lectures get added to The Great Courses Plus as I would love to be able to watch these lectures.
Date published: 2016-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully organized and presented The material is exactly as advertised with exceptional organization of information. Presentation is straight forward, easy to understand, and flows from one lesson to another. I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about classical mythology.
Date published: 2016-09-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great subject Great subject but the presentation lacked emotion and excitement., Technically correct but little story telling ability. Felt like I was back in a classroom trying to figure out what may be included on the next exam.
Date published: 2016-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great foundation! This course is well-rounded, logically organized, and utterly fascinating! You are treated to a synopsis of many major Greek and Latin myths, but the course doesn't stop at the surface level. Professor Vandiver also discusses the history and scholarship relevant to the myths. I I appreciated hearing Professor Vandiver's balanced, well-informed point of view as she wrapped up each topic. This is an excellent course not only in Classical Mythology, but in religion, society, and interpretation of literature and symbols in general. The information and methods I learned in this course have helped me to be a better reader of all texts, not just classical ones.
Date published: 2016-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Elizabeth Vandiver's love of her subject comes out, and is infectious. Well presented and interesting, not at all boring, which can be the case in this subject. You end up with a good basic knowledge of classical mythology, that is still relevant in the world of today.
Date published: 2016-06-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fantastic course I have just finished this course and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Professor Vandiver is a wonderful presenter, and perfectly balances the intellectual content with her own extremely thought provoking positions on the place of myth throughout the past 2500 years. As a student of Latin and Roman history I would have liked a bit more detail on Roman myth and that is the only reason I didn't give this course 5 stars. Highly recommended, thank you Prof. Vandiver!
Date published: 2016-05-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fortnight of Greek Mythology This course directs the listener on an easy to follow and incredibly interesting trail through classical mythology that extends far beyond just stating the myth and discussing its role in Greek religion, but an even further analysis of what that can tell us about Greek culture as a whole and furthermore human nature in general. As a professor, Elizabeth Vandiver gives an engaging discussion of myth and folklore aptly intertwined with the academic interpretation of said myths in an effective way.
Date published: 2016-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Thorough, nuanced, and excellent in every sense: from the beginning's rich (if necessarily brief) theoretical framework, to detailed treatment of myths and mythographers and even-handed introductions of the professor's own scholarly opinions about some of her field's controversial questions. A truly outstanding course!
Date published: 2016-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I relearned a great deal of stuff I had forgotten! I bought this course because I really enjoyed the professor's courses on two of my favorite books, the Iliad and the Odyssey. This course proved to be an excellent choice. I once knew quite a lot about classical mythology, but after many years, I had forgotten it; and now the knowledge has been restored. Plus I learned a great deal that I hadn't known. Although many people will say there is no point in learning mythology, this is not true: it permeates our art and, indeed, our language. As she mentions, "tantalize" is derived from "Tantalos." I liked her idea that science fiction is our mythology and her recaps of the previous lecture and an outline of what is to come. I also was intrigued by the information that the Greeks though the torso was the site of thought. Having taken this course, I am seriously considering the new course from the Teaching Company: Ancient Greek!
Date published: 2016-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravissima! Dr. Vandiver is fantastic! Most people are aware of Homer and Odysseus. The Aeneid is familiar to those who graduated from college. But there is so much more from the classical world that any educated person should know about. Professor Vandiver is absolutely fantastic! Her energy and clear explanations make this a very enjoyable and educational course. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2015-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the great story tellers I recently purchased a second course by Professor Vandiver. To be honest, it wouldn't really matter what she was lecturing on, I would quite happily sit and listen to her for hours! Vandiver provides a nuanced and entertaining overview of Classical Mythology. She grounds her lectures in historical context and cross references a range of study on the different elements. Perhaps one of her greatest strengths though is her willingness to acknowledge what academics don't know about the topic. She is willing to point out the gaps in study and to agree or disagree with other scholars on the subject. At the heart of it, Vandiver knows how to tell a good story, and how to bring thousand year old stories to life.
Date published: 2015-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent. Fresh and Engaging History. This is a DVD course that I return to again and again, and the information remains fresh and alive. Vandiver loves her topic and has a gentle wry humor and comprehensive knowledge and enthusiasm for her topic that is infectious. She is both intellectually lofty and simply likable, and that is a rare and marvelous combination for any teacher. Her ability to bring alternative viewpoints into her discussion, to explain various theories that contradict hers, and then put her beliefs and knowledge into line alongside them is highly illuminating and valuable. Clearly she has her opinion, but she sees the importance of allowing the students (us) to evaluate other thoughts and come to our own conclusions. And she does this throughout, while imparting the information in a way that creates a great connection and context. Vandiver has persuasive and memorable ways of addressing scholarly thought, and I have found myself using some of her analogies in conversations with others. Not only do I think she is an excellent teacher, but I can see even teens being engaged by her presentational manner that is frank, open, and accessible without a shred of talking down to the viewer. Having purchased many courses, this is one of my favorites, and one of the best teachers in every aspect. If you're curious about classical mythology, and the way historians uncover this history, this is both an excellent introduction and a marvelous resource.
Date published: 2015-08-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview of Classical Mythology This course provides a good overview of the classical mythology which is primary the Greek mythology with some mention of the Roman mythology. As Professor Vandiver mentions – Roman mythology is basically Greek mythology with the names changed. This course is recommended for anybody who wants a general overview of classical Greek mythology. Since my heritage is half Scandinavian, I was hoping that this course would discuss or at least mention Norse mythology but there is no mention. Norse mythology as had influences on modern society (e.g., Thursday). It would have also been useful to understand the relationship of the Norse mythology with the Greek and Roman mythologies.
Date published: 2015-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Overview of Classical Mythology The course is divided into two parts, and Professor Elizabeth Vandiver does an admirable job of teaching and transmitting these these myths to the student. Originally her voice was a little distracting, but after the second lecture I had gotten used to it. In some ways it reminded me a bit of Kenneth Harl's voice with a more ivory accent. Vandiver is a competent professor who remains clearly engaged throughout the entirety of the course, in fact one might say she gets even more engaged towards the end when she approached Ovid. The two parts of this course are first an introduction to the Gods and Goddesses of Greco-roman mythology, and later the heroic legends that include the Iliad, the Theban tragedies, Hercules, Theseus, and the two lectures devoted to the House of Atreus. Since I am not a stranger to classical mythology, I was afraid that I was purchasing a course that would simply reinforce a basic amount of knowledge. After completing the course, I was pleasantly surprised. Both parts of the course are rather good, with the first part approaching real excellence for the teaching company. Elizabeth Vandiver colors her lectures with odd facts and other interpretations of myth, adding new insights into how one is to think about Oedipus Rex and elaborating about the myth surrounding the Terrible House of Atreus. The only problem I have is that while much of the major parts of Classical Mythology was covered, several important chapters are only vaguely alluded to. It treats Rome almost as an afterthought, since it states that it is difficult to reconstruct Rome's true mythology since it borrowed whole-sale from Greece and adapted it to suit their own purposes. However, apart from a brief few minutes to provide some equivalencies such as between Zeus and Jupiter and an equally brief amount of time spent on saying that they were not originally the same, without much actually devoted towards explanation or reasoning for this. Rome's connections to Greece, its foundation, its foundation myths, its love-hate relationship with Greece, its mythological link to Troy, and its basic structure is all put into one single lecture, with only one additional lecture that elaborates on it. Rome, at the very least, needed three or four more lectures. Even if the Roman myths are largely the same plotwise, a single lecture devoted to examining the major differences between the entire bodies of the two mythological systems would have been important for our instruction. I was also hoping to learn more about the possible early transmissions of Gods into Greek Mythology, since there is no small amount of scholarship positing a divergent evolution of the pantheon. There were also passing references to Helios being replaced by Apollo, but that this is just one marker out of a larger transition that is not touched on. How Classical Mythology spread into Egypt and Asia both before and after Alexander is not even mentioned, nor was there any mention to Interpretatio romana whereby Rome (and to a lesser extent Greece) saw other culture's gods as the same as their own, and how the myths blended. Germanic mythology were reinterpreted as the worship of Hermes/Mercury [Who was Odin], Hercules [Who was Thor], and Mars [Who was Tyr (though he is more related to Zeus in proto-indoeuropean mythology, that he was no longer head of the Pantheon made him seen as Mars instead)]. This equivalency was important along the frontiers, and was a major region why different Gods had more or less worship in different parts of the empire, and it also explains why Norse/Germanic mythology was later heavily romanticized in similar imagery to Greek mythology. In the end I felt like this was a 36 lecture course, and 48 lectures would only be a small stretch of the imagination if one is to allow some professors to bring up things they would never usually have time to teach unless it is a more advanced course. Professor Vandiver on several occasions admits that there is much more she would like to add to this course, but that she was simply not able to fit it into what she had. If possible, a sequel or an expanded addition to this course could be useful. Otherwise, this is still a great course, and I had a tremendous amount of fun listening and learning from the professor about classical mythology.
Date published: 2015-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Oh My Gods! This was one of the first courses I first listened to and it is one of their best. I have loved classical mythology since I was little and listening to these lectures as an adult made me see these myths from a whole new perspective. Without a doubt my favorite lecture was on the myth of Demeter and Persephone. I had no idea just how complex the story was. It is more than a myth about the seasons. I think that The Teaching Company should update these courses and allow for an additional twelve lectures in order to include more stories and myths about the Greeks.
Date published: 2015-05-31
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