BA Classical Studies

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Aetiology and Euhemerism: Analysing Greek Mythology and Mythography

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE24701
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology & Egyptology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Mythology and mythography were central to the experience of life in ancient Greek cultures, both constituting and reflecting a changing public imaginary. Mythology as aetiology explained natural phenomena and justified ritual practices, while mythography and euhemeristic revision was used to extend cultural hegemony. Despite the apparent range of surviving material, our knowledge of the Greek mythological corpus is fragmentary and limited, forcing us to rely on hints from discarded lines of papyri or retroject conclusions from the study of other mythological traditions. In this course unit we will examine the stories, the characters and the patterns of this mythological thinking as preserved in literary form, exploring different historical and social contexts, the detail of particular instantiations and the repetition of motifs and themes visible in a diachronic analysis. We will explore the significance of Greek myths by analysing ancient views, including Plato’s use of myth, and assessing modern literary and cultural theories, from Gender-Sensitive analysis, to the views of Psychoanalytic critics and Post-Colonial theorists.


To understand the dynamics of Greek mythological and mythographical behaviour.

To apply a range of ancient and modern theoretical frames to individual literary instantiations of myth and to the wider corpus.

To articulate the uses of myth across a range of historical and social contexts.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course all students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a good understanding of the issues we confront when dealing with texts in translation
  • Use appropriate terminology when discussing mythological and literary devices

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Analyse a literary text with a range of theoretical approaches.
  • Synthesize material from different sources to produce diachronic and synchronic analyses.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Access relevant primary and secondary materials, e.g. in databases, catalogues of papyri.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Transferable skills and personal qualities include the ability to construct an argument in written and oral form, to pose questions about complex issues, to assimilate and summarise large quantities of evidence, to locate and retrieve relevant information from primary sources, to conduct bibliographic searches, and to present the results in a professional manner with appropriate reference to sources and modern published scholarship, to use e-resources and gain knowledge of research methods and resources, to manage time and resources, and to engage in critical discussion.

Employability skills

The course involves a large number of important employment skills, most notably an ability to analyse and examine a large amount of often difficult information, an ability to see both sides of an argument, the ability to synthesise an argument in a cogent form, the ability to retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a compelling and cogent fashion.

Assessment methods

Cpmmentary Plan 0%
Commentary  50%
Essay 50%


Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on formative assessment (see above); all coursework feedback is designed to contribute formatively towards improvement in subsequent assignments.
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment).

Recommended reading

Preliminary reading should include:

Set Texts Level 2:

1. Selections from M. Morford, R. Lenardon, M. Sham (edd.) Classical Mythology: International Edition.

 (OUP, USA 2014 edition, ISBN: 978-0199997398)


Linguists will read a selection of texts in the original Greek. Passages at Level 2 will be provided from texts such as Euripides’ Herakles, Aristophanes’ Birds and Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book 4.


Indicative background Reading

Primary: Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology.


E. Csapo, Theories of Mythology (Oxford 2005).

T. Gantz, Early Greek Myth (Princeton 1992).

E. Griffiths, Medea  (London 2006).

V. Zajko, M. Leonard (edd.) Laughing with Medusa (Oxford 2008).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 46
Independent study hours
Independent study 154

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Emma Griffiths Unit coordinator

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