An introduction to Greek Mythology

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Greek athleteHello, this is Caleb Jacobo again with the third lecture in a series that will attempt to give context to some of the great works of literature that I have found to be vital to my studies. I am no expert in literature and I have no degree to speak of, but I am a literature enthusiast and I understand that the journey through great literature is a tough journey to embark on, but I hope that some of these recordings can at least spark your interest enough to read these great works and enjoy them as fully as you can.

Today, we are going to talk about Greek Mythology, what it is, where it came from and why it is so vital to know.

So, what is Greek Mythology? Well, it is of course mythology. But what is that? Well, mythology is not just one thing. It is collection of stories, both oral and written, that were designed to teach the Greek people how to live.

The word ‘myth’ has an inaccurate connotation that is important to point out. The connotation is that a myth is supposed to be something false or untrue. But, keep in mind that the Ancient Greeks, who lived in a world without computers, television, or phones, knew very little about how their world worked and what was fact or fiction. Keeping this in mind will help you get the most out of Mythology because you will understand that for the Ancient Greeks, Myths were very real, and told stories of actual events.

That brings me to another point. Greek Mythology was very accessible. You could actually travel to where the greeks believed the center of the world was. You could visit the place where Scylla and Charybdis attacked Odysseus’ ship and killed his men. You could travel to Delphi and see the Oracle. These stories were all in the Greek people’s backyards and the myth played an everyday role in their lives.

Myths were also a way for the ancient Greeks to explain natural phenomenon, or to explain the origins of man, or the creation of them. For example, the myth of Pandora tells of the first woman, Pandora, who is created for mankind to punish them for discovering fire. Pandora is given a box(sometimes a jar) that holds all the pain and sorrow and suffering and is told not to open it. Pandora, not knowing its contents, opened the box/jar and released its contents on mankind.

Myths are mutable (changeable). Remembering that the ancient Greeks had no form of mass communication, the preservation of their stories relied on oral tradition and much later, written works. Different Greek cities had different versions of the same myth. In fact, bards and other storytellers were expected to present myths in a fresh way, since the stories of the myths were as well known to the Greeks as our favorite movies are to us.

So why is Greek Mythology so vital? The most relevant reason I can give you is that mythology is so integrated into your daily life, that knowing the mythology will increase your ability to enjoy everyday things. My reason for tackling Greek Mythology is to have a better understanding of Shakespeare, who uses references to Greek Mythology in many of his plays.

Okay, so where is the “mythology” anyway? The truth is, there is no one collection or one translation that tells us what Greek Mythology is. Greek Myths come from the Iliad, Odyssey, Greek Drama, histories written by eyewitnesses, and so on. The most comprehensive collection of Greek Mythology, and all Mythology for that matter, is Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. She does a wonderful job making the myths enjoyable to read, while retaining the purpose of providing information.

So now what? I would recommend, if you haven’t already, that you read the Iliad and Odyssey at least. And if you feel like branching out, read the Greek Tragedies by Euripides and others. I recommend finding audio versions on whatever you can, because there are some funky words that you should hear pronounced correctly.

Thanks for listening, and happy reading!



6 Responses
  • Dave Reply

    There are many good reasons for a “classical education”. Much of the curriculum, while seeming irrelevant on first glance, provides the basic tools which allow students to think rather than memorize, reason rather than respond.

    One may wince at the thought of, for example, a required year of Latin. But Latin is the root of countless languages. With a year of amo, amas, amat under your belt, you’ll find it that much easier to learn a second language–or write and speak in English that much better. Latin is also the language of science. If you plan a career in the sciences….it is essential.

    America now produces high school graduates who receive a diploma after passing an examination demonstrating that they have gained an 8th Grade education. We can do better. And not merely in more esoteric areas. I have long advocated that the senior year of high school be devoted to an intensive course in basic skills–housekeeping, cooking from scratch, filling out forms, tending livestock, basic carpentry and auto maintenance, community service work of some sort, an EMT course, firearms training, basic martial arts/self-defense (people with martial arts training do not go around starting fights)….the list can be very long. America is in sore need of a generation which will respond to a problem in some way other than picking up a cell phone.

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects”–Robert Heinlein.

    • Caleb Jacobo Reply


      Thank you so much for this insightful comment. You are correct in your evaluation of modern American values and I love your quote at the end.



    • Elizabeth Seely Reply

      Dave, I agree with you on your thoughts on education. I feel that the school system now puts too much emphasis on accumulation of knowledge that is neither helpful nor practical in the real world. Many students I feel just go through the motions with college to just keep going to school, paying thousands, and coming out with zero practical skills and a degree that hasn’t brought them enrichment or practicality. Just implementing some classical education or offering it as alternatives at the very least would change a lot.

  • Tom Morrison Reply

    For Dave:
    I found your reply very insightful. Like you I think boys should learn to cook, keep house, perform maintenance tasks in the house and surroundings. Both genders should be capable of writing a sonnet, reading a map, and entertaining a child. Plus all the other excellent tasks you outlined.

  • Ron Troyst Reply

    I found this extremely insightful. Normally when I think of Greek mythology I tend to think of what Hollywood has presented to us, but this explanation and introduction has not only taught me that there is a lot more to it, but also sparked an interest in me that yearns to learn more.

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