Paper Questions

1. Pick an English-language traditional narrative that you think is or is not a myth according to Bascom's (1965) definition. Using Bascom's properties, make an argument supporting your identification of that narrative.

2. How does the use of the word myth in the quote below differ from our use of the term in class? How do the meanings overlap, if they do? (Use specific examples to illustrate the difference.)

"For the last time: No, earning a degree in English, philosophy, art history, name-your-humanities-discipline will not condemn you to a lifetime of unemployment and poverty....But I feel compelled to keep writing these words because, in the face of all evidence, the myth of the unemployed humanities major persists." (

3. WSU Performing Arts is presenting the play Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, at 7:30 pm on December 1, 3, 8 and 9, and at 2:00 pm on December 3 and 10. WSU students, with student ID, can attend for free (more information at the link above). This play can serve as the topic of the last of your short papers, answering the question: This play alters a number of parts of the traditional myth (as presented in a number of places including Book 10 of Ovid's Metamorphoses). Pick out two major differences and discuss the effects of the changes on the narrative.

4. In this lecture, Professor Kathryn McClymond discusses myth in a way that makes it clear that she does not agree with Bascom's (1965) distinctions between myth, legend and folk tale that serve as the basis for his taxonomy of traditional narrative. Describe (and cite) the differences between McClymond's conception of myth and Bascom's. Be specific and note any ways in which either McClymond or Bascom is inconsistent in her/his analysis.

5. In Works and Days, Hesiod attributes all the suffering of humankind to the gods. Describe the different ways in which Zeus, in particular, and the other Olympian gods, brought about the ways in which mortals suffer and describe the reasons for the creation of this suffering. How are the Titans involved in any of this?

6. Hesiod's Theogony is a creation myth. Your textbook includes several other creation myths. Pick one of the myths in your textbook and compare it to the Theogony. Describe the similarities and differences between the two versions of the creation of the universe and of the god(s). Consider what things are created and how things are created and in what order and how the god(s) come to be and what their relationship is to different aspects of human life.

7. WSU Performing Arts is presenting the play An Iliad by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, 21 September, and 2:00 pm on Saturday, 24 September. Admission is free. This play can serve as the topic of one of your short papers, answering the question: This play employs a number of specifics of the Iliad to make more universal points about war. Pick out two of these specifics and discuss how they are used to make the more universal point(s).

8. Watch the Penn Museum presentation on Recent Explorations at Troy by Dr. C. Brian Rose and answer the following question: To what extent can the account of the war at Troy as described in the Iliad be demonstrated to be factual from the archeological record as described in this presentation and what has no little or support from that record?

9. It is often noted that history is written by the victor. Assuming that some aspects of the Iliad represents the Greek view of a historical event, from a modern perspective, who seems more heroic, Hector or Achilles? Why? What values must differ between Homer's Greece and our society if the Greeks are being presented sympathetically?

10. In the discussion in the BBC Podcast linked at, the participants refer to different aspects of the Oresteia as being examples of charter myth. Discuss and evaluate this identification.

11. Ancient drama (like the Oresteia a triology of which Agamemnon is the first play) is all tied up with myth, both as topics of plays and as part of a more elaborate ritual activity tied to myth. Using Agamemnon as a tragedy and how it would have been performed in its own time, discuss how myth is embedded in and represented by ancient drama. Use as part of your discussion this introduction to Greek theatre.

12. Compare Hesiod's description of the creation of the universe in Theogony with that of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Consider both similarities and differences and see if you can generalize about what elements are the same and what elements differ. (Don't just list differences and similarities; try to find patterns.)

13. Compare the story of Pygmalion as presented in Book 10 of Ovid's Metamorphoses (ca. 8 C.E.) with modern use of some of its ideas in Shaw's Pygmalion (1913). Compare the differences in the plot and the characters. Now consider how those differences reflect the fact that while both the Metamorphoses and Pygmalion are literary works consciously using Graeco-Roman mythology, Ovid was writing about myths that were alive in his culture, and Shaw was making reference to a story which was commonly known, but not part of the belief structure of his culture.

14. In Valmīkī's Rāmāyana, Rāma is both human and a god. How does that compare with Greek heroes like Achilles, who are mortal but descendants of gods?

15. In the Oresteia, the ultimate familial responsibility of a son is to his father (as illustrated by the fact Orestes is forgiven for killing his mother because he did it to avenge his father). To whom does Rāma believe he owes his primary responsibility? Support your answer with specific statements by Rāma in his arguments with those who did not want him to leave the city.