“To the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome.” “To Helen” Edgar Allan Poe
Myths have been a part of civilization for many centuries. They are entertaining stories in their own right, full of human and supernatural characters to like or despise, exploits to admire or fear, events to follow with interest and suspense. In addition, they help explain the natural world, calm our fears, and lead us to wonder about our past, present, and future. To tell a myth is to tell a story, one that teaches as it entertains. Religion, history, culture–all of these come through in myth. It’s no wonder that teachers have included mythology in their curricula for years.
Mythology is present in our everyday lives, too. It has given rise to innumerable treatments in literature, art, music, sculpture, architecture. Many of our daily experiences owe part of their richness to mythic elements. In addition, mythological allusions are common in daily life. We hardly go a day without hearing of a new car or a school mascot or a science item in the news being related to mythology.
This curriculum guide focuses on Greek and Roman mythology for two reasons: first, they are the most familiar to us and, second, have the most widespread use in other pieces of literature. Many textbooks include a number of these stories. For this reason, we have not reprinted the myths themselves in this guide. A number of versions are available and are listed in the bibliography.
The second half of this curriculum packet deals with Homer’s Odyssey. Frequently anthologized in many textbooks we use, it offers both a sense of adventure and a focus on values such as fidelity, loyalty, and courage. In an era with too few heroes to discuss and emulate, many characters in The Odyssey offer good topics for discussion and debate.
We are assuming, too, that most teachers use an anthologized version of The Odyssey. Such versions most often include the best known episodes (Sirens, Cyclops, Circe, and Calypso, for example. ) For teachers who would like to teach the entire work, we have listed various translations. All the translations listed work with students. It all depends on the teacher’s training and preference.
This brings us to one final comment: this unit is very flexible. We offer approaches based on firsthand experience, but we know that there are many other combinations that will work as well. We believe that all teachers adapt ideas to fit their own teaching styles, and this format, like those in all of our curriculum packets, is easily and successfully modified.