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Classical Mythology

Go on an illuminating exploration of classical mythology and its treasure trove of unforgettable characters and stories with this spectacular and interesting course by an award-winning Professor of Classics and Latin.
Classical Mythology is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 181.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Lectures & Lecturer ! Absolutely adored this course, I've listend to it multiple times over the year and I always look forward to coming back to it.
Date published: 2023-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lectures, thoughtful analysis. I have quite a few Great Courses; Classical Mythology is, along with two paleontology courses, my favorite. Professor Vandiver delivers graduate level lectures that explore not only the history of the Greek culture at the time, but the implications of the legends as they play out today. She delivers a succinct analysis of hierarchical structure and God/Human interaction. Professor Vandiver's course on Greek Mythology is well worth purchasing.
Date published: 2023-10-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing for family. Bought this course to enjoy the mythology stories with my young daughter. Disappointed. The Professor is clearly knowledgeable on the subject and rattles on in monotonic voice about the intricacies of each chapter. There are few illustrations, pictures, action sequences or other media to enhance her lectures. Pontification rather than learning. Children learn from visual cues more than just listening. Our expectations were high because we have taken 13 other Great Courses. Most have been terrific. This one at best is a C-
Date published: 2022-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good introduction at university level A thorough introduction covering the subject in detail
Date published: 2022-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course Professor Grant Voth of Myth in Human History recommended this course during his lectures, and I am glad he did. Dr. Vandiver is an outstanding lecturer (which I already knew from her course on Greek Tragedy), and she covers Classical Mythology in wonderful and living detail, connecting the various story groups sequentially. Her mastery of Greek culture, language and literature is obvious, and this gives a depth to her understanding of myth. Few other courses make academic theory as interesting and useful as this one -- we get Freud, Jung, Levi-Strauss, Joseph Campbell, and many more. I even wish she had said more about the pharmakon and Rene Girrard's theories, but as is this course is a joy from start to finish. You will come away with a fascination for early peoples and a new appreciation for the many values/truths to be found in these beautiful (and for me, half-remembered) stories, which have inspired ages of authors, painters, dramatists, and sculptors.
Date published: 2022-04-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing Bought this course on Instant Video. The first two lectures were very good. The third kept stopping, sometimes starting again after a few minutes, sometimes it had to be started on the arrow. The lecture took a very frustrating one hour plus: too erratic to absorb any of the information.
Date published: 2021-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation of the topic Professor Vandiver presents an excellent survey of Classical Mythology. Although some reviewers don’t seem to favor her initial coverage of “Myth”, I find the time spent on this topic to be very informative. Professor Vandiver is an accomplished presenter and the only downside for this course is that I am left wanting more.
Date published: 2021-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Liked It but Course Too Short This is the fifth course I've taken from Professor Vandiver and I always appreciate her work. She provides great insight and good full-bodied summaries of the topics being discussed. This course was no different but I did walk away with a feeling it could've been so much more and I was left with more of a mixed general feeling of it. Professor Vandiver covers a good amount of myths from ancient Greece and Rome grouping them and structuring the course under these categories: o Gods/Goddesses o Heroes o Trojan War o Greek Tragedy (house of Atreus and Oedipus) o Female monsters o Roman myth She provides interesting and thought-provoking analysis in interpreting the contents of the myths to provide insight into the values and morals of the ancient Greek civilization. I won't get into examples here: experience it for yourself! To me the most interesting myth tellings are related in lectures 7 and 14 (Demeter/ Persephone and Theseus). But this course was woefully short and it was quite obvious. And to be honest some of the accountability falls on the professor herself. Yes, 24 lectures themselves are just not enough to cover ancient Greek and Roman mythology. We have so much material in this arena that filling 12 more lectures would've been a cinch. But the issue here is not just that (for whatever reason) the good Professor felt restricted to 24 lectures, instead we could've certainly done without lectures 2, 3, a good part of 24, and 8, 12, and 15 could've been consolidated into one lecture. Additionally, I felt like too much time was spent on some of the Greek Tragedy works. There's a whole course on that! And by our esteemed professor herself! I count at least 5 lectures we could have gotten back for more myths. Considering she mentions herself a few times that she had to leave out a lot of other myths she wanted to cover, again I feel like she is her own worse enemy here. It was painful getting through lectures 2 and 3 on defining what myth is and what it does. The key pieces of these discussions could've easily been fit in to the background lecture (1) and give us more lectures on the actual myths! I don't much care about literary criticism over the years or its history. I care about the myths themselves and the well regarded professor's analysis of them. A side effect of this lack of time appears to be her very curious decision to not dedicate a full lecture on Jason...perhaps the second most famous Greek hero of them all! Sure he was mentioned at times in various lectures but a full accounting of his adventures was not related anywhere. Why were Theseus and Heracles selected for deep analysis and not Jason? Another (minor) downside: Professor Vandiver barely takes a breath in most lectures leaving little time for what she is saying to sink in with the listener making it sometimes hard to follow the narrative of the myths (easy to get lost as to who is who and who did what) as well as leaving little time to grasp the deeper understandings/interpretations of the myths she reveals before she is on to the next sentence/topic. Still a lot to like here. I certainly recommend this course and thoroughly enjoy Professor Vandiver. She obviously has amazing passion for the subjects she covers in her courses and on the whole she provides great teaching and analysis. Just wish we had more time for that here....
Date published: 2021-06-13
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From Athena to Zeus, Professor Elizabeth Vandiver leads an illuminating exploration of classical mythology and its treasure trove of unforgettable characters and stories. 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 Hercules; and the famous classical myth of the Trojan War.


Elizabeth Vandiver

I think many of the stories that we tell ourselves as a society–the stories that encode our hopes, aspirations, and fears–preserve the traces of classical culture and myth and are part of our classical legacy.


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 MA and PhD from The University of Texas at Austin.

Prior to taking her position at Maryland, she held visiting professorships at Northwestern University, the University of Georgia, the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, Loyola University of New Orleans, and Utah State University.

In 1998, The American Philological Association recognized her achievements as a lecturer with its Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching prize given to American classicists. In 2013 she received Whitman College's G. Thomas Edwards Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship. Her other awards include the Northwestern University Department of Classics Excellence in Teaching Award and two University of Georgia Outstanding Honors Professor Awards.

Professor Vandiver is the author of Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War and Heroes in Herodotus: The Interaction of Myth and History. She has also written numerous articles and has delivered many papers at national and international conferences.

By This Professor

Classical Mythology
Classical Mythology



01: Introduction

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.

31 min
What Is Myth?

02: 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?

31 min
Why Is Myth?

03: 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.

30 min

04: "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"?

31 min
The Reign of the Olympians

05: 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?

31 min
Immortals and Mortals

06: 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?

31 min
Demeter, Persephone, and the Conquest of Death

07: 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?

31 min
The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Afterlife

08: 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.

31 min
Apollo and Artemis

09: 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?

30 min
Hermes and Dionysos

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?

31 min
Laughter-Loving Aphrodite

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?

31 min
Culture, Prehistory, and the

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."

32 min
Humans, Heroes, and Half-Gods

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?

31 min
Theseus and the

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.

31 min
From Myth to History and Back Again

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.

30 min
The Greatest Hero of All

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?

31 min
The Trojan War

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?

31 min
The Terrible House of Atreus

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.

31 min
Blood Vengeance, Justice, and the Furies

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?

32 min
The Tragedies of King Oedipus

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?

31 min
Monstrous Females and Female Monsters

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.

32 min
Roman Founders, Roman Fables

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?

30 min

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?

31 min
From Ovid to the Stars

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.

30 min