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Greek and Roman Mythology

For all your mythological needs

Shmoop's Greek and Roman Mythology course has been granted a-g certification, which means it has met the rigorous iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses and will now be honored as part of the requirements for admission into the University of California system.

Gods and goddesses? Freaky monsters? Hunky heroes? Check, check, and checkmate.

This course introduces you to the greatest hits of Greek and Roman Mythology. Split up into roughly two parts—the "debut" album of Greek stories and the "cover" album of the Roman reinterpretations—we'll get intimate with the mythological universe of two of the western world's most powerful cultures.

With an emphasis on critical reading and writing, our course is more than a cursory introduction to mythology. As you study the Greek myths and their Roman makeovers, you'll discover how these myths reflected how Greeks and Romans saw themselves—and how, despite sharing similar stories, these civilizations were also completely different.

In this course, you will

  • learn the characteristics and social purposes of myth through interactive activities and projects.
  • become familiar with the big names in Greek mythology, including the Olympian gods, the heroes, and lesser deities like Pan, and the must-read events, like the Trojan War.
  • get comfortable with the stars of Roman mythology, including the Roman versions of the Greek gods, native Roman gods (hey there, Janus!), and Rome's original myths, like the founding of Rome.
  • compare and contrast Greek and Roman myths, including how each culture's worldview and values are shown through their mythology.
  • analyze modern-day myths.
  • read a boatload of primary sources and write critically about them.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Greek Mythology 101

After taking a deep dive into the characteristics and purposes of myth, this unit takes us back to the very beginning—creation, that is. We'll read a little Hesiod, meet the Titans, and figure out how the world came to be as it is.

Unit 2. The Olympians

This unit will introduce us to the bigwigs of Greek mythology: the Olympians. In order to appease all fourteen of the gods, we've got a lesson devoted to each, where we'll learn about the gods, their stories, and their roles in the Greek pantheon.

Unit 3. The Other Greek Gods

In this unit, we'll step away from the "normal" order of things and get a glimpse at the wild, mysterious, and strangely anthropomorphized deities of Greece, including nymphs, satyrs, Hecate, the Fates, and the Furies. 

Unit 4. The Heroic Age

Enter: the Heroic Age. In this unit, we'll explore the areas of Greek mythology related to hero worship—which we mean in the most literal sense. Besides the usual suspects like Hercules, Perseus, Jason, and Theseus, we'll also meet some lesser-known heroes like Bellerophon, Atalanta, and Pelops.

Unit 5. The Trojan War

This unit explores the events of the Trojan War and their important to Greek (and modern) culture. We'll read excerpts from the Iliad and explore what its themes tell us about the Greeks.

Unit 6. Rome's "Borrowed" Gods

Besides going over the Roman counterparts of the Greek gods, we'll focus in this unit on how the Romans made the gods their own (i.e. very, very Roman). Hint: Roman religion is important. 

Unit 7. Rome's Homegrown Myths

The Romans didn't have a ton of homegrown myths, but you know that the ones they did have must have been pretty important. We'll learn about Roman myths as well as mysterious gods like Janus, Quirinus, and the Bona Dea, here.

Unit 8. Rome's Legendary History

The Romans really, really loved Rome. So it's no surprise they dreamed up a whole host of myths about its divine founding. This unit will introduce us to them.

Unit 9. Myths Everywhere

This short concluding unit provides time for reflection on the role of Greek and Roman Mythology in our world today. Why do we care? And what do we have that plays a similar role?

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 1: Heroic Display

A black and white cartoon sketch of a muscular Heracles leaning thoughtfully on his club
"I'm sad when I remember that I had to do all of my labors without Shmoop to guide me."

Greek mythology is more than a bunch of stories about the beginning of the world and backstabbing gods. It also has stories about really awesome people, especially the folks from the Heroic Age called "heroes."

Before "hero" became a bizarre word for "sandwich," it was an Ancient Greek word that described people with above-average strength, beauty, intelligence, and...well, everything. They also had very specific ancestors.

Our word "hero" comes from the Ancient Greek word ἥρως (hêros), which signified somebody whose parents were a mixture of earthly and divine: one parent was mortal and the other was immortal. In other words, heroes were children of the gods, but they weren't entirely heavenly. They could still die, make mistakes, and go to the bathroom. Where are the toilets up on Olympus, anyway?

(Important clarification: the descendants of heroes could also be heroes. The divine essence lingered in your DNA for a reeeally long time.)

Nowadays we use the word "hero" to mean "someone who exemplifies how awesome people can be (and who is usually the protagonist of a story)." The modern definition is a little more complex (and depends greatly on how you define "awesome"), but you can already see why our version of "hero" somewhat fits the old-timey version found in Greek mythology: the perfect sons (and daughters) of gods would definitely exemplify how awesome we can be, right?

When thinking about the differences between modern and ancient heroes, we need to always keep in mind that different cultures have different viewpoints on the world. Just as it would be impossible for your 90-year-old grandma to set up Rock Band and get it working—"How do I hit the buttons on the plastic music wand?"—it might be hard for a Greek to understand our concept of heroism, and vice versa. We're all a little out of our element.

Before we start learning about all the valiant semi-gods of the Heroic Age, we need to get our facts straight. Today we'll dig deeper into the meaning of the word "hero" both in Ancient Greece and in this modern world of computers and YouTubes and whatnot.

  • Course Length: 18 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Course Type: Elective
  • Category:
    • Humanities
    • High School

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