History 351: Mythology and Religion

ARHA 214: Mythology and Religion
Spring 2008
Dr. Carolyn Aslan
SOS 261, e-mail: [email protected]
Office phone: 338-1511
Office hours: Thursday 3:30-5:00 or make an appointment.
Teaching assistants: Gul Bulut ([email protected]), Sirin San ([email protected]), Beyza
Atmaca ([email protected]), Ahu Çeziker ([email protected])
Description: In this course, students will learn about many of the religious traditions from
the Mediterranean and Near Eastern regions including ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt,
Greece, Judaism and Christianity. We begin by studying the history and cultural contexts
of these religions. Class discussions will focus on interpreting the myths and traditional
stories of these religions as well as religious practices and beliefs. Students will also
compare the mythology of different areas according to themes in mythology such as
creation myths, hero myths, the afterlife, fate, and the relationship between people and
divine power. By the end of the course, students will be able to read and interpret a myth
by themselves. Students will also improve their understanding, speaking and writing
abilities in English.
Odyssey quiz
Midterm exam
In-class writing
Final exam
Class notes and homework
March 4
March 20
May 8
finals week
all semester
all semester
Class Lectures and discussions: Every class will begin with a lecture giving information
about the history, culture, religious practices, mythology, religious art and architecture of
an ancient society. The second part of each class will be class discussion, where students
will examine a particular myth or religious text in detail and practice analyzing and
interpreting myths. Students will be divided into two discussion groups. On Tuesdays,
Group A will meet for the last 20-30 minutes of class to discuss the text. On Thursdays,
Group B will meet. Students should come prepared for discussion having read the
assigned text and having written answers to the homework questions. Homework
questions will be collected on Tuesdays in class. Discussion grades will be based on
preparation and participation in the discussion.
Class notes: One goal of the course is to improve your note-taking and oral
comprehension skills. At the end of each lecture, your notes on the lecture will be
collected. In some class, you may be asked to do various short writing exercises that will
also be put within your class notes. The notes will be graded and then returned to you
with suggestions on improvement. The notes will also be used as a way to take
attendance. You may bring a packet of your notes to the exams to use while answering
the questions. You can only bring your own notes, which have been previously graded
and you must turn in the packet at the end of the exam. If you take good notes during the
class, you will probably do better on the exams.
The grades on your class notes together with the homework grades will form 15%
of your final grade. To calculate the grade, the three lowest grades will be dropped and
the rest will be averaged. You are expected to turn in notes for each class session unless
you have a valid university excuse.
Odyssey assignment: In this course, we will read the Greek epic adventure called The
Odyssey by Homer and we will dedicate two weeks of discussion to this epic. A
translation is available for purchase in the bookstore or it is on reserve in the library. You
can also access it by internet at classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html. There will be a
short quiz on the Odyssey on March 4.
Exams: There will be two exams, which will include short answer and essay questions.
The first exam (March 20) will cover ancient Greece and will take place during the
scheduled class time. The final exam will be cumulative and will include the class
material from the entire semester.
In-class writing exercise: By the end of the course, you will be able to read a myth and
interpret it by yourself. On May 8, in class we will do an unknown myth writing
challenge. You will be given the text of a myth that we have not previously discussed in
class and you will write an essay about the interpretation of the myth, based on the types
of interpretative analysis that we have discussed throughout the semester. You may bring
a Turkish-English dictionary to help you understand the vocabulary.
Attendance: The university attendance policy will be followed; if you miss more than
nine classes, you will fail the course. Please come to class on time or you will lose points
on your class notes.
Academic honesty: In order for you to learn the material and skills from this class,
students are expected to do all their own work on assignments and exams. Plagiarism,
cheating or other forms of academic dishonesty will result in failure of the assignment
and referral to the academic disciplinary council. If you need help in the course or are
worried about your grade, please come and talk to me or to one of the teaching assistants.
Readings: The readings are available through e-reserve, but it is best if you photocopy
the course packet at the photocopy center in the library. You need to bring the reading
packet to each class because we will be examining the texts in detail during class time.
You will also need a copy of the Odyssey to consult in class.
There are books with optional readings on reserve at the library. The following sources
may be useful to you for more information or when preparing for the exams
For ancient Greece: Classical Mythology by M. Morford and R. Lenardon
Ancient Greek Religion, by Jon D. Mikalson, Oxford: Blackwell, 2005
For Egypt and Mesopotamia, see the articles in: Civilizations of the
Ancient Near East vol. III. Ed. Jack Sasson
For Judaism and Christianity see Religious Traditions of the World. Ed. H.
Byron Earhart. Harper, San Francisco. 1993.
Feb. 5
Introduction to the course
How to read a myth: in-class reading of the Adam and Eve story
Feb. 7
Interpretation and meaning of myth
Myth and religion terms
Reading: “Some Modern Interpretations of Myth. p. 37-53. In S.
Harris and G. Platzner. Classical Mythology. London, Mayfield, 2001.
Feb. 12
Greece: cultural and historical background: the Bronze Age
Weekly discussion: Greek Creation Stories
Reading: Hesiod: Selections from Theogony and Works and Days
(from Thurby and Devinney, Introduction to Mythology, ch. 3)
Apollodorus: Selections from Book 1
Feb. 14
Greece: cultural and historical background: Iron age – Classical period
Feb. 19
Greece: gods and goddesses
Myths of Zeus, Hera, Posidon, Athena, Demeter
Weekly discussion: The Goddess Demeter
Reading: Homeric Hymn to Demeter (ch. 14 in Classical Mythology by
Mark Morford and Robert Lenardon)
Feb. 21
Greece: gods and goddesses
Myths of Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus, Hermes, Aphrodite, Hephaestus
Feb. 26
Greece: Hero stories
Myths of Herakles, Theseus, Perseus, Jason, Achilles, Hector
Weekly discussion: Heroic ideals
Reading: Selections from the Iliad by Homer
(p. 63-68, 87-91 in The Norton Book of Classical Literature, ed. Bernard
Knox. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993).
Feb. 28
Greece: Tragic heroes
Myths of Agamemnon, Orestes, Oedipus
March 4
Greece: the Odyssey and Homer
Quiz on the Odyssey
Weekly discussion reading: The Odyssey by Homer (entire epic)
-purchase book at bookstore, or it is available on reserve in library
or on the internet at classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html
March 6
Greece: the Odyssey, archaeology and Homer
March 11
Greece: the Odyssey, religious and moral values in the epic
Weekly discussion reading: Odyssey
March 13
Greece: the Odyssey, Greek ideas of the afterlife
March 18
Roman religion
Bring questions for exam review
March 20
Midterm exam – in class
March 25
Egypt – historical and cultural background
Weekly discussion: Isis and Osiris and the Egyptian afterlife
Reading: “The Murder of Osiris”
Egyptian Book of the Dead
March 27
Egypt – gods, religion and the afterlife
April 1
Mesopotamia – historical and cultural background
Weekly discussion: Babylonian creation story and legitimization of
Reading: Enuma Elish (from Dennis Bratcher,
April 3
Spring Break
Mesopotamia – gods and goddesses, religion and politics
April 15
Mesopotamia – temples and religious practices
Weekly discussion: Gilgamesh, Enkidu: an analysis of the
Civilized/Wild dichotomy
Reading: Selections from the epic of Gilgamesh (from
April 17
Mesopotamia – afterlife beliefs, magic and healing
April 22
Judeo/Christian - background to the Bible
Cain and Abel, Noah
Weekly Discussion: Formation of the stories in Genesis: Adam/Eve,
Cain/Abel, Noah
Reading: Old Testament Bible: Genesis 1-9
April 24
Judeo/Christian – Abraham and his descendants
April 29
Judeo/Christian -Moses, Exodus, 10 commandments
Weekly Discussion reading: Old Testament Bible: Genesis 17, 22
Exodus 2-3, 12, 14, 20
May 1
Judeo/Christian – film, selections from The Ten Commandments
May 6
Christianity – cultural and historical background, birth of Jesus
Reading 2: New Testament Bible: Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, Matthew 3,
5-6, Luke 22-24
May 8
In-class writing exercise: myth interpretation
May 13
Christianity – death of Jesus, St. Paul, spread of Christianity, early church
Weekly discussion: Martyrs as the new heroes?
Reading: “The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas.” (from
www. pbs.org. “From Jesus to Christ”)
May 15
Formation of the Bible, the Gnostic gospels, Gospel of Mary
Debates within the early church
Final exam: to be scheduled during exam week
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