Monmouth College:  Fall 2008

Ancient Religious Reflections: Classical Mythology and Religion

INTG 305/CLAS 245, Elementary, 3 credits

MWF 12:00-12:50, WH 114

Instructor:  Dr. Wine, office WH 16, x2332; office hours:  MWF 10:30-11


Course Description: 

This course is primarily directed towards students desiring to meet the requirement for graduation in the Reflections rubric. It is a humanities course without prerequisite, designed for the student of any major. Ancient Religious Reflections also covers themes and subject matter of interest to the Classics major and other students interested in Classical antiquity and its place in Western civilization. The Monmouth College catalogue gives the following description of courses that meet the Reflections requirement:

In these courses we will
1. Learn how our society and other societies past and present have struggled to formulate ethical and moral frameworks, to understand and represent their place in the cosmos, and to grapple with the realities of human existence, including joy, death, pain, suffering, and evil and
2. Critically evaluate how these fundamental questions can, do, or should affect the manner in which we choose to live our lives, interact with others and live in the world.


Every time it is offered Ancient Religious Reflections deals with a different aspect of religion in the world of the ancient Mediterranean. Topics include "Sacred Places," "Mystery Religions Past and Present," and "Classical Mythology and Religion." While special attention is given to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the civilizations of other Mediterranean peoples, such as the Egyptians, are also discussed and special effort will be made to put these ancient reflections in a modern context

Classical Mythology and Religion uses the myths and religions of the ancient Greeks and Romans as a framework for discussing issues of religion and spirituality in the modern world. The course challenges students to reflect upon and to develop their feelings about how spirituality and deity factor in their lives and how humanity fits into the “grand scheme of things.” Classical Mythology and Religion starts from the premise that one people’s religion is another people’s myths and considers the relationship between religion and mythology. The issues and ideas addressed in this course include the following:

·        What is religion and religious truth?

·        What is the role of deity in human life?

·        What is the place of a human being in the world?

Course readings, class discussions and lectures will provide background on the relationship between religion and mythology in the ancient world, especially among the Greeks and Romans. Students will be expected to use this material in order to reflect upon their own religious beliefs and world views.


Burkert, Walter. Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987

Rives, James. Religion in the Roman Empire. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007

Trzaskoma, Stephen M., ed. Anthology of Classical Myth. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2004.

Class format: The emphasis of this class is discussion of the assigned readings in terms of one’s own religious beliefs and world view. Willingness of class members to read and reflect upon assigned readings in advance and to express their opinions in class is essential to the success of each class. It is expected that everyone attend class regularly, read the assignments carefully, and come to class prepared to discuss them.


Goals, requirements, and evaluation: The final grade will comprise Class participation and Quizzes (30%), Personal Statements (30%), Individualized Project (30%), Group Presentation (5%), and Final (5%). Daily participation in class discussions and readiness when called upon is expected; the instructor will keep track of those who volunteer information and opinions. Quizzes, whether announced or not, may not be made up.


Grading scale:  A (100-91), B (90-80), C (79-68), D (67-57).


Personal statements will be assigned approximately each week on class discussion and course reading. At least 600 words (two full typed pages) in length, these statements are informal, short, on-research essays on discussion topics. They are not just summaries of what was said or what was read. They should go beyond mere recording of events to include personal analysis and commentary. Emphasis will be on (1) integration of the student’s own ideas and thoughts with the subject matter of the course and on (2) coherent and logical expression of these ideas. In these statements you will briefly summarize the main points, offer your own opinion and thoughts about the topics raised, and support your statement with specific data. Submission of the work on time earns the student one point. Additional points will be earned for following content and stylistic requirements and for personal analysis and commentary.


Schedule:  The following schedule outlines discussion topics, reading assignments, and due dates for assignments. The instructor may make modifications announced in class, however, as necessary, based on class needs and preferences; it is the student’s responsibility to be aware of changes made in class.


Part I: Introduction to Myth and Religion

Week 1. Myth and Religion

Wed, Aug 27.  Discussion: relationship between myth and religion

            R #1: Reflect on the three big questions above. How do you respond to them now based on your experiences and personal belief system?

            Read: Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus, Lord’s Prayer, R. Introduction; A. p.383 (purpose)

Fri, Aug 29.      How is the Hymn to Zeus a prayer? How is it like the Lord’s Prayer? How is the prayer “myth”? How is it “religion”?

            Read: Xenophanes of Colophon


Week 2. Prayer

Mon, Sept 1. To what extent does your god have anthropomorphic features? Compare images of Christian God with images of Zeus. How do the Greeks represent Zeus? What does Xenophanes think about this? What is your image of God? Does your god have anthropomorphic features? How does your image of god compare to the Greek image of Zeus?

            Read: A. Hesiod 129-160

Wed, Sept 3.  R#1 due; R #2: Write a reflection comparing Cleanthes’ hymn to a prayer, other than the Lord’s prayer which is important to you personally. Be sure to discuss the purposes of prayer and the relationship between god and the person praying. Please submit a copy of the prayer you chose along with your reflection.

Fri, Sept 5.    What purpose does Cleanthes’ hymn serve?

             Read: R. ch. 1; A. Homeric hymns, intro. (p. 168)                                           


Week 3. Anthropomorphism

Mon, Sep 8.     polytheism: compare images of Zeus and Christian God; What do you learn about the Homeric Hymns from the introductory materials?

            Read: A. Xenophanes; review of A World Full of Gods by Keith Hopkins (available in Public Documents under All Public Folders/Departments/Academics/Classics/ISSI402); What image of Christianity and ancient religions does Hopkins create in this statement?: “But I wanted to recover the passion of that time. Re-create the confusion of voices. Think of it: Religion absolutely everywhere. Gods and goddesses and demons and nightmares, and sex mised up into all of it. Christianity must have seemed so strange, so absurd to good, decent pagans.”

            What relationship between Christianity and the ancient religion is suggested by Hopkins’ quote? What are the advantages and disadvantages of polytheism vs. monotheism?

Wed, Sep 10.  R #2 due; R #3: monotheism versus polytheism (Why would someone believe in only one god? Why would others believe in many gods? Where do you stand?)

            What relationship between Christianity and the ancient religion is suggested by Hopkins’ quote? What are the advantages and disadvantages of polytheism vs. monotheism?

            Read: A. Homeric Hymn 23 (to Zeus), p. 23 (Apollodorus), Hesiod’s Theogony 508-544 and 545-565; and 545-572 (Prometheus)

Fri, Sep 12.      discussion: How is the Homeric Hymn to Zeus similar to Cleanthes’ Hymn? How is it different? In what ways are the Cleanthes and Homeric hymns to Zeus myth? In what ways are they religion? How is Prometheus’ sacrifice a form of worship? How is it a trick? What does this story suggest about the Greek attitudes towards relationship between human and god? How do these attitudes compare to your own? Compare Greek animal sacrifice to modern forms of religious sacrifice.

            Read: R. ch. 2


Week 4. Types of religious sacrifice

Mon, Sep 15. 

            Read: A. p. 13 (27, Iphigeneia), 245 (98)

            7:30, Morgan Room: “Roman Gladiators”

Wed, Sep 17.  R #3 due; R #4: personal statement on religion; this reflection should give your religious background and describe your personal beliefs about god and religion.

            discussion: sacrifice: The Greeks and Romans practiced animal sacrifice but not human sacrifice. Do you make any distinction between the two? What is the religious purpose of sacrifice? How is sacrifice important in your religion?

            Read: the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 12-22.

Fri, Sep 19.      discussion of individual projects (prospectus, guidelines; prospectus due Oct. 17)

            Read: R. ch. 3


Part II: Roman Religion

Week 5.

Mon, Sep 22. What do the documents dealing with the sources of Roman religion suggest to you about the Romans and their religious beliefs? Why do you think humans have developed religious beliefs? What purposes does religion serve in human life?

            Read R. ch. 4

Wed, Sep 24.   R #4 due; R #5: modern vs. ancient Roman religious views

            To what extent is our calendar religious?

Read: HH 3, 21 (Apollo), 9, 27 (Artemis)

Fri, Sep 26. Apollo and Artemis:            What kind of deities are Apollo and Artemis? Compare the story of Apollo to the life of Jesus Christ. What characteristics does Artemis have in common with Mary the Mother of Jesus? How does he compare to your beliefs about deity? How is Artemis similar to and different from a god? What makes Delphi and Delos sacred places?

            Read: HH 5, 6, 10


Week 6.

Mon, Sep 29.  Aphrodite: Focus on the encounters between Aphrodite and the mortals Anchises and Sappho. Compare these encounters with that of Apollo and the sailors. What do these episodes suggest about the Greek attitude toward deity in general? Human interaction with deity? Human free will? What ethical issues are suggested in these episodes? What do you think about all of these issues? Why do you think the Greeks had a goddess like Aphrodite? What do you think about a goddess who seduces mortal men?

Wed, Oct 1.     R #5 due; R #6: Apollo and your god (comparison; be sure to deal with issues of anthropomorphism, forms of worship, and ethics)

            Divine epiphanies: apotheosis

            Read: R. ch. 5

Fri, Oct 3.        Juno Sospita: Why does the Temple of Juno Sospita become the church of San Nicola in Carcere? What other examples of such religious building/site conversions can you think of? Why do such things occur?


Week 7.

Mon, Oct 6.    

Wed, Oct 8.     R#6 due; R#7: write a mid-course reflection (what do you understand differently now than you did at the beginning of the course?)

            Read: HH 4, 18 (Hermes)

Fri, Oct 10.      What kind of god is Hermes? How does he compare to your idea of deity? Which gods are honored in these hymns? How are these hymns different from the Homeric Hymns to Apollo, Dionysus, Hermes, Aphrodite, and Demeter? Why do you think these gods received different hymns? What do the Homeric Hymns as a group tell you about Greek religion and especially belief in god?

Sat, Oct 11.     1:00, Augustana College: “Oscar Broneer, World-Class Archaeologist”


Part III. Mystery Religions

Week 8.

Mon, Oct 13.   Fall Break

Wed, Oct 15.  R#7 due; R#8:

Thurs, Oct 16 (or 23?). 7:30, Morgan Room:  “Return of ‘Elgin Marbles’”

Fri, Oct 17.      What is a mystery religion? What personal needs does religion satisfy?

            Prospectus for Individualized project due.

            Read: Introduction in Burkert


Week 9. Christianity and Mystery Religions

Mon, Oct 20. 

            Read: HH 2, 13 (Demeter)

Wed, Oct 22.  R#8 due; R #9: Write a statement on the modern equivalent of a mystery religion experience.

            Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries: What personal needs does the mystery religion of Demeter satisfy? How is Demeter similar to and different from your concept of a deity? Compare her to Artemis and Aphrodite.

            Read: HH 1, 7, 26 (Dionysus)

Fri, Oct 24.      Dionysus and the Dionysian Mysteries: What divine powers does Bacchs (Dionysus) have? How does he seem less divine to you? To what extent does Dionysus fit his modern stereotype? What personal needs does the mystery religion of Dionysus satisfy? Why do you think that ancient Greeks and Romans were afraid of this cult?

            4:00: “Classical Cartoon Art”

            Read: R. 6


Week 10

Mon, Oct 27.  Villa of the Mysteries

            Read: R. 7

Wed, Oct 29.   R#9 due; R#10: write a reflection of the Dionysian Mysteries

conferences on individualized project; progress report due Oct 31.

            Read: Burkert, chapters 1-3.

Fri, Oct 31.       progress report due

            Organization of the Ancient Mystery Religions: How were the ancient mystery religions organized? How does this organization compare to the organization of established churches in the modern world? What is theologia? What do myth and allegory have to do with mystery religions? Apply these concepts to the religions of Demeter and Dionysus.

            Read: Cybele (A.)


Week 11

Mon, Nov 3.    Cybele and the Cult of the Great Mother: Compare the Great Goddess to deities like Demeter and Aphrodite. How is she similar and different? What is Catullus’ opinion of the Great Mother?

Wed, Nov 5.    R#10 due; R#11: Reflect on what was attractive in the worship of Cybele to the ancients and what is attractive and not attractive in her worship today.

Fri, Nov 7.      


Week 12

Mon, Nov 10. 

            7:30, Morgan Room: “Identity and Practice of Archaeology”

Wed, Nov 12.  R#11 due; R#12: Reflect on what your research for your individualized topic is helping to discover or understand for the topic of this course.

Fri, Nov 14.    


Week 13

Mon, Nov 17.  Venus of Willendorf

Wed, Nov 19.   The female image of deity: How does the cult of the Great Goddess appeal to modern feminism? Why do you think that the Venus of Willendorf was made? Is it a religious object? Do you think that the earliest human image of god was male or female? Why?

R#12 due; R#13:

Thurs, Nov 20. 6:00, lecture on Lysistrata performance

7:30, Morgan Room: “Archaeology in Romania

20-23: performance of Aristophanes’  Lysistrata

Fri, Nov 21.      

            Read: Burkert, chapter 4

Week 14

Mon, Nov 24.    “The Extraordinary Experience”: What does Burkert mean by the “extraordinary experience?” How did the ancients talk about this experience? Do we talk about it today?


Wed, Nov 26.   Thanksgiving break

Fri, Nov 28.       Thanksgiving break

Week 15

Mon, Dec 1.     Read: R. Epilogue


Wed, Dec 3.      R#13 due: R#14:

Fri, Dec 5.          group discussion of individualized projects. Individualized project due today.


Week 16

Mon., Dec. 8.    group presentations

Wed., Dec. 10.   group presentations

            R#14 due; R#15: Reflect on your reflection on the answers to the three big questions at the beginning of the semester. What has changed? What has been clarified or strengthened because of increased understanding?


Final Exam:  Friday, December 12, 1:00


Honesty and Plagiarism:

Students are encouraged to do their homework together (identical work which is submitted should be acknowledged). All other classwork, especially quizzes and exams, must be the student’s own work. Plagiarism, i.e., copying someone else’s work without giving credit, is to be avoided. Such copying--from a book, another classmate’s paper, or any other source--is dishonest. Any student submitting plagiarized work will receive a failing grade for that assignment. If two papers with identical or nearly identical work are submitted by different students, both papers will receive a failing grade.