ISSI402 Classical Mythology and Religion

Spring, 2006
TH 12:30-1:45, Wallace Hall 115

Instructor | Course description | Texts | Class format | Course Handouts
Goals, requirements, and evaluation | Web access | Schedule

Instructor: Dr. V. Wine (Return to menu); office: WH 115A; office hours: MTWHF 9-9:15 and by appointment or happenstance.

Course description: This course fulfills the senior-level Issues and Ideas component of the Monmouth College General Education requirement for graduation. It is a liberal arts course without prerequisites, designed for all students, whatever their majors may be. The Monmouth College catalogue gives the following description of Issues and Ideas courses:

[These courses] address issues and ideas that any responsible citizen must confront. These are courses which draw upon the maturity and intellectual flexibility of students in their senior year. They engage the student with problems and ideas that directly address the conditions and well-being of life.

These courses include, but are not limited to, issues and ideas such as the continuing presence of war; what we understand a just society to be; the question of personal identity and the self; or responsible relationships with the natural world.

These courses incorporate the perspectives of various viewpoints since they deal with questions that transcend immediate professional and intellectual vantages. They elicit a recognition of and a critical response to shared and continuing human concerns.

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. (Return to menu)


Athanassakis, Apostolos N. The Homeric Hymns
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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

Meyer, Marvin W. The Ancient Mysteries
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Nagle, Betty Rose. Ovid's Fasti. Roman Holidays
Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Note: You are also expected to have ready access to a Bible. Click here for an electronic version. (Return to menu)

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. (Return to menu)

Goals, requirements, and evaluation: The final grade will comprise Class Participation and Quizzes (30%), Personal Statements (30%), Individualized Project (30%), Group Presentation (5%), and Other (5%). Daily participation in class discussions and readiness when called upon is expected; volunteering information and opinions contributes to participation points. Quizzes, whether announced or not, may not be made up, and other make-up work is not discussed if the student has more than four absences. Grading scale: A 100-90, B 89-76, C 75-61, D 60-50.

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, non-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, including clear and grammatical writing. 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.

The individualized project and group presentation are described on the website. (Return to menu)

Web access: Readings, web links, this syllabus, and other information are available via the MC website. Access the Department of Classics homepage, Syllabi, Spring 2006; or

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Schedule: The following schedule outlines discussion topics, reading assignments, and due dates for assignments, It may be changed as necessary, and the student is responsible for making note of any changes announced in class.

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Part I. Introduction to Myth and Religion

1.Jan. 17. Course Introductions


See the Monmouth College Curriculum / The New Curriculum
Questions: How does an ISSI course fit into the MC Curriculum? What should an Issues and Ideas course be like? What happens to the ISSI class in the new curriculum?

1. Use these
study questions to prepare for class discussion of ISSI courses on Thursday.
2. Consider the relationship between the words "myth" and "religion". See: The Web of Myth Theory and
Myth and Religion: Some Definitions.

Jan. 19. Issues and Ideas, Myth and Religion
 What are "myth" and "religion"?
What is the relationship between them?

1. Write a reflection on ways that you think that the theme of myth and religion may fit the description of an ISSI course in the Monmouth College Curriculum.
Due Jan. 24.
2. Read
Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus, Prayer / Lord's Prayer

2.Jan. 24. Prayer
Question: 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"? To what extent does your god have anthropomorphic features?

Assignment: Compare Cleanthes' hymn to a 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. Due Jan. 26.


Jan. 26. Personal Reflections on Prayer
Discussion: What prayer did you compare to the Hymn to Zeus? Why? What purposes do you think these prayers served? How would you describe the relationship between god and the person praying in these prayers?
Each member of the class will explain what prayer they chose to compare to the Hymn to Zeus and how the two prayers compare. The class will then break down into small groups to discuss reasons why people pray. What purposes does prayer serve? The groups will use Cleanthes' Hymn to illustrate these purposes. Each group will then report back to the entire class.

Assignment: Read Xenophanes of Colophon, and the fragments called satires: Xenophanes' Fragments and look at these images of Zeus.
Compare images of Christian God.    


3. Jan. 31. Anthropomorphism    

Discussion: 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?


1. Read Preface and Introduction to Athanassakis, Homeric Hymns,
Polytheism, A Brief Survey of Christian Polytheism, Islam and Polytheism, The Pantheon, Greek Pantheon, Classical Myths: The Ancient Sources, and a review of A World Full of Gods  by Keith Hopkins (available in Public Documents under All Public Folders/Departments/Academics/Classics/ISSI402).
2. Write a reflection on monotheism versus polytheism. Why would someone believe in only one god? Why would others believe in many gods? Where do you stand? This assignment is due on Thursday,
Feb. 2.


Feb. 2. Homeric Hymns and Polytheism
Discussion of class reflections on Polytheism vs. Monotheism.
What do the introductory materials tell you about the Homeric Hymns? 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 mixed 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?
Question: What do these introductory materials tell you about the Homeric Hymns? What are the advantages and disadvantages of polytheism vs. monotheism?


Assignment: Read Homeric Hymn 23 (Zeus), Prometheus (and Hesiod's Theogony, 508-544 and 545-565). Prometheus Bound. Also Catalogue of Greek Animal Sacrifice and Summary / Augustan Altar of Peace / Altar of Peace / Animal Sacrifice / Santeria and Animal Sacrifice / The Latter Day Saints and Animal Sacrifice / Animal Sacrifice in Christian Churches



 4.Feb. 7.  The Homeric Hymn to Zeus. Types of Religious Sacrifice
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.

Assignments: 1.Write a personal reflection on religion. This reflection should give your religious background and describe your personal beliefs about god and religion. Due Feb. 14.
Click here for some helpful questions. Click here for Prof. Sienkewicz' personal statement.



2.Read the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 12-22 and the Sacrifice of Iphigenia. Also Sacrifice of Iphigenia in Art /  Review of Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece. Minoan Religion (focus on Anemospilia). Anemospilia / Minoan Snake Goddess / Scapegoating / Leviticus 16 / Stoning in the Pharmakos Ritual / Rene Girard / Living Sacrifice’s “Why Christianity” / Human Sacrifice in Judaism, Christianity and Israel: A Summary and Critique of Hyam Maccoby’s The Sacred Executioner / Hyam Maccoby / Sacrifice in Religion / Eucharist as Sacrifice and Sacrament / Sacrificial Anti-Abortion / Ritual Sacrifice in America: The Execution of Timothy McVey.  Also Iphigenia as sacrificial victim.  


Feb. 9. Human Sacrifice
Discussion: 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?

Assignment: read Prospectus for Individualized Project. See Individualized Project Guidelines.  Prospectus due Mar. 23.

5. Feb. 14. Class discussion of personal religious reflections.

Discussion of individualized projects.

Assignment: Read Theories on the Origin of Religion; pp. 22-27 of Nagle. Additional materials: Some Definitions / Beginnings of Religion / Roman Divinities in Archaic Period /  Religio Romana

Archeology lecture, 7:30 p.m., Huff Classroom 1012: Discovering Ancient Maya Communities

Feb. 15. Archeology lecture, 12 noon, Stockdale Highlander: The Impact of Water on Ancient Maya Communities



Feb. 16. Introduction to Roman Religion
Questions: 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? 

Assignment: 1. Look for characteristics of Roman Religion described in Some Notes on Roman Religion in the documents found in the Sources of Roman Religion.
2. Write a reflection on these characteristics and compare them to modern religious views. Due Feb. 24



6. Feb. 21. Roman Religion Cont.

What points of comparison did you find between Roman and modern religious views and practices? 


Assignment: Read Ovid's Fasti: Introduction; January.  Bellini's Feast of the Gods
Read preface and introduction to Nagle. See Ovid's Fasti Overview / Fasti Outline  / Fasti I: January / The Roman Calendar / Christian Liturgical Calendar

Feb. 23. Ovid’s Fasti
Questions: How is the Fasti organized? What were Ovid's purposes in writing this poem? How is it religious? Why do the Romans sacrifice an ass to the god Priapus? Why does Ovid tell this story? What does Ovid tell you about the emperor's attitude towards religion? How does a Christian artist like Bellini use the ancient deities? To what extent is our calendar religious?


How is the Fasti religious?


7. Feb. 28.  Apollo and Artemis
Homeric Hymns 3, 21 (Apollo) and Artemis 9, 27
Outline of Hymn / Study and Discussion Questions
Sacred Places
: Delphi and Delos. Also Omphalos
Questions: What kind 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 her brother Apollo? How is a goddess different from a god? What makes Delphi and Delos sacred places?

Assignment: Compare Apollo to your god. Be sure to deal with issues of anthropomorphism, forms of worship, and ethics. Due March 14.


Mar. 2 Aphrodite (Read Homeric Hymn 5, 6, 10, Sappho's Prayer to Aphrodite (Other Translations). Outline of Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite / Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite Study Questions
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?
Question:  Why do you think the Greeks had a goddess like Aphrodite? What do you think about a goddess who seduces mortal men?
Divine Epiphanies


Assignment: Read Fasti: February and March; See Fasti II: February , Lupercalia; Fasti III:  March / Fasti III: Study Questions / Some Characteristics of the Fasti
Apotheosis: Temple of Antoninus and Faustina / On the temple /  Apotheosis of an Emperor  / On the Column base of the emperor Antoninus Pius / The Lincoln Memorial / The Apotheosis of George Washington / More on the Fresco
Questions: Whose apotheosis does Ovid describe in February? How does such an event compare to modern religious beliefs? How many stories does Ovid tell to explain why the Luperci run naked? Why does Ovid tell the story of the Sabine Women in March? What is the feast of the toga virilis and what might be some modern equivalents? How is the Fasti religious?


Assignment: Write a mid-course reflection for Mar. 16.


8. Mar. 14 Juno Sospita: Coin / Church of San Nicola in Carcere in Rome: 1 / 2 / 3 / See Midwinter (and scroll to Juno Sospita)
Tommaso Laurenti Siciliano: The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism (1585) / For more on this painting, see the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican / Babri Mosque / Babri Masjid (mosque) at Ayodhya / The Ayodhya Dispute / Babri History / Babri Mosque / Dome of the Rock

Questions: 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?


Fox Classics Lecture, Mar. 15, 7:30 p.m., Highlander Room: Mozart and Rome


Mar. 16 Fasti: April, May and June See Fasti IV: April  / Study Questions for IV / Fasti V: May / Fasti VI: June
Mars UltorClaudia Quinta

Questions: How is the Fasti a poem? How is the Fasti like an encyclopedia? What elements of political propaganda can you find in the Fasti? How religious do you think Ovid was? Why? Where does Ovid sound religious in Fasti? Where does he sound less sincere? What myth does Ovid tell for the Feast of Cerealia in April? What does this myth have to do with the powers of the goddess Ceres?

Apollo reflection due.

Mid-Course Evaluation Due


For March 21, write a reflection on characteristics of Roman religion in the Fasti compared to modern religious views.

March 20. Archeology Lectures: 12 noon, Stockdale Highlander: Marble Trade in Antiquity; 7:30, 109 Morgan Hall, WIU: Later Doric Order


9.Mar. 21 
Homeric Hymn 4, 18
(Hermes). Outline and Study Questions for the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Hermes Images / Hermes Also read hymns #8, 11, 15-17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 25, 28-33
Questions: 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?


Part III. Mystery Religions

Mar. 23. Read the introduction to Meyer and consult study questions. (Click on author's names.) See Some Definitions of Terms, Some Notes on Mysteria, Brief History of Greco-Roman Religion

Introduction to Ancient Mystery Religions
Questions: How are these books organized? How are they related to each other? How are they different? What is a mystery religion? What personal needs does religion satisfy?
Prospectus for Individualized Project  due. See Individualized Project Guidelines


10. Mar. 28. Introduction to Burkert. Christianity and Mystery Religions


Mar. 30.  Homeric Hymn 2, 13 (Demeter) Read Meyer, chapter 2. Sacred Places: Eleusis / Eleusinian Mysteries: Some Documents / Demeter Laughed

Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries
Questions: What personal needs does the mystery religion of Demeter satisfy? Compare the Homeric Hymn to Demeter in Athanassakis to the version in Meyer (pp. 20-31). How are these two versions similar? How are they different? How is Demeter similar to and different from your concept of a deity? Compare her to Artemis and Aphrodite.


11. Apr. 4. Read Meyer, chapter 4 and Homeric Hymns 1, 7, 26 (Dionysus) .  Outline of Homeric Hymn to Dionysus / Dionysian Mysteries: Some Documents / Some Dionysian Terms / Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus (the Inscription / Latin text / English translation; Livy XXXIX)

Dionysus and the Dionysian Mysteries
Questions: What divine powers does Bacchus (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?

Assignments: 1) Write a statement on the modern equivalent of a mystery religion experience. Due Apr. 11.

2) Read Villa of the Mysteries / Villa of Mysteries 2 / Take a Virtual Tour of the Villa / Another Villa Option



Apr. 6. no class: Work on individualized project. Progress report due on Apr. 11.



Apr. 11.
Discussion: The Villa of the Mysteries

Assignment: Write a reflection of the Dionysian Mysteries. Due on Apr. 18.


Apr. 13. Conferences on your individualized project.

13.Apr. 18. Read Burkert, chapter 1-3 Study Questions; Meyer, chapter 5.

Organization of the Ancient Mystery Religions

Questions: 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.

Cybele / Catullus' "Attis" / Study Questions about Cybele

Apr. 20.   

Cybele and the Cult of the Great Mother

Questions: Compare the Great Goddess to deities like Demeter and Aphrodite? How is she similar and different? What is Catullus’ opinion of the Great Mother?


1) Write a statement in which you use some of the documents on Cybele in Meyer in order to reflect on what was attractive in her worship to the ancients and what is attractive and not attractive in her worship today. Due Apr. 27.



2) Read Venus of Willendorf Website and Dove"s "Venus of Willendorf"

Apr. 23. Eta Sigma Phi Lecture


14. Apr. 25.  NO CLASS


Apr. 27. The Female Image of Deity
Question: 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?

Assignment: Read Burkert, chapter 4 with Study Questions

Archaeology lecture: 7:30 p.m., Huff Classroom 1012, Karnack Temple Complex in Luxor, Egypt

 15. May 2. "The Extraordinary Experience" (Burkert, chapter 4)
Question: What does Burkert mean by the "extraordinary experience"? How did the ancients talk about this experience? Do we talk about it today? 


May 4.

Group Discussion of Individualized Projects.  Individualized Project due today. 



May 8 (Monday), 8:00
Group Presentations, Course Evaluations, etc.


This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at

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