Monmouth College, Spring 2005


ISSI402 Classical Mythology and Religion

TH 3:30-4:45, Wallace Hall 114


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


Instructor: Dr. V. Wine (Return to menu)


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)


Texts: Athanassakis, Apostolos N. The Homeric Hymns (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004); Burkert, Walter. Ancient Mystery Cults (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,1987); Meyer, Marvin W. The Ancient Mysteries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,1986); Nagle, Betty Rose.Ovid's Fasti. Roman Holidays (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,1995)

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 (25%), Personal Statements (35%), Individualized Project (35%), and Group Presentation (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 100-90, 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. 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 2005; or .



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.


1.Jan. 18 Course Introductions
Discussion of Issues and Ideas Rubric. 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?



Jan. 20 Issues and Ideas, Myth and Religion
Use these study questions to prepare for class discussion of ISSI courses. Assignment: Write a reflection on the Monmouth College Curriculum and this ISSI course. Due Jan. 25th.
What are "myth" and "religion"? Look especially at the discussion of the meaning of the word "myth" in The Web of Myth Theory. Also Myth and Religion: Some Definitions



2.Jan. 25 Cleanthes' "Hymn to Zeus", images of Zeus; Compare images of Christian God. Anthropomorphism and Xenophanes of Colophon. Look here especially at the fragments called satires: Xenophanes' Fragments. Prayer / Lord's 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.
Due Feb. 1.



Jan. 27 Homeric Hymns and Polytheism
Preface and introduction to Athanassakis. See Homeric Hymns
See Polytheism, A Brief Survey of Christian Polytheism, and Islam and Polytheism. The Pantheon / Greek Pantheon / Classical Myths: The Ancient Sources. Also read review of A World Full of Gods  by Keith Hopkins (available in Public Documents under All Public Folders/Departments/Academic/Classics/ISSI402). Here is a quote from Hopkins: "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."
Question: What do these introductory materials tell you about the Homeric Hymns? What are the advantages and disadvantages of polytheism vs. monotheism?



3.Feb. 1 Homeric Hymn 23 (Zeus) and the Sacrifice of Prometheus
See 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
Questions: 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? Compare Greek animal sacrifice to modern forms of religious sacrifice.
Class discussion: What prayer did you compare to the Hymn to Zeus? Why?

Assignment: Write a personal reflection on religion. Due Feb. 8th.
Click here for some helpful questions. Click here for Prof. Sienkewicz' personal statement.



Feb. 3 Discussion of individual projects



4.Feb. 8 Human Sacrifice
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, Chriastianity 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-Arbortion / Ritual Sacrifice in America: The Execution of Timothy McVey



Feb. 10 Class discussion of personal reflections



California Critical Thinking Test



Part II Roman Religion



Feb. 17 Introduction to Roman Religion
Theories on the Origin of Religion; Also read pp. 22-27 of Nagle. Additional materials: Some Definitions / Beginnings of Religion / Roman Divinities in Archaic Period / Religio Romana
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?
Look for characteristics of Roman Religion described in Some Notes on Roman Religion in the documents found in the Sources of Roman Religion
Assignment: Write a reflection on these characteristics and compare them to modern religious views. Due Feb. 24



6.Feb. 22 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
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?



Feb. 23 Archaeology Lecture 7:30 P.M. in the Huff Center. For more information, see .



Feb. 24 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 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 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 3.



7.Mar. 1 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



Mar. 3 Read Fasti: February and March; See Fasti II: February, Lupercalia; Fasti III:  March / Fasti III: Study Questions / Some Characteristics of the Fasti
FOCUS: 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?



8.Mar. 15 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? 
Mid-Course Evaluation Due

Fox Classics Lecture, 7:30 p.m., Highlander Room



March 17 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?
For March 31, write a reflection on characteristics of Roman religion in the Fasti compared to modern religious views.



March 21: Archaeology Lecture 7:30 P.M. in the Huff Center. For more information, see .



9.March 22 
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



March 24  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
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. March 29 Introduction to Burkert. Christianity and Mystery Religions

Assignment:  reflection on mystery religion experience due April 6.



March 31 No class. Work on your individualized project.



11.April 5 Homeric Hymn 2, 13 (Demeter) Read Meyer, chapter 2. Sacred Places: Eleusis / Eleusinian Mysteries: Some Documents / Demeter Laughed
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.



April 7 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)
Questions: What divine powers 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?
Statement due on Modern Equivalent of a Mystery Religion Experience



12.April 12 Villa of the Mysteries / Villa of Mysteries 2 / Take a Virtual Tour of the Villa / Another Villa Option
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



April 14 Conferences on your individualized project.



13.April 19 Read Burkert, chapter 1-3 Study Questions; Meyer, chapter 5. Also Cybele / Catullus' "Attis" / Study Questions about Cybele
Questions: Compare the Great Goddess to deities like Demeter and Aphrodite? How is she similar and different? 
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 26.



April 21 Read Venus of Willendorf Website / Dove"s "Venus of Willendorf"
Question: How does the cult of the Great Goddess appeal to modern feminism? 



14.April 26 "The Extraordinary Experience" (Burkert, chapter 4) Study Questions
Isis. Read Meyer, chapter 6.
Questions: Compare Isis to other goddesses you have studied. Also compare her to Mary the Mother of Jesus.
Question: What does Burkert mean by the "extraordinary experience"? How did the ancients talk about this experience? Do we talk about it today? 

Some Issues and Ideas Raised in ISSI402



April 28  Work on Individualized Projects



15.May 3 Group discussion of Individualized Projects. Individualized Project due today. 



May 5     Group Work on Individualized Projects



16.May 9 EXAM MEETING 8 A.M. At this meeting there will be Presentations and Course Evaluations.






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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