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World Mythologies (2-day version)

Course Times & Enrolment

(Code AC102-302) Add to Basket Thursday, 27 June and Friday, 28 June, 10:00-16:00 (2-day course) LG46 Paterson's Land, Holyrood Campus • Tutor: Gary Vos BA, ResMA, PhD
£80.00 Concessions and discounts

Course Summary

Mythology is a key feature of human culture around the globe and one through which key experiences are enshrined. This course focuses on the Graeco-Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern mythologies and approaches them from a comparative perspective (in particular Celtic, Germanic, Norse, and North-American myths).

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous knowledge of the subject is assumed.

Content of Course

Day 1. Myth and History, Myth as History, History as Myth 

At which point does myth spill over into history? Why is myth often seen as history? Can history be mythical? This class looks at the interface of myth and history: at their intersection one finds scepticism, gullibility, and sensibility. This class will have a tripartite structure, outlined below:

1. What Is a Myth? Myths, Legends, Folktales, and Fairy tales.

Introduction to different concepts of myth (legends, folklore, fairy tales, etc., but also a fanciful story or downright fallacy), mythology, and mythography; principal resources for studying myth. Practical exemplification through pyramids in South-, Meso-, and North America, Africa, the Near East, Asia, as well as some European ones.

2. Historical Approaches I: Archaeology and Historicism. Motifs: ‘Giants and Kings’.

In class we  will look at how scholars have tied myths to a historical context, particularly archaeological sites. Examples include interpretations of modern archaeologists and philologists: Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae and Troy, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff at Athens and Thebes, Sir Arthur Evans at Crete.

In preparation students will study the motif of battles between (one-eyed) giants and king-figures: Odysseus versus Polyphemus [Greek], Lugh Lamhfada versus Balor (Balar) [Irish], David versus Goliath [Hebrew], Sinbad versus the anonymous giant [Arab], Thor and Hrungnir [Norse]; Gilgamesh (and Enkidu) versus Humbaba [Sumerian/Akkadian].

3. Historical Approaches II: Anthropology (Ritualism and Structuralism). Motifs: Fertility Myths (Earth Mother; Death and Resurrection).

The anthropological approach, as developed by e.g. James George Frazer and Jane Harrison: myth as a reflection of the lived experience of a culture, including its customs, rituals, and general beliefs.

In preparation students will study fertility myths: (1) the Earth Mother: Demeter/Ceres [Greek/Roman], the Corn Mother [Native North American], (2) death and resurrection: Demeter and Persephone/Ceres and Proserpina [Greek/Roman] versus Ninhursag and Inanna/Ishtar [Mesopotamian] and Anat/Astarte [Canaanite]; Adonis, Hyacinthus, Hylas, Linus, Narcissus [Near Eastern/Greek/Roman].

Day 2. Myth in Body and Spirit: Nature versus Nurture?

Myth can show society the dangers of surrendering to one's baser instincts or the necessity of following one's impulses. Famously, myth is often interpreted in terms of reproduction. In this class we shall look at stories, motifs, and approaches that place the locus of meaning in one's psyche and genetics. This class has a tripartite structure:

1. Psychoanalytic Approaches: All in the Mind? Motifs: ‘Battle in Heaven’ and ‘Birth of the Cosmos’.

Psychoanalytical approaches to myth, including Freud’s famous Oedipal complex and Jung’s transcultural archetypes.

In preparation students will study the motif of sons displacing their fathers:  Oedipus and Laius [Greek], Baal and Dagan or El [Canaanite], Zeus and Kronos/Jupiter and Saturn, Kronos and Ouranos [Greek/Roman], Osiris and Horus, Seth and Horus [Egypt], Alalu and Anu, Anu and Kumarbi [Hittite].

2. Socio-Biological Approaches: All in the Family. Motifs: ‘Wicked Stepmother’, ‘Stealing Women’, ‘Twins Good and Bad’.

Following scientists such as Charles Darwin (evolution theory) and Richard Dawkins (genetics) several scholars have taken to a socio-biological approach to myth (notably Walter Burkert).

Students will prepare by reading myths focused on family matters such as: (1) the ‘wicked stepmother’ motif ‘stealing of women’ motif and (2) ‘twins motif’.

3. General conclusion to the course, circling back to our starting point: what are myths and why bother telling them? What is the point of constructing or studying mythology?


Teaching method(s)

Discussion-based classes, with an introductory lecture in every session. In preparation for each class, students will study a number of texts from various cultures and periods arranged around a central theme or motif. Each class begins with an introductory lecture explaining a particular scholarly approach to myth; the second half of the class will focus on applying that approach to the texts read beforehand.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the cultural significance of myth, recognising the recurrence of motifs in modern texts and media;

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how modern approaches to myth (from Freud’s Oedipal complex to narratology) have influenced our understanding of myths and reflect critically on these methods;

  • Demonstrate an understanding of ancient and modern processes of myth-making.


Core Readings


  • A syllabus with essential readings will be provided by the course tutor.


  • Csapo, E., 2005. Theories of Mythology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

  • Leeming, D., 2005. The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Lincoln, B., 1999. Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  • Von Hendy, A., 2002. The Modern Construction of Myth. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Web Sources (accessed 01/05/2020) (accessed 01/05/2020) ( accessed 01/05/2020) (accessed 01/05/2020)

Class Handouts

Class handouts will be provided, along with key texts to be read.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.