English 309 /WGST/MDST 368: Mythologies


Rice University

Fall, 2006


Instructor: Dr. Jane Chance, English                                                                                                                                               TTH 10:50-12:05

(Distribution I Course)                                                                                                                                                                                                 





Description: This interdisciplinary course will introduce students to a variety of world mythologies and mythmakers, from the beginnings to the modern period. Designed to explore the relationship between a culture and its myths as expressed in specific literary or religious works, ¡°Mythologies¡± offers a means of understanding cultural difference as well as the fundamental topics of human desire and aspiration (creation and birth, the purpose of life, heroic struggle against nature and death, the hope for rebirth, etc.). Included mythologies: Akkadian, Sumerian, Hindi, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Irish, Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Finnish, Mayan, Hopi, and modern (South American and Maori).


Note: Graduate students can sign up for this course as an English Department Graduate Directed Reading.


Reading List (all prices according to Amazon.com)

(All books/films will be placed on reserve)


The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian [2000 B.C.], trans. Andrew George, Penguin Classics, 2000 ISBN 0140447210, $8.10 PJ3771 .G5 E5 2000 

Inanna, Queen of Heavens and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, by Enheduanna, ed. Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, Harper and Row 1983 ISBN 0-06-090854-8 (pb) $10.17 (used $2.50) BL1616.I5 W64 1983

The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna¡¯s Counsel in Time of War, trans. Barbara Stoler Miller, Bantam, 1986 ISBN 0553213652  part of longer version of Mahabarata $5.35  BL1138.62 .E5 1986

The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, trans. Raymond O. Faulkner, ed. Carol Andrew, University of Texas/British Museum Press, 1990. ISBN 0292704259 $18.87

Hesiod, Theogony; Works and Days, trans. M.L. West, Oxford U. Press rpt., 1999, ISBN 0192839411, $8.95 PA4010 .E5 T5 1999

Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Rolfe Humphries Indiana U. Press, 1955; rpt. ISBN 025320001-6 $8.95 (used $.49)  PA6522.M2 H8

Early Irish Myths and Sagas, trans. Jeffrey Gantz, Penguin USA, rpt. 1982 ISBN 0140443975 $9.56 PB1421 .E27 1981

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, trans. Seamus Heaney, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000 ISBN 0393320974, $11.30 PE1583 .H43 2000

The Kalevala, trans. Elias Lonnrot, Keith Bosley, Albert B. Lord, Oxford U. Press, 1999, ISBN 019283570X $11.96 PH324.E5B63 1999

The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer (Penguin Classics), trans. Jesse L. Brock, Penguin USA 2000, ISBN 0140447385 $9.56 PT7287 .V7 E5 1999

Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Mayans, trans. Adrien Recinos, University of Oklahoma Press, rpt.1991; ISBN 0806122668  $10.50 F1465 .P814

Book of the Hopi, trans. Frank Waters, Oswald White Bear Fredericks, Viking Press, 1985 ISBN 0140045279 $11.16 E99 .H7 W3 1977

Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, Norton, 1988 ISBN 0811200124 $9.56 PQ7797 .B635 L3 1986

Whale Rider (New Zealand, 2002), dir. Niki Caro, PR9639.3 .I5 W48 2003


Recommended (in order of use) (also on reserve):


Jane Caputi, Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power, and Popular Culture, U. Wisconsin Press, 2004 ISBN 0-299-19624-0  $24.95  HQ1190 .C368 2004

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Penguin Putnam, 1996 ISBN 0140189319 $14.95  BL310 .F7 1998

David Leeming and Jake Page, Myths of the Female Divine, Oxford UP, 1994 ISBN 0-19-510462-5 $10.85 BL325.F4 L44 1994

Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton UP, rpt. 1972 ISBN 0691017840 $12.76 BL313 .C28 1972

Christopher Vogler, The Writer¡¯s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 2nd ed., Michael Wiese Productions, ISBN 0-941188-70-1 $22.95 PN1996 .V64 1998


Requirements: 1 short paper, 2 exams, and 1 longer paper or project. Papers are revisable and can be submitted as drafts for feedback; the first paper can be revised after grading and resubmitted for a new grade. Participation is encouraged and boosts borderline grades.




Week 1: Introduction

Aug. 29: Introduction: What is Myth?

Selections from Philip Glass¡¯s Koyaanisqatsi (1983) CB478.K69 2002 (in class)

            Read Jane Caputi, Goddesses and Monsters, pp. 3-20.

Aug. 31: Myth, Magic, and Religion

Read: James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, on Magic and Religion (chaps 1-4, pp. 1-72); Sexes and Vegetation Myth--chaps 11-13; Balder and Fire festivals--chaps 61-63; Golden Bough/Nemi etc. chaps 68-69;  also David Leeming and Jake Page, Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine, pp.111-16, on Hebrew myths of Lilith and Eve


I. Oriental and Asiatic Mythologies: Akkadian, Sumerian, Hindu


Week 2: Akkadian and Sumerian

Sept. 5: The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian [2000 B.C] (Standard Version, in poetry), pp. 1-100 (12 tablets). (Film Clips from Mesopotamia¡­I have Conquered the River, DS695.5 M378 2001)

            Sept. 7: Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, by Enheduanna, pp. 3-9, 12-27, 30-49, and 52-90, ¡°The Huluppu-Tree,¡± ¡°Inanna and the God of Wisdom,¡± ¡°The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi,¡± ¡°The Descent of Inanna¡±

             Read: Jane Caputi, Goddesses and Monsters, pp. 3-20


Week 3: Hindi

Sept. 12: The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna¡¯s Counsel in Time of War, part of the longer version of 6th book of Mahabarata (ca. 1200 B.C.), pp. 21-87 (1st-9th teaching)

            Sept. 14: The Bhagavad-Gita, pp. 89-154 (10th-18th teaching)


II. Mediterranean and African Mythologies


Week 4: Egyptian

Sept. 19: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead  (3000 B.C. ¨C300 AD), pp. 27-36, 38-57, 64-67, 74-79, 90-100, 133-139, and 178-188

Sept. 21: The Hero¡¯s Journey: Read: Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces (chapters 1-3)  (film clips, Ancient Egypt, DT61.A53 2002)

Sept. 22: Short Paper #1 Due @ 9 am


Week 5: Greek

Sept. 26: Hesiod, Theogony (late 8th c. B.C.), pp. 4-33

Sept. 28: Works and Days, pp. 38-61    

            Read: Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces (read chapters 4-6)


Week 6: Roman

Oct. 3: Ovid, Metamorphoses,  books 1-5 (1st c. B.C.), esp. The Creation Myth and Fall (1), Phaeton and Europa (2), Actaeon, Tiresias, Echo and Narcissus (3), Pyramus and Thisbe, Salmacis, and Perseus (4); Perseus and Medusa, Proserpina and Pluto (5)  (Slides)

Oct. 5: Ovid, Metamorphoses, books 6-10, esp. Arachne and Niobe, Tereus, Procne, and Philomela (6), Jason and Medea (7), Daedalus and Icarus (8), Iphis and Ianthe (9), Orpheus and Euryde, Ganymede, Pygmaliom, Cynras and Myrrha, and Adonis (10) (Film Clips from Jason and the Argonauts, on order)


III. Northern European Mythologies: Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Finnish, Old Norse


Week 7: Early Irish

Oct. 10: Early Irish Myths and Sagas (8th c.): ¡°The Wooing of Éta¨ªn¡± (pp. 39-59); ¡°The Wasting Sickness of C¨² Chulaind¡± (pp. 153-78)

Oct. 12: ¡°Bricriu¡¯s Feast¡± (pp. 219-255)

Oct. 13: Exam #1 @ 9 am


Week 8: Anglo-Saxon

            Oct. 17: Mid-Term Break

Oct. 19: Beowulf (9th-10th c.)


Weeks 9 & 10: Finnish

Oct. 24: The Kalevala (10th c.?): The First Väinämöinen Cycle (cantos 1-10, pp. 1-119)

Oct. 26: The Kullervo Cycle (cantos 31-36; pp. 432-96)

Week 10:

Oct. 31:  The Marjatta Cycle (canto 50; pp. 649-667) (Finnish folk music from The Kalevala)


Week 10 (cont.) & 11: Early Icelandic (Old Norse)

Nov. 2: The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer (13th c.), pp. 35-109

Week 11:

Nov. 7:  The Saga of the Volsungs (Cont.)


IV. North and South American Mythologies: Mayan, Native American, South American


Week 11 (cont.) and 12: Quich¨¦ Maya

Nov. 9: Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quich¨¦ Maya (16th c.?)

Week 12:

Nov. 14: Popol Vuh (film clips from Mayans, F1435.M468 1999)


Week 12 (cont.): Native American

            Nov.  16: Book of the Hopi (16th c.), Part 1: The Myths of Creation of the Four Worlds, pp. 3-66.

Week 13 (cont.):

Nov.  21: Book of the Hopi, chap. 13 of Pt. 2: ¡°Commentary: The Hopi Clan¡± (pp. 113-122; Pt. 4: ¡° The History: The Lost White Brother,¡± chap. 1: ¡°The Coming of the Castillas¡± (pp. 251-58) (film clips from Native Americans, E77.N35 1999)

Nov. 22: Project/Paper Due

Nov. 23: Thanksgiving Vacation

(please see Whale Rider if you can over break; also available at the Reserve Room for library viewing)


Week 14: South American

Nov. 28: Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (1956-60): ¡°The Garden of Forking Paths,¡± ¡°The Circular Ruins,¡± and ¡°The Library of Babel¡± (pp. 45-58)

            Nov. 30: Borges, Labyrinths:  ¡°The House of Asterion¡± (pp. 138-40); ¡°Borges and I¡± (246-48)


V. The South Pacific: New Zealand Film and Maori Myths


Week 15: Maori

            Dec. 5: Niki Caro, dir., Whale Rider (please see this film before class; available at the Reserve Room for library viewing)

            Dec. 7:

Dec. 8: Second Exam due @ 12 p.m.



Paper Requirements:


  1. Short Paper (3-5 pp.) on a mythology or mythological work

Pick some aspect of the myth or mythology to be discussed and present its significant features. For your paper, try to focus on the text as a site for contestation and as narrative. You may write on some aspect of the mythological works we have read, or pick a mythology we will not cover and one myth within it to recover the hero¡¯s journey, or some other aspect.


  1. Final Paper (8-10 pp.):

(a) Research a mythology not covered in class. Students in the past have written about Denali, Viet Namese, and native American myths other than those we¡¯ve read in class.

(b) Write (create) a mythology of your own, making sure you understand (by the end how a myth and mythology might be defined. Accompany it with a detailed annotation or gloss that explains how your mythology works within the context of the comparative mythologies we have explored in the course (cite specific text and myths within detailed notes). Other forms of artistry¡ªmusical compositions, art, films, weaving, etc.¡ªare also welcome as long as they are accompanied by a gloss.

Copies of both (a) and (b) from previous students will be available at the Reserve Room.


Both exams and papers can be e-attachments; they are honor code-bound but rewrites of papers are allowed up to the end of classes and students may consult the Writing Center or class members for feedback.


Office hours:

Office: 235 Herring Hall

Office Hours: 4-5 TTH, by e-mail, and by appointment

Office Phone: 713-348-2625; e-mail: jchance@rice.edu


Disability Notice:


1.      Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak with me during the first two weeks of class.  All discussions will remain confidential.  Students with disabilities will need to contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student Center.


2.      Any student with a disability requiring accommodations in this course is encouraged to contact me after class or during office hours.  Additionally, students will need to contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student Center.


3.  If you have a documented disability that will impact your work in this class, please contact me to discuss your needs.  Additionally, you will need to register with the Disability Support Services Office in the Ley Student Center.