English 309 /WGST/MDST 368: Mythologies

Rice University

Fall, 2005


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: Babylonian, Sumerian, Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Irish, Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Finnish, Mayan, Hopi, and modern (Borges, Philip Glass).


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):


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. Attendance is expected; repeated unexcused absences will count against you. Participation is encouraged and boosts borderline grades.




Week 1: Introduction

Aug. 23: Introduction: What is Myth?

Selections from Philip Glass’s Koyanisqaatsi (in class)

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

Aug. 25: Myth, Magic, and Religion

Read: James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, on Magic and Religion (chaps 1-4); 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


Aug. 28 (Sun. @ 3, Media Center): Film Showing of Fritz Lang, The Nibelungen, part 1: Siegfried (1924)


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


Week 2: Akkadian and Sumerian

Aug. 30: 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, D5695.45 2003)

            Sept. 1: 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: Hindu

Sept. 6: 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. 8: The Bhagavad-Gita, pp. 89-154 (10th-18th teaching)


II. Mediterranean and African Mythologies


Week 4: Egyptian

Sept. 13: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead  (3000 B.C. –300 AD), pp. 27-36, 38-57, 64-67, 74-79, 90-100, 133-139, and 178-188

Sept. 15: The Hero’s Journey: Read: Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces (chapters 1-3)  (film clips, Ancient Egypt, DT61.A53 2002)

Sept. 16: Short Paper #1 Due @ 9 am


Week 5: Greek

Sept. 20: Hesiod, Theogony (late 8th c. B.C.), pp. 4-33

Sept. 22: Works and Days, pp. 38-61    

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


Week 6: Roman

Sept. 27: 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)

Sept. 29: 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. 4: Early Irish Myths and Sagas (8th c.): “The Wooing of Étaín” (pp. 39-59); “The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulaind” (pp. 153-78)

Oct. 6: “Bricriu’s Feast” (pp. 219-255)

Oct. 7: Exam #1 @ 9 am


Week 8: Anglo-Saxon

            Oct. 11: Mid-Term Break

Oct. 13: Beowulf (9th-10th c.)


Weeks 9 & 10: Finnish

Oct. 18: The Kalevala (10th c.?): The First Väinämöinen Cycle (cantos 1-10, pp. 1-119)

Oct. 20: (cont.) (Finnish folk music from The Kalevala)


Week 10:

Oct. 25: The Kullervo Cycle (cantos 31-36; pp. 432-96)

Oct. 27:  The Marjatta Cycle (canto 50; pp. 649-667)


Week 11: Norse

Nov. 1: The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer (13th c.), pp. 35-109

            Nov. 3:


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


Week 12: Quiché Maya

Nov. 8: Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiché Maya (16th c.?)

Nov. 10: Popol Vuh (film clips from Mayans, F1435.P739 2002)


Week 13: Native American

            Nov.  15: Book of the Hopi (16th c.), Part 1: The Myths of Creation of the Four Worlds, pp. 3-23 and Chap. 13 of Pt. 2: “Commentary: The Hopi Clan” (pp. 113-122)

            Nov.  17: Book of the Hopi, Pt. 4: “ The History: The Lost White Brother,” chap. 1: “The Coming of the Castillas” (pp. 251-58); Chap. 3, “Arrival of the Americans,”  (pp. 270-78); Chap.9, “The Indian Reorganization Act” (pp. 314-21); chap. 10: “The Flag Still Flies”(pp. 322-28); Chap. 11: “Recommendations and Prophecies” (pp. 329-38). (film clips from Native Americans, CB311.A52 2002)


Week 14: South American

Nov. 22: Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (1956-60): “The Garden of Forking Paths,” “The Circular Ruins,” and ”The Library of Babel” (pp. 45-58)

Nov. 23: Project/Paper Due

Nov. 24: Thanksgiving Vacation


Week 15:

            Nov. 29: Borges, Labyrinths:  “The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” (pp. 72-76)  “The Secret Miracle” (pp. 88-94); “The House of Asterion” (pp. 138-40); “Borges and I” (246-48)


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

            Dec. 1: Niki Caro, dir., Whale Rider (please see this film before class; available at the Reserve Room for library viewing)

            Dec. 2: Second Exam due @ 5 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.): Write (create) a mythology of your own, making sure

you understand (by the end of the semester) how a myth and mythology might be defined. Accompany it with annotation or gloss explaining how your mythology works within the context of the comparative mythologies we have explored in the course. Other forms of artistry—musical compositions, art, films, weaving, etc.—are also welcome as long as they are accompanied by a gloss.


You may also 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.


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 and by appointment

Office Phone: 713-348-2625; e-mail: jchance@rice.edu; webpage: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~jchance/myth.htm



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.