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Myth in the Greek and Roman worlds

What is myth? This OU level 3 module is a broad interdisciplinary study of Greek and Roman myth in its social, historical, literary and visual context. It combines the detailed study of individual works of literature, art and architecture with an exploration of context, function and purpose. A particular aspect you will study is the reception of mythical ideas and images in later European culture. Interactive visual explorations of key ancient and modern sites, monuments and artefacts relevant to mythological themes are supplied on DVD-ROM – together with audio interviews with experts tracing the influence of myth on, for example, drama, science and medicine.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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Student Reviews

One of the best courses of my degree. Don't underestimate the amount of reading and background context you will need...
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This course is fantastic - absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. Be warned however, this is not a history course...
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What you will study

The module consists of an introduction and four main blocks.

In the first two blocks the main emphasis is on obtaining knowledge of a specific range of myths and mythical characters and their function, and on critical analysis of the presentation of myths in a variety of sources, such as history, poetry, drama and art.

The later blocks add more detailed analysis of poetry and its very influential reception in medieval and Renaissance poetry and visual art. In the final block, philosophy is added to the range of sources to be studied and analysed.

As the module progresses, you are expected to develop a degree of independence in learning to the extent that you are able to complete independent analyses using the skills you have learned in the course of your study, leading to a project-type essay at the end of the module.

The module makes use of a DVD-ROM relevant to each of the blocks to present audio discussions by experts of key issues raised in the written material. The DVD-ROM also illustrates key sites and architectural features, as well as images depicting mythical subjects.

ICT is also used to give access to the range of specialist websites that comprise works of reference and scholarship in the field, as well as more general works of reference (e.g. Wikipedia).

You are introduced to the module content as follows:

In a short Introduction, we ask basic questions like ‘What is myth?’, and ‘Why Greek and Roman myth?’ There are sections on ‘catch-up’ reading for those unfamiliar with classical antiquity, learning outcomes and the basic structure of the module. This leads to a ‘taster’ that introduces you to the mythical narrative of the Roman poet Ovid, and how the famous myth of the Fall of Icarus is represented in Renaissance and modern art and poetry.

In Block 1: The myth of Hippolytus and Phaedra you trace the development of a particularly influential myth through the Greek and Roman worlds. This is the myth of the Greek youth Hippolytus, whose tragic fate is explored through the contrasted presentations of a range of sources from Greek drama to Roman and early Christian art. This block concludes with a study of the cult of Hippolytus at Nemi near Rome and the famous treatment by Sir James Frazer in the Golden Bough.

In Block 2: Myth in Rome: power, life and afterlife you concentrate on how myths of origin and power functioned in the Roman Empire. You investigate the role of myth in the validation of Roman imperial rule, and how myth related to history. At the other end of the social scale, you explore how myth impacted on everyday life and related to Roman attitudes to death.

In Block 3: Ovid and the reception of myth you focus on Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a key source for the literary interpretation of Greek and Roman myth. There is close reading of selected sections from this seminal poem, with a concentration on different types of interpretation. This includes recent scholarship and with reference to its influence in medieval and Renaissance reception in literature and visual art, in particular looking at allegorical interpretation of the classical myths.

In Block 4: Myth and reason you examine the relations and tensions between ‘mythical’ and ‘rational’ thought in Greek culture. Starting with origins, i.e. how the world began, this block progresses to consideration of emerging rational and scientific modes of thought. This is principally in the Presocratic philosophers and in Hippocratic medicine, of the sixth to fourth centuries BCE and then progressing to a consideration of how human life ends, i.e. myths of the afterlife in Mystery religion and the philosopher Plato.

You will learn

By studying this module you will:

  • gain an in-depth knowledge of a specific range of myths and mythical characters, and learn to consider how myths function in a range of contexts, historical, social and cultural
  • study and analyse the presentation of myths in a variety of sources – such as poetry, drama, history, philosophy, art, architecture and archaeology – evaluating the context of the evidence and how different contexts may relate to each other
  • develop the ability to write a well thought-out analysis of texts/artistic representations and produce essays containing logical argument and analysis at an appropriate level
  • become familiar with critical analysis of the reception of Greek and Roman myth, including a range of theoretical approaches and modern scholarship relating to Classical Mythology
  • develop a degree of independence in learning that will enable you to complete analyses, using the skills you have learnt, including investigations of bibliography via the internet, libraries, etc.

You will also be required to undertake, with a degree of independence, a project at the end of the module.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper. 

Your end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted online.

Assessment is an essential part of the teaching, so you are expected to complete it all. You will be given more information when you register.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 3 module. Level 3 modules build on the skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU.

Although no particular modules are required before studying this one, we recommend that you should have taken at least two arts modules at OU levels 1 and 2. The OU level 1 module The arts past and present (AA100) as well as a OU level 2 module would be ideal preparation. This is because this module has been designed to enable you to apply and develop skills in working with source material that you would get from an interdisciplinary or single-discipline OU level 2 module.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

For further information on what preparatory work you can do, visit the faculty website.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2021.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 31/07/2015.

What's included

Module books, other printed material, DVD-ROM and website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Morford, M.P.O. & Lenardon, R.J. Classical Mythology (International 10th edn) Oxford University Press £39.99 - ISBN 9780199997398
  • Ovid: Feeney, D. (Intro) & Raeburn, D. (trans.) Metamorphoses Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140447897
  • Euripides: Rutherford, R. (Intro) Davie, J. (trans.) Medea and Other Plays (Alcestis, Medea, The Children of Heracles and Hippolytus) Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140449297
  • Grimal, P.: Kershaw, S. (ed.) & Maxwell-Hyslop, A. (trans.) The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology Penguin £12.99 - ISBN 9780140512359

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

Parts of this module are focused on a wide range of visual sources and visually impaired students are strongly recommended to consider arranging sighted assistance. Brief descriptions of the images used in the module will be available. Alternative TMAs will be available on request.

This module makes considerable use of ICT tools such as a website and a DVD-ROM. If you use specialist software or hardware to assist you in operating a computer or the internet and have concerns about accessing this type of material you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.