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Greek and Roman myth: stories and histories

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Since myth permeated nearly every aspect of Greek and Roman life, it is impossible to study the classical world without encountering myths in some form or other. In this module you’ll study a rich and fascinating range of art, literature, and material objects, looking not just at individual mythical figures and stories but also broader uses of myth in Classical Athens, Augustan Rome, and beyond. As well as extending your knowledge of Greek and Roman myth, you'll be able to develop as an independent learner and hone your skills of communicating with both academic and non-specialist audiences.

What you will study

In this module you’ll develop an understanding of the key features of Greek and Roman myth by exploring art, literature and objects that take Greek and Roman myth as their subject matter. You’ll do this in three stages: first by studying different versions of specific myths in the ancient world and beyond, then by looking more broadly at the uses of myth in classical Athens and Augustan Rome, and finally by undertaking your own project on a figure from Greek and Roman myth.  As you study, you’ll explore versions of myths in a wide range of media, including poetry, drama, prose, painted pottery, paintings and sculpture and be introduced to key academic debates connected with the myths and themes that you’ll study.

Introduction
You’ll begin by thinking about what is meant by ‘myth’ and the functions it performs. By studying different versions of the myth of Andromeda and Perseus, you’ll learn about some of the ways in which myths change, depending on how, when, and by whom they are told.

Block 1: The Myth of Medea
The character of Medea is intriguing and multi-faceted: she was of divine descent, a princess, a sorceress, a priestess, a wronged woman and a child-slayer. You’ll explore how Medea was characterised and represented in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, tracing the myth from its earliest appearance in literary and visual sources in Archaic Greece, through Greek and Roman antiquity and beyond.

Block 2: Myth in Classical Athens: Identity, Ideology and Experience
You'll explore how mythological stories were used in one time and place, namely Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, focusing on two main strands: how the Athenians used myth to express ideas about their society and the world around them, and how they experienced myth in their day-to-day lives.  Your studies in this block take in public art and architecture, oratory, history, tragedy and religious beliefs and practices.

Block 3: Myth in Rome and Beyond: Ovid’s "Metamorphoses"
The focus will be on Augustan Rome, exploring the significance and ideological functions of myth in Roman culture, and Ovid’s epic poem, the Metamorphoses. As well as considering its relationship to the cultural context in which it was written, you’ll also explore post-classical and modern receptions of the Metamorphoses in media ranging from poetry to painting to film, considering how Ovid’s myths link to themes with particular currency in the 21st century.

Block 4: Researching and Communicating Greek and Roman Myth
You'll design your own project on Greek and Roman myth, with the option of either writing an extended essay or, alternatively, curating a ‘one-room exhibition’ (using bespoke software specifically designed for this module). You’re guided through the various stages of planning this end-of-module project, such as identifying a topic, locating sources and scholarship, and communicating your findings effectively. You’ll initially work on a detailed plan, which you’ll then develop into your completed project in the final weeks of the module.

You will learn

By studying this module you will:

  • gain an in-depth knowledge of a range of myths, and learn how these functioned in a range of historical, social and cultural contexts
  • communicate information, arguments and ideas accurately and effectively, taking account of your audience
  • become familiar with a range of scholarship and make informed contributions to debates relating to Greek and Roman myth
  • develop as an independent learner with ideas and strategies for exploring, analysing and learning about a given subject area
  • gain experience of planning, researching and writing an extended piece of independent work in the form of an end-of-module project.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study 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. 

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

Preparatory work

No preparatory work is required for this module.  However, if you would like to do some pre-module reading in preparation, you may enjoy the following:

A350 Set Texts
  • Euripides, Medea (transl. J. Harrison, Cambridge Translations from Greek Drama, Cambridge University Press)
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses (transl. D. Raeburn, Penguin Classics). Please note that only selected episodes of this poem are studied in this module. 
Introductory books on Greek and Roman myth
  • Helen Morales, Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)
  • Robert A. Segal, Myth: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)

What's included

Module books and access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials, include both print and electronic versions of the books
  • bespoke audio and video content designed to support your study of the module
  • online activities
  • module guide and assessment guide
  • online tutorial access.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (10.15 or higher).

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Euripides: Harrison, J. (ed) Medea Cambridge University Press £9.95 - ISBN 9780521644792
  • March, J. Dictionary of Classical Mythology (2014 edition) Oxbow Books £29.95 - ISBN 9781782976356
  • Ovid: Feeney, D. (Intro) & Raeburn, D. (trans.) Metamorphoses Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140447897
  • Sophocles: Taplin, O. (ed) Oedipus the King and Other Tragedies Oxford World's Classics £8.99 - ISBN 9780192806857

Note: We are aware of the availability issues around print copies of Dictionary of Classical Mythology (ISBN 9781782976356) and apologise for the inconvenience. Whilst we work to rectify this, please note that a Kindle version of the title is available through Amazon, and the eBook is freely available through the Open University Library here: https://search-credoreference-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/content/title/oxbocm?tab=contents

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:
  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.
Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

Assessment

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

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A350 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Greek and Roman myth: stories and histories starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2022. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2033.

Course work includes:

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