Classical MythologyPosted: June 21, 2016
Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
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Perhaps being back in Southern California has enhanced my longing for my Pitzer College days as a classics major. In any case, this is the second course in a row that I have listened to about the ancient Mediterranean world. Right before this I listened to a course on the Etruscans.
Classical Mythology was a subject I studied a lot in college, both in my Classical Mythology class as well as other classes. I read both Ovid and Vergil in the original Latin. Certainly much of the material here was familiar, but I was reminded of things I have forgotten and got some new perspectives as well.
Professor Vandiver describes how many stories in Greek mythology suggest that it is unfortunate that a man needs a woman to produce a son. She says that is reflective of the perception of men in classical Athenian society. While my studies taught me that men in that society preferred each other’s company to that of women, it was never taken to the extreme that women were an unfortunate necessity. In fact, my gay friends did push that perspective when they learned I was a classics major, and it seems that their view was more accurate than I believed at the time. I knew women were marginalized in classical Athens, but Vandiver emphasizes this much more than my professors in Claremont ever did. But then they were all men, and Vandiver takes a distinctly feminist perspective. And of course when I was in college in the early 1970’s it was just the beginning of the modern feminist movement.
In the final lecture Vandiver describes science fiction as our own mythology. She says the difference is that science fiction looks to the future while Greek and Roman mythology looks to the past. Aside from that, however, she sees many striking similarities.
Vandiver is a great lecturer, and these sessions are engaging. I also watched her course on Hesiod on DVD, which I very much enjoyed. This course works very well on audio. If this is a subject that is of interest to you, I recommend it the next time it comes around on sale.