Week 4: Ancient Greece

Please choose carefully! If you can't decide for yourself, let the Fates decide... Then, when you have made your choice, you can start the Week's Assignments.

The Odyssey tells the story of the wandeirngs of the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) on his way home from the Trojan War. The selections for this week are a "story within a story" - shipwrecked on the island of Phaeacia, Odysseus is narrating for the Phaeacians the story of his adventures: how the monstrous Cyclops captured him and held him prisoner and how he finally escaped... how the witch Circe turned his companions into pigs and how he rescued them... and how he summoned up the ghosts of the dead in order to consult with the prophet Teiresias. If you have never read the Odyssey, this is a good way to get started - Odysseus is a great storyteller (although he is very self-important, always "covering himself with glory) - hopefully he will captivate you with his tales just as he captivated his Phaeacian audience.

Here are some quotes:

... with a sudden clutch he gripped up two of my men at once and dashed them down upon the ground as though they had been puppies. Their brains were shed upon the ground, and the earth was wet with their blood. Then he tore them limb from limb and supped upon them. He gobbled them up like a lion in the wilderness, flesh, bones, marrow, and entrails, without leaving anything uneaten.

There were wild mountain wolves and lions prowling all round it- poor bewitched creatures whom she had tamed by her enchantments and drugged into subjection. They did not attack my men, but wagged their great tails, fawned upon them, and rubbed their noses lovingly against them. As hounds crowd round their master when they see him coming from dinner- for they know he will bring them something- even so did these wolves and lions with their great claws fawn upon my men...

When I had prayed sufficiently to the dead, I cut the throats of the two sheep and let the blood run into the trench, whereon the ghosts came trooping up from Erebus- brides, young bachelors, old men worn out with toil, maids who had been crossed in love, and brave men who had been killed in battle, with their armour still smirched with blood; they came from every quarter and flitted round the trench with a strange kind of screaming sound that made me turn pale with fear.

Perhaps you know something about the Fables of Aesop from when you were a child... but you probably don't know the whole story! Aesop's fables were not originally for children at all - and they date back to the very beginnings of Greek culture and in their original form they are often not very appropriate for children at all. Instead of encouraging positive behavior, the fables make fun of foolish behavior. Sometimes this ridicule takes the form of physical punishment, and sometimes the punishment is verbal - but either way, the fools are punished without mercy. Although the fables often have "morals" attached to them, there is nothing nice about the world of Aesop. The basic message is "you idiot! how can anybody be so stupid???". So, if you have to deal with any stupid people in your life, these fables might come in very handy...

Here are some quotes:

A dove who lived in a certain dovecote was boasting about the number of children she had given birth to. The crow heard her and said, 'Stop your bragging! The more children you have, the greater the slavery you bring into the world!'

A man and a lion were arguing about who was best, with each one seeking evidence in support of his claim. They came to a tombstone on which a man was shown in the act of strangling a lion, and the man offered this picture as evidence. The lion then replied, 'It was a man who painted this; if a lion had painted it, you would instead see a lion strangling a man.'

There was a boy tending the sheep who would continually go up to the embankment and shout, 'Help, there's a wolf!' The farmers would all come running only to find out that what the boy said was not true. Then one day there really was a wolf but when the boy shouted, they didn't believe him and no one came to his aid. The whole flock was eaten by the wolf.

When Thales the astronomer was gazing up at the sky, he fell into a pit. A Thracian slave woman, who was both wise and witty, is said to have made fun of him for being eager to know what was happening over his head while failing to notice what was right there at his feet.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM