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Myth in the Greek and Roman worlds

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What is myth? This 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. As well as studying myth in antiquity, you will also explore the reception of mythical ideas and images in later European culture. The module's digital resources include interactive visual explorations of key ancient and modern sites, monuments and artefacts, together with audio interviews with experts tracing the influence of myth on, for example, drama, science and medicine.

What you will study

The module consists of an introduction and four main blocks.

The main emphasis of the first two blocks is on obtaining knowledge of a specific range of myths, mythical characters and their function. Also on a 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're 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. This leads to you writing a project-type essay at the end of the module.

The module content is 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.

Block 1: The myth of Hippolytus and Phaedra
In this block you'll 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.

Block 2: Myth in Rome: power, life and afterlife
In this block you'll 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.

Block 3: Ovid and the reception of myth 
In this block you'll 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.

Block 4: Myth and reason
In this block you'll examine the relations and tensions between ‘mythical’ and ‘rational’ thought in Greek culture. Starting with origins, how the world began, you'll progress to consider emerging rational and scientific modes of thought. This is principally with the Presocratic philosophers and in Hippocratic medicine of the sixth to fourth centuries BCE. You'll conclude this block by considering how human life ends, with myths of the afterlife in mystery religion and Plato's philosophies. 

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.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU 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 Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), or The arts past and present (AA100) (now discontinued) 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.

What's included

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

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • online activities
  • module materials that include electronic versions of the books
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorial access.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Ovid: Feeney, D. (Intro) & Raeburn, D. (trans.) Metamorphoses Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780140447897
  • Morford, M.P.O. & Lenardon, R.J. Classical Mythology (International 10th edn) Oxford University Press £39.99 - ISBN 9780199997398
  • 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

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll 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 also aim to provide online tutorials and recordings of these will typically be made available.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A330 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

Myth in the Greek and Roman worlds starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2021 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement Classical studies module is planned for October 2022. 

Course work includes:

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

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