This course examines the origins and evolution of religious thought and practice in ancient Rome from its mythic foundation to the triumph of Christianity in late antiquity. Roman myth is examined in detail and situated in its appropriate historical, social, political, and religious contexts. Special attention is paid to the relationship between myth, politics, and religion as well as to the influence of mythic and religious traditions from other Mediterranean cultures on Roman religious thought and practice. This course may be credited towards Religions and Cultures.
1. T.P. Wiseman, The Myths of Rome, Exeter 2004,
2. Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass.
3. Additional Primary source material will be made available on the website
The Course Website
Dr. Mueller’s Home Page: http://faculty.nipissingu.ca/ilsem/imhome/
Check the website regularly for announcements, readings, lecture notes, assignment details and DUE DATES,
Lecture notes (outline and important terms) will be posted for review
Links to related sites for research and interest
Assignment# 1 (Primary Source evaluation)
Due Jan. 31 15%
4 Quizzes (3 will count) 5 points each
Jan 19; Feb 9; Mar 1; Mar 15 15%
Research Essay – part 1: annotated bibliography
due Mar 19
Part 2: Research Essay – due April 5 25%
Final Exam (in exam period) 35%
Participation, attendance, preparedness 10%
How to succeed in this Course
Attend classes regularly
Complete your reading assignments before each class
make notes as you read; ask questions!
Take notes in class and go over them once on the same day and again before the next class
Hand in your assignments promptly on the due dates
Engage with the material
1. What is a Myth?
2. Our Sources for Roman Myth and Religion
3. The Context of Roman Myth: Geography, Time Line
What is a Myth?
mythos (from the Greek) = Word, speech, public speech; narration, news, intelligence; conversation, talk; thought, project, plan; advice, order; report, tale, story; affair, occurrence.” (Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary)
Plato made a distinction between mythos and logos – mythos became associated with traditional (irrational) stories as related by poets – distinct from logosas a rational account
Myth = “Traditional narrative embodying ancient popular belief or idea; fictitious person or thing; widely held but false idea.” (OED)
In short – a traditional story that has been handed down (orally) from one generation to another in any given culture
Traditional (from Latin tradere – to hand over)
Types of myths (modern categories)
Divine myths: characters and settings are outside human experience, example: the gods are immortal, Mount Olympos, the Underworld
Legends – characters and settings may be within human experience
characters are heroes or outstanding human beings, events fare back in time but with historical connection to the present time and to historical places
Not important whether true or not
Fairy Tales – characters and settings mixed - monsters, magic, instead of exceptional human beings – the underdog (most unlikely to succeed) i.e. Cinderella
Many myths are a combination of all three
Roman myths are primarily legends
The function of myths
Stories had importance for the community
Aitiological (aetiological) they explain something
examples: story of Trojan hero Aeneas explains the founding of the Roman race (story of Aeneas),
Story of Romulus and Remus: founding of the city of Rome;
Tale of the Rape of the Sabine Women: explains alliance between Sabines and Romans; promotes Roman virtues regarding family and marriage
Explanations of temple building, import/creation of a given cult, rituals, religious practices, cult places, founding of colonies, names, origins of festivals, and much more.
Myth, Religion, and Ritual
Myths are not simply entertaining stories
Myths are integral to religious life in the ancient world
Myths are tied to religious ritual (esp. to sacrifice)
What came first? The Chicken or the egg? Myth or ritual?
Myths explain the foundation of civic identity (i.e. Athena in Athens; Mars in Rome etc.)
Myths integral to a culture’s history and identity
What Can We Learn From Greco-Roman Myth?
the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
How the Greeks and Romans understood the world around them and their place in it.
The moral and social values of Greek and Roman cultures
The influence of Greek and Roman myth and religion on later religious, intellectual and cultural developments.
Aspects of the human psyche and of human social, cultural, and intellectual life in general.
Roman Legends: what Romans considered important about their history, identity, their values and ideals
How Do We Study Roman Myth
By collecting and analyzing all the surviving evidence relating to myth from ancient Greece and Rome
By setting myths in their appropriate historical context (i.e. Myths change over time – see Wiseman)
Setting myths in their proper socio-political contexts (i.e. who benefits)
Setting myth in their cultural milieu – comparative mythology (i.e. analogous myths from other cultures)
Considering the multiple variations of the same myth
Note: How we approach the study of myth depends upon our scholarly intentions and objectives.
Our Evidence Primary and Secondary Sources
Primary Sources = Evidence from the time and place under investigation
Note: Always base your arguments and observations upon PRIMARY SOURCE EVIDENCE – WHY?
Secondary Sources = Scholarly articles and monographs (i.e. books) on a specific topic by authors of later periods, primarily (for our purposes) modern scholars. Secondary Sources represent findings, theories, arguments that are based on the authors’ examination and interpretations of the primary evidence.
For scholarly purposes you MUST ONLY use scholarly articles and books that are peer reviewed.
Note: websites such as Wikipedia do not represent scholarly articles and are NOT ALLOWES to be used for your assignments in this course.