Saturday, 18 May 2013

I Am SURE I Am Missing Something

I know I promised to restrict blogs about my Coursera studies to its own blog, but this is only in reference to one aspect of one course, and I need a more general audience. I need somed feedback here (on the Facebook notice is fine).

I am taking a course called Greek and Roman Mythology. Like most people, I studied it at school, didn't pay much attention, and forgot most of it after that. The only reason, in fact, that I knew anything about it at all was that being of the Pagan persuasion, I've kept up on the deities, even though I'm not keen on them, they have "equivalents" in other traditions.

But all these heroes and their exploits never did much for me. As I've explained elsewhere, the typical derring-do sort of stories bore me silly, especially battles. The very types of tales that are supposed to be "always popular" are the ones I like the least.

So, you may well ask, why I took this course at all.

I am aware of the importance of classical mythology, how can you not be? I know I'm supposed to be familiar with it, I'm supposed to study it, I'm supposed to enjoy it.

I will say there have been snippets of the course so far (3 weeks) that have been interesting and enlightening, but can I say I enjoyed the Odyssey? Nope.

I tried. I read it exactly as instructed, in sections, at the end of the day when I wasn't thinking about other things, that is to say I gave it my full attention. It was a chore.

The professor is good. He's very enthusaiastic, he tries to show themes, he explains it all without dissecting it beyond repair. He sounds like he loves it.

The other students are enthusiastic too.

I've done well on the tests so far. I am a quick learner with a good attention span, so doing tests on material I've just learned is not hard for me.

I have an essay that must be done by tomorrow, and I don't wanna. Here are my choices:

1.     Some scholars have claimed that book 24 is a late addition to the Odyssey by a later editor and was never intended by Homer to be part of the epic. Using only Homer’s poetry as evidence, they wonder how well (or not well) it serves as a conclusion to the story and whether book 23 could serve as a better one. Weigh in yourself on this question. Would the Odyssey make more sense as a story if it ended with book 23? Why or why not? Justify your position using specific evidence from the epic. Analyze the main themes of book 23 and book 24 and evaluate how they relate or do not relate to the main themes of the story as a whole. Then construct a case either that 23 or 24 makes a better conclusion.
2.     Professor Struck has analyzed parts of the Odyssey using the theory of Functionalism. In this theory, a myth serves to legitimize social values and norms (such as the practice of xenia). Choose one episode from the Odyssey that was not given a Functionalist reading in lecture, and analyze this episode through a Functionalist lens. It is up to you to decide how long or short an episode is. What social norm does this episode legitimize? Be sure to spell out your reasoning very carefully. The best answers to this question will move from the evidence to your conclusion with careful attention to detail. Avoid generalities.
3.     Professor Struck has analyzed parts of the Odyssey using the theory of Structuralism. In this theory, a myth reflects the basic binary hardwiring that structures human thought. Choose one episode from the Odyssey that was not given a Structuralist reading in lecture, and analyze this episode through a Structuralist lens. It is up to you to decide how long or short an episode is. Propose an answer to the question of what binary opposition lies underneath this part of the story and provides the best insight into what is really at stake in it. Remember the best candidates for structuralist binaries are anchored to the deepest parts of the “grammar” by which a culture organizes itself. Look for the most rudimentary parts of human experience. Binaries drawn from biological processes are particularly useful – for example, binaries that show the cultural "processing" of things like reproduction, kinship relations, metabolism, adolescence, death, etc. The best answers to this question will move from the evidence to your conclusion with careful attention to detail. Avoid generalities.
4.  The Odyssey begins in the middle of a long chronological arc, and continues to play with ideas of past, present, and future throughout. However, the actual narrative limit of the epic, from the first council of the gods in book 1 through Athena’s intervention to bring an end to the violence and the end of the epic, only takes about 40 days. What does this temporal framework – with a large swath of time compressed into a finite number of days – add to the epic, or take away from it? Analyze the idea of time in the Odyssey and argue for its significance for the making of myth.

None of these enthuse me. Essays are easy to me. Like falling off a log, so why does this look like such a horrible task? I would choose #1 because I had already decided that Book 24 looks out of place, as if someone was padding it out and being paid by the word. But I am so reluctant to do this. I am not enjoying myself and I don't know why.


  1. See I would hate that. I love mythology. If I had to start dissecting and analyzing mythology it would take a joy and turn it into a chore. I think this is why my lifetime studies and career have been science based. Science is fascinating to analyze and dissect. Literature and art and music are for me to enjoy without demands or expectations.

    1. Oh yes. But I'm not even enjoying it as is. I thought that maybe having it enlarged upon, by an expert would help me find something in it. I've found it useful in understanding the ancient Greek culture...that's it.

  2. Meh - girl, if I can write an essay and a term paper on global marketing then you can do this. Just look at it as something that must be done and get it over an intellectual colonoscopy...

    1. I've done it. It's garbage. But I figure if I get 95%+ on the tests, I'll still pass even if my essays are garbage. Not that the objective really is passing - the objective is learning. I don't feel I learned anything from this essay. I'm still hopeful I'll benefit from the rest of the course. Can but try.

  3. I hated the Iliad, enjoyed the Odyssee, and to my distress have not only completely lost the ability to read it in Greek, but cannot remember what is in book 24. SIGH. Have you read Margaret Atwoods "Penelopiad"?

    1. No, I haven't. I confess I've never read anything by Margaret Atwood, my daughter had to read her at school and found her depressing.

  4. GRRRR. Teaching an author in school is a sure way to turn people off them for life. Try her. She is wickedly funny. Dark, yes, but also funny, and she is awake. I have loved her since the seventies.