Mythology Unbound: An Online Textbook for Classical Mythology
Susan O. Shapiro
Copyright Year: 2017
Publisher: Rebus Community
Conditions of Use
This book covers much of the material for a basic Greek mythology course: the Olympian gods, the major Greek heroes, and the most commonly presented Greek epics (Iliad, Odyssey, Argonautica). One notable omission is the full story of Oedipus. It... read more
This book covers much of the material for a basic Greek mythology course: the Olympian gods, the major Greek heroes, and the most commonly presented Greek epics (Iliad, Odyssey, Argonautica). One notable omission is the full story of Oedipus. It mostly omits any reference to distinctively Roman gods, practices, and stories. Its entries do a good job of presenting an easy-to-read overview of a well-known version of each covered topic, with occasional references to alternate versions. There are no citations explaining which version comes from which source, and very few references to any ancient sources. The text includes a map of Greece and Asia Minor (only), and a good selection of illustrations. The text acknowledges that it does not attempt a serious overview of theoretical or scholarly approaches to myth.
I understand the impulse to simplify the historical aspects of ancient religion and culture, but sometimes this book goes too far. For example, the text might leave the reader with the impression that that Dionysus’ worshippers always performed their sacrifices in a unique way, by tearing animals limb from limb. However, most civic worship of Dionysus occurred through the usual practice of animal sacrifice.
The overviews of ancient myth will not date.
The entries are written in clear, simple prose.
The text is consistent, though the useful entry on the story pattern of the Greek hero may be over-influenced by Joseph Campbell. Greek heroes do not always have a heroic journey motivated by a “noble cause” – and the text’s entry on Heracles, the most important Greek hero, is a good example. This could be a good jumping off point for a class discussion.
The text uses an encyclopedia format, organizing its mythical topics into alphabetical order. These topics could be presented in any order the instructor wishes. It isn't a flaw that most of the entries are linked to other entries, as that is the nature of Greek mythology -- the various gods, heroes, and themes discussed in the text are interrelated, making the cross-references necessary. Users will need the entire text to be available to them.
The e-book's organization works very well. The text’s alphabetical organization of topics is easy to follow, and I had no difficulty located subtopics using the online / e-book's search function. However, there is no index. It might be difficult to locate a subtopic (e.g., "Daphne" or "satyr") without the electronic search function. For this reason, I would not recommend using this text in a print version.
The interface for the online / ebook version works well.
The entries are written in clear, grammatical prose.
Greek mythology presents some difficult topics. This text does not omit the rapes of mortals and lesser beings (usually female) by gods (usually male), but it downplays those stories through a lack of detail and separate treatment. Much of the story of Oedipus is omitted, and a search for the word “incest” turned up no results. Although the text does include some instances of the killing of children (Iphigenia, Medea’s children), it omits others (Polyxena, Astyanax, the children of Thyestes).
This text could be a good source of background material for an introductory course in Greek mythology or English literature, with entries giving helpful overviews of complex topics and of narratives like the Iliad and Odyssey. It is not suitable for a primary textbook, given the lack of ancient sources, historical background, and theoretical discussion.
The book was a fairly comprehensive collection of key mythological figures from Greek culture. As a supporting text or dictionary/glossary, this is very useful, with only minor omissions (there were a few figures I would have liked mentioned who... read more
The book was a fairly comprehensive collection of key mythological figures from Greek culture. As a supporting text or dictionary/glossary, this is very useful, with only minor omissions (there were a few figures I would have liked mentioned who were left out, but a 100% inclusive discussion of Greek mythology would be overwhelming, so I understand why some characters did not make it). However, there was no continuity and little discussion of the importance of myths or their link to modern day. One segment, entitled "Why Are There So Many Greek Myths?", began to touch on the ripple impact Greek culture had on other developing societies, but it does not go far enough and it falls at the end of the collection, as does the definition of myth, which would have served as a solid foundation for an introduction, had there been one.
Those characters who were listed were explained accurately and fairly. I did not notice any errors with the characters, beyond some omissions and a lack of multiple discussions (i.e., adding "in some versions of this myth..." so that different perspectives could be shared and understood).
Mythology will always be relevant, so this material will not grow outdated; but the collection does not really address its ongoing relevance, aside from a nod to superheroes at the end. A segment on this thread and continued importance would have added value. Again, the actual material will not become obscure and has durability, so it is useful in that respect.
The material is clearly written and effective in its presentation and organization. It is brief but concise/clear.
It was consistently organized and the language and terms that were used did not deviate and vary greatly. It sounded like one author pulled all of this together and kept a consistent fluidity.
The text is intuitively divisible into smaller reading sections and is set up much like a dictionary. As a dictionary/glossary, it is useful.
The organization of the material in a dictionary-style set-up was intuitive and easy to follow. It did not really make sense to have the definition of mythology at the end rather than the beginning.
I liked the inclusion of links, maps, and outside information and images. I found the interface intuitive and engaging, and as a basic framework for understanding mythology and getting to know characters, this worked well.
The grammar and spelling is accurate. I did not notice typos or formatting mistakes even when looking closely for them. Good use of commas, apostrophes, and semicolons.
The title of the book suggests it will include other cultures aside from Greek. Not only is the material exclusively Greek-based, but there is limited discussion of other versions/iterations or comparable figures in other cultures.
I think this is a tremendously useful guide to characters and should be reframed as such rather than positioned as an Unbound/Online Textbook for Classical Mythology. Renaming it "A Dictionary of Greek Mythological Characters" would be more accurate and reflective of the material's purpose and applications. I could adopt/include this in my online Mythology class as a valuable and vibrant supplement, but this could not replace any of the textbooks I am currently using. It would serve as a supplement.
The text covers a wide array of Greek myth, but I'd like to see more info. on theory and analytic practices within mythology. Maybe useful for a Junior High or High School class but not college. read more
The text covers a wide array of Greek myth, but I'd like to see more info. on theory and analytic practices within mythology. Maybe useful for a Junior High or High School class but not college.
The stories are more or less accurate tellings of the Greek myths, but do little to cover the many variations. And what little theory is discussed isn't up to date.
Really doesn't mention any of the current trends in thought concerning mythology scholarship.
Easy to read.
Not sure consistency is a relevant issue. This is mostly a survey of Greek mythical stories.
Yes, well organized to use, perhaps, as a reader, to supplement another more scholarly text.
Easy to navigate.
Nothing I found distracting.
No errors found.
Doesn't discuss any of the issues surrounding cultural appropriation that are common in mythological studies today.
As mentioned in another comment, this text might be useful as a reader in conjunction with another text more up to date on current theory and scholarship.
This is a very comprehensive listing of the major figures of Greek mythology, complete with references to source texts, summaries of certain key narratives, and parallels to ancient Roman and Near Eastern mythology. Some minor deities were omitted... read more
This is a very comprehensive listing of the major figures of Greek mythology, complete with references to source texts, summaries of certain key narratives, and parallels to ancient Roman and Near Eastern mythology. Some minor deities were omitted - such as Eos, goddess of the dawn - but for the most part, readers will gain a thorough understanding of the contours of Greek mythology. In some ways, though the listing of gods and heroes was already quite extensive, the book would have benefited from more material, such as an introduction tying everything together (which would help out newcomers to the topic). Additionally, more attention to scholarship from related disciplines like folklore studies and religious studies would have provided a more well-rounded approach to myth (e.g., the section on the hero's life journey only references the work of Joseph Campbell, who while popular does not encompass the breadth of scholarship on heroic narratives; see for example the compilation by Alan Dundes, In Quest of the Hero, which brings together classic works by Otto Rank and Lord Raglan on patterns in the lives of famous heroes from folklore and mythology, many of them Greek or Roman).
The book does an excellent job of accurately summarizing and describing major events and figures in Greek mythology.
Since the source texts are so ancient, the book's content is not going to need much updating, unless the authors decide to add some supplementary material as recommended above, both to provide some useful framing for newcomers to the topic and to take into account relevant scholarship from related disciplines.
The book is written in clear, easy-to-understand language, though the style occasionally bounces between formal and informal language. There are a few short segments that seem like they came from the authors' notes when pairing this material with lesson plans, such as asking about the Aegis: "Can you explain what it means and how its current usage is connected to its mythological origin?" This is a bit jarring since it only appears in a few sections.
The book is overall consistent, though some entries are much shorter or longer than others as dictated by how important that figure was in Greek mythology and how many recorded narratives survived about them. The entries for deities are formatted differently from the entries for mortals (or those of half-mortals/half-gods...it gets complicated) in that they also have sections about that deity's symbols, epithets, Roman name(s), functions, and origins. This last part would have benefited from a little clarification, because every deity's origin story in the content of the myth (as in, the story told about that deity's birth, early life, etc.) differs from the textbook's take on their "Origin" (as in, possible historical and/or mythological underpinnings to their story, such as whether they're thought to have assimilated from the Near East into Greece).
On the one hand, this is a perfect example of modularity, as the individual sections can be easily excerpted if an instructor is doing a unit about certain deities or figures from Greek mythology. On the other hand, so many of the entries are cross-referenced with one another that it would make excerpting a little difficult (the instructor might have to replace links to other entries with brief footnotes if they decided to do a print version of the excerpts in a course reader). And this makes sense, because so many of the gods and other figures of Greek mythology are so densely intertwined. This is also a strong argument for assigning the book, whether in whole or in part, through the online portal to the e-book version, so that students can easily click around and follow links to other sections, even if those sections are not being assigned.
The deities and figures are listed alphabetically, which makes about as much sense as any other method of organizing a series of densely interlinked topics. One other way to do it would have been to separate the sections into gods, humans, and monsters, though this would create some problems for the demi-gods and the like, given that Greek mythology is full of hybridity.
Based on the e-book version, the interface is easy to navigate and consistent across all the links.
I did not notice any grammatical errors. However, the book seems to be coauthored and there was at least one "I" sentence.
Writing about Greek mythology necessitates writing about war, violence, rape, infanticide, and other potentially difficult or taboo topics. The authors seemed to handle these topics well for the most part, though sometimes rape was identified as such and sometimes it was called abduction or seduction instead.
To me, this text seems like it would be ideal when paired with other texts, or when framed by the instructor with a good deal of supplementary information and guidance. As a folklorist with knowledge of Greek mythology, I was able to navigate the text pretty easily, plus I learned a few new things, but I could imagine someone with absolutely no knowledge of Greek mythology feeling a bit overwhelmed by the "information dump" aspect to this guide. And it's not the textbook's fault - it is an online textbook for classical mythology after all - but I think this textbook would be the most helpful to students who are already on their way to having some experience with the figures from Greek mythology. For instance, it might make sense to assign this textbook as a companion to reading The Iliad or The Odyssey, or as in a course where there are tons of allusions to classical mythology in the various works being assigned, in order to help students gain a sense of the intertextual links in those allusions.
Table of Contents
- Agamemnon and Iphigenia
- The Argonauts
- Chthonian Deities
- The Delphic Oracle
- Historical Myths
- The Iliad - An Introduction
- The Minotaur
- The Odyssey - An Introduction
- The Oresteia - An Introduction
- Psychological Myths
- Story Pattern of the Greek Hero
- The Three Types of Myth
- The Twelve Labors of Heracles
- What is a myth?
- Why are there so many versions of Greek myths?
About the Book
About the Contributors
Susan O. Shapiro