At the beginning of each semester I stress about so many things. Did I arrange my seating charts the right way? Do I have all of my supplies? Have I sent out my welcome email to parents? Did I remember to throw away that apple core I left on my desk in May? My biggest stressor, out of everything, is content. I’m always scared that I’m going to completely forget the content that I teach. Especially when it comes to mythology.
Little known fact: before I started teaching mythology for ⅓ of every week, the only exposure I had to the topic was freshman year english. Freshman year of high school. 14 year old Paul did really bad on his gods and goddesses quiz, if I remember right. Sure, I knew who Zeus was, I’d heard of the golden fleece, and I could tell you that pomegranates represented Hades in some way (that was one of the questions I missed on my English 9 quiz and for some reason it’s the one answer I now remember).
I’ve learned so many things since then, though. I learned that Hercules was bisexual. I learned that Medusa wasn’t always a monster, but was cursed to be one after the gods *literally* screwed her over. I’ve learned that the Greeks really had it out for women, and even their female heroes didn’t match up to their male counterparts. There’s also so much I still don’t know, because hi I teach three other classes and mythology is not my life.
My favorite part about teaching mythology, even though there’s still so much on the subject that I don’t know, is the insight it gives me and my students into this ancient culture. Once I overcame my fear of not knowing everything there is to know, I realized that that’s how Greek mythology is meant to be experienced: with as much personal influence as possible. Because ultimately, the Greeks weren’t concerned with historical accuracy as much as telling a story to fit their personal needs. Stories of chastity and purity were told by fathers to their wild children; stories of monsters and evil were told to warn misbehaved kids out of their disobedience. Greek mythology, when it needed to, could function in a similar fashion as the Santa Clause story for modern Americans. “If you do something bad,” Greek parents would say to their children, “Zeus will turn into golden coins, rain on you, and impregnate you!” (this really happened and YES it’s one of my favorite myths). These stories weren’t as much about glorifying the gods as they were about glorifying themselves.
Mythology is fun to teach because I don’t have all the answers. When you know the answers, you only ask the questions so that students can fill in the blanks. That’s good for them, but most of the time they know you know the answers, and it makes the conversation stale. When you ask an open question with no concrete answer, it scares them, but a brave student (or two, or three, or four) will put herself out there. The discussion is productive because students know they are bringing something original to it, instead of playing a guessing game where they cross their fingers that their answer is right.
When I get to talk about the glass ceiling of 4000 years ago and compare it to the glass ceiling today, I get to stretch the minds that sit before me and challenge them to think: what did the Greeks think about this? When I discuss the promiscuous acts of Zeus followed by the jealous actions of Hera, my students begin to see these ancient relationships as they relate to modern romance, and we see the humans reflected in the gods.
Even though the Greeks did believe in the gods and goddesses (though the passion behind their faith is questionable), the Greek system of faith was simply an explanation for the outrageous,complicated, and sometimes heinous activity of the human spirit.
That’s why mythology is fun to teach: because there is so much room to learn.