Published: May 4 2007 on Helium
Many of us harbour a secret fascination for classic mythology. Is it because we love magical worlds? Perhaps, in particular, the fact some myths have travelled through time may be the fascination. Perhaps, by exploring my experience with a group of high school students, the key may be found.
Imagine a high school class of boys, of mixed ability and aged about 14.
Imagine they have selected an elective called "Myths and Legends", by choice and not compulsion. There are enough students to fill in class.
I have almost completed teaching a semester of classic mythology to just such a class.
And they are still fascinated, still asking questions, still offering a surprising depth of relevant knowledge and still working steadily on research topics. To flatter my ego further, they are never late to this class.
To begin, I will mention some of the favoured topics.
1. They LOVE the gods classic Greek or Roman or Egyptian. They are willing to explore Scandinavian and Pacific island gods, but the names tend to be a hurdle.
2. They LOVE the heroes especially Hercules.
3. They LOVE the monsters especially dragons.
4. They LOVE the adventures of Odysseus and love the weird and wonderful characters met along the way.
5. They LOVE debating the mystery of Atlantis.
6. They LOVE comparing classic creation myths.
In this age of X-box gods', sporting heroes and all manner of internet adventures, it seems society is not offering "something" to the next generation. There seems to be some "missing link" that Classic Mythology fulfils.
At first, the answer may simply be "fantasy". For teenagers, there is little room to roam free in some fantasy world, except if the world be a Harry Potter one. Yet, after several lessons on Atlantis, I felt the answer was a little more complex. The boys seemed to enjoy a sense of "border-line" reality; a melting pot of fantasy and reality. In fact, this is not just the world of mythology, but rather the world of legend, where there COULD be some base of fact or possibility or oblique reference to reality.
One particular HOT topic was the story of Jason and the Argonauts and the search for the Golden Fleece. The boys enjoyed the story, but the real fascination was the possible answer to the question "What could the "golden fleece" really be?" Was it gold? Was it fields of golden wheat? Was grain in short supply?
It would seem, the realms of classic mythology gave the boys a sense of personal challenge. They could freely, without rules and regulations, explore the fantasy-reality connection. This world is outside the norms of 21st century society and yet, there are "reflections". Zeus was not just a god, but a very human ego tripper. Hercules was not just a hero, but, without a gym work-out, managed to face amazing challenges. "I wish I was like" or "I wish I could" are frequent comments. The boys love it all!
And so, the fascination with classic mythology seems to be the fantasy world that may have been, that could be, that should be? Perhaps the fact it connects with the elusive worlds of ancient history is the attraction. Perhaps, this is the "escape" that fascinates adults too.