Gods, Heroes and Monsters: Foundations of Greek Mythology (55+)

Charismatic, heroic and all-embracing, the mythology of the ancient Greeks still pervades our lives and is key to understanding much of Western culture. Myth also touched every aspect of ancient life—social, cultural and religious. Where did this influence begin and how do we know about it?

To get a firm understanding of the origins of these rich stories, we’ll explore the creation myths, beginning with Mother Earth. We’ll learn about the births of the major gods and goddesses, such as the omnipotent Zeus and the unwavering Athena, and map out their subsequent lives, filled with very human foibles and flaws. We will also examine some important heroes, monsters and love stories. Our journey will include myths from the Bronze Age through the Archaic period.

Note: Back by popular demand, in a revised version, from summer 2016.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Identify the major gods and goddesses, along with their genealogies
  • Describe the roles of the major gods and goddesses
  • Explain current-day references to Greek mythology
  • Discuss the significance of religion to the ancient Greeks
  • Explore what the concept of hero meant for the ancient Greeks

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: The Ancient Greeks’ creation myth

Beginning with Chaos, we’ll discuss mother Earth and the beginning of life according to the ancient Greeks, the two significant Titans—Prometheus and Epimetheus—who created life, and the psychological impact of Pandora’s box. This will be discussed in the setting of the Bronze period 2000-1200 BCE.

Week 2: The birth of the first Olympians

What did the ancient Greeks understand about the world’s limitations? What did they believe happened in the afterlife? After the eruptions of the Titans, the Olympians came to power. We’ll discuss birth, symbols and some stories about the first six Olympians—Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, et al.

Week 3: The remaining six Olympians

Altogether, there were 12 major Olympian gods and goddesses (sometimes 13). We’ll discuss the remaining six, their symbols, attributes and stories, as well as some of the myths that explain natural phenomena such as the seasons, narcissism (so relevant today), echo, thunder and lightning.

Week 4: Heroes and monsters

The Three Fates measured out the thread of life—a rather fatalistic way of viewing our lifespans: even Zeus revered The Fates. Was this significant in the lives of Bellerophon, Oedipus, Achilles and other heroes like Perseus, who slew Medusa, and Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur?

Week 5: The labours of Heracles and some love myths

We will discuss Heracles’ punishment—the successful completion of 12 (increased to 13) labours—along with two of the great love myths: Pygmalion and Galatea, and Orpheus and Eurydice. The role of the Underworld and its various parts will also be discussed.  

Week 6: The Trojan War

What makes a hero? Why did Achilles choose to die a hero? Odysseus visited the Underworld on his return home to Ithaca; what did he find out from Achilles and other dead heroes about life? We’ll discuss some of the main events in the Trojan War.

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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