Mythology Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What role does pride play in Greek mythology?

    Answer: Specific characters illustrate the difference between confidence and egotism. A hero is confident in his strength, but pride goes too far when a human challenges the gods. Pride cometh before a fall.

  2. 2

    How do the myths differentiate between human and divine power?

    Answer: Many of the myths point out these distinctions. The gods intervene when humans need help or when the gods want to accomplish goals on earth, but humans are often unable to solve their own problems and cannot really intervene among the gods; mortals even have limited abilities in the Underworld. When a human asserts divine power, the gods often put the person back in his or her place.

  3. 3

    What do the Greek myths suggest about tragedy?

    Answer: Tragedy serves both as a narrative device and as a reminder of everyday human reality. In tale after tale, tragedy unfolds. Even some stories that begin happily have unexpected, sad endings for their characters. Human failings, prophecies, and unexpected coincidences all can lead to tragedy.

  4. 4

    How is the value of family loyalty portrayed by the myths?

    Answer: Many of the Greek myths center around the importance of family relationships. Although some family members kill one another, the famly members who show loyalty tend to be set up for admiration. Antigone, for instance, challenges the law of Creon in order to bury her brother, facing death rather than be disloyal to her brother. Yet, loyalty is not so uncomplicated; her two brothers had fought on opposite sides in the conflict. Loyalty to one's family is complicated by conflicts even within one's family.

  5. 5

    How does the conflict between free will and the predestination of fate play out in Greek mythology?

    Answer: Free will appears to be circumscribed by fate. Despite our best efforts, fate controls our destiny. On the level of individual decisions, however, humans make their own choices and face the consequences. Human nature is implicated here: it seems that we all are fated to die, yet we have much we may choose to do while we are alive.

  6. 6

    What have the myths to tell us about love?

    Answer: Many different human relationships can be characterized by love: family love, the love of friends, and romantic love all lead people to do things with and for their beloveds that they would not otherwise do--to the point of great feats of skill and strength, on the one hand, or murder on the other hand. The gods sometimes love one another in similar ways. When gods and humans love one another, complications often ensue. When love is one-sided, moreover, other complications ensue. Cupid can make people fall in love, or people can fall instantly in love with one another.

  7. 7

    How do myths account for natural events?

    Answer: To account for something in nature that people do not yet understand, they tell a story about a being whose actions or life has resulted in what can be observed. Sometimes the story seems to have nothing in common with the reality that scientists later construct as explanation, but sometimes elements of the story are good metaphors for details of the natural event.

  8. 8

    What is Greek virtue in the Greek myths?

    Answer: We most often see virtue displayed by the Greek heroes, although we need not see all of their choices and actions as virtuous. Male virtue and female virtue seem to be different, but all virtue seems to have in common something about greatness, whether it is about wisdom, mental cunning, physical strength or speed, loyalty, or love. The characters who are honored by the gods appear to be the ones with virtue or who made virtuous choices, such as those who engaged in hospitality, while those who are punished by the gods appear to have either abused their virtue or contaminated it with pride. But the gods also test those whom they admire for their virtue, or even punish sometimes out of jealousy.

  9. 9

    How do the Greek myths fit together?

    Answer: Sometimes they do, and often they do not. Sometimes a myth picks up where another left off. Sometimes a myth expands upon a neglected but interesting part of another myth. The myths are told and retold with different emphases at different points in history and from the perspectives of different tellers. But they all tell a story of a hierarchy of gods, humans, and nature in which problems arise and choices must be made.

  10. 10

    Why do so many beings transform in the myths?

    Answer: In the myths about nature, we see something human in nature when we imagine that a transformation has taken place, such as when a hyacinth can be traced to Hyacinthus. Indeed, in a world where scientific explanations are difficult, it is not uncommon to imagine that one being simply turns into another. In a world before science and evolution, transformations occur quickly, and the boundaries between stone, plants, animals, people, and gods seem easy to cross with the power of the gods. From a narrative point of view, the plot can move faster if one being simply becomes another being able to accomplish what is needed for the tale. An interesting question to consider in each transformation is how much of the original nature, if any, is preserved after the change.