Northern Illinois University
Classical Mythology: Honors FLCL 271H, 3 semester hours
The honors component of Classical Mythology is intended to give students a deeper
understanding of the subject and its relationship to other academic areas such as art, music,
and psychology. Each student must complete a project that involves reading one or more pieces
of Ancient Greek and/or Roman literature in translation.
This module teaches students to use basic computer searching strategies to select the translation
of a literary work that is the best suited for a particular purpose (e.g., studying the primary
source of a myth). Depending on a student's technological capabilities, this module either teaches
or strengthens the student's ability to access World Wide Website, to successfully search library
catalogues (employing the principles of Boolean logic), and to make a print copy of material found
on the Web. This module also encourages the use of full-text websites.
Most classical mythology research projects involve reading at least one ancient literary work
in translation. It is, therefore, imperative that the student be able to find a translation that is
suited to his or her purpose. Since most libraries, both academic and public, have online catalogues,
searching for a translation of a literary work involves computer skills. In addition, many translations
of ancient literary works may be found at full-text websites.
To familiarize the students with some of the challenges involved in a search for a translation
that fulfills the requirements of a particular project, each student is assigned (1) to find at least
ten translations of a work of literature that is the source of a myth merely summarized or mentioned
in the mythology textbook, and (2) to choose a translation to read.
In order to search for a translation, the student must know how to use the library's software.
If the students need assistance, either a librarian or the teacher provides instruction, using a
computer with access to the school's library and a screen. The session should include information about
obtaining books the home library does not own. Students will often be able to access ILLNET or even
OCLC's WorldCat. If printing is allowed, the process should be demonstrated. A written set of
instructions for searching, printing and ordering materials through interlibrary loan is especially
helpful. If the teacher has the requisite skills, the teacher (or a librarian) could develop a Web
The teacher should warn the students of possible challenges in the search for a translation such
as the following:
Students should also be taught how to access and print translations of ancient literary works that
are found on full-text websites, a list of which has been provided by the teacher. Some such
translations, even though done by famous literary figures, may prove difficult for the student to
understand or fail to be accurate translations.
Choosing a Translation
Once a student has located several translations, he or she has to determine which translation best
suits the purpose of the project at hand-in this case, a fairly literal translation of the original
Students need to be advised that, generally, translations published by university presses and
done by professors of Ancient Greek or Latin tend to be close to the original in both sense and tone.
Especially reliable are texts which are components of the Loeb Classical Library Series
published by the Oxford University Press (each book has the Greek or
Latin on one page with the English translation on the opposite page); the Great Books Series, published
by Encyclopedia Britannica; and the Harvard Classics Series, published by Harvard University Press.
During the library training sessions (see above), students should be taught how to access these
collection titles. Free translations, adaptations, and simplified versions (often designed for young
readers) must be avoided when searching for a literal translation. The card catalogue entry sometimes
mentions an adapter or notes a juvenile book.
There are several full-text websites of interest to students of classical studies, the most
important of which is The Perseus Digital Library, Gregory Crane, editor-in-chief, Tufts University,
located at (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/).
Students should be wary of texts and information on websites that
are not maintained by accredited universities or faculty members affiliated with them.
The teacher should mention the following factors to be taken into consideration when choosing a
- Some pieces of literature, especially dramas, are found in books containing collections of
literary pieces. A subject or keyword search-for example, "Greek drama" - will locate titles.
- Sometimes a translation is catalogued under the name of the author of the work and sometimes
under the name of the translator. Try a title or keyword search as well as an author search.
- Sometimes a work is catalogued with its title in the original language and sometimes with its
title in English or another language (e.g., Oedipus Rex [Latin] and
Oedipus the King [English]).
Try an author or keyword search to find more books.
- Spellings of an author's name may vary (e.g., Euripides or Euripedes). Sometimes the
anglicized version of a name is employed (e.g., Ovid rather than Ovidius).
- A subject or keyword search, such as Ovid, may result in hundreds of entries and will need
to be limited by adding additional keywords. (At this point in the session, a discussion of and
a handout on the basic principles of Boolean logic as well as a demonstration of its application
to searching would prove enlightening. Instruction in Boolean logic can be found at
Finally, the student should be encouraged to consult with the teacher when in doubt.
Discussion of Search
After the students have done their searches and made their selections, part of a class session
is devoted to a discussion of problems the students encountered in carrying out their respective
searches. Did they encounter any of the expected challenges (see above)? In addition, each student
explains why he or she chose the translation selected.
- Objective of search-(e.g., find as literal a translation as possible or find a translation
suitable for a dramatic reading)
- The option of a prose or poetic translation of a poetic work (a poetic translation is not
- Readability-some students prefer translations using archaic language; others are confused by
Students studying a foreign language can use skills taught by this module to find translations
of literary works in the language that they are studying. Since they know the language, finding
a literal translation will not be a problem for them. Students in other academic areas related
to classics can use the skills developed to find translations of ancient works pertinent to their
area of expertise. For example, in comparing the comments of Freud and Fromm on Oedipus Rex by
Sophocles, psychology students may wish to read a literal translation of the Sophocles' tragedy.