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 encourages students to listen to recorded music and/or to view videos of musical works
in order to study the influence of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology on music, particularly classical
Ancient Greek and Roman myths have inspired countless musical compositions, ranging from Mozart's
Jupiter Symphony to Elton John's The Muse. Ideally, a piece of music related to the mythological
subject of the day would be playing as the students enter the classroom. Realistically, unless the
teacher has a large collection of music on audiocassettes or on CD discs and unless he or she is able
to get to the classroom before the students, the playing of music in class happens occasionally. The
myth of Orpheus, the subject of famous operas by Monteverdi, Gluck, and Offenbach, has especially strong
ties to music.
As their mythology project, assign the students to give a presentation on a piece of classical music
that was inspired by a mythological subject. To aid the students who have a limited knowledge of music,
hand out a list of appropriate musical compositions.
The student's presentation should include the following:
- A discussion of a myth as the ancient writers tell it
Having consulted a relevant article in a dictionary of mythology, such as Edward Tripp (Ed.),
The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology, or G. M. Howatson (Ed.),
Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, to discover the primary sources of the myth,
the student should consult those sources.
(Module 1 discusses how and where to find primary sources in translation.)
A discussion of the myth as it appears in the musical piece
Students will find that generally the myth has been altered in some way. In his burlesque opera,
Orphee aux Enfers, Offenbach drastically changes both the plot and the tone of the original myth.
Maurice Ravel's ballet, Daphnis et Chloe, the scenery of which was designed by
Marc Chagall, is set in modern times in New York and has almost nothing to do with the ancient
- A thumbnail sketch of the composer and his style of music
- Comments on the musical style of the piece
- A representative selection from the piece
A student who plays a musical instrument should be encouraged to find a piece of music
especially suited to his or her particular instrument. As part of the project, the student could
perform for the class or play a recording of him or herself playing a selection. Students who do
not play instruments or who do not wish to perform could play a selection on cassette or disc.
The audio-video collections of most libraries contain very well-known musical works. Lesser
known works, such as Bacchus et Ariane by Albert Roussel, are sometimes difficult to find.
Performances of them in CD format usually can be purchased (if the student wishes to sustain
the expense) at large music stores such as Tower Records.
Some musical selections may be found on World Wide Web sites; however, special software,
such as Microsoft Media Player or Real Player, is needed to listen to them.
- A handout (prepared using Word or WordPerfect software) that summarizes the information presented
For research on musical subjects, several World Wide Web sites should prove especially helpful to
both student and teacher:
This website has links to pages on the life and works of various composers
(often with a picture of the composer); to reviews, articles, books, and scores; and
to MIDI and sheet music archives.
Coordinated Opera Resource Pages Composers and Their Operas
This website features a list of 133 composers and their operas, a list of 239 operas
by title, and links to other recommended resources.
- Rick Bogart's Opera Glass
This website has links to libretti, source texts, performance history, synopses, and
Bob's Opera World
This website provides plot summaries of 200 operas. A link called Bob's MIDI Music Page
lists all files included on all the pages of the site and links to them. A note advises
visitors that a plug-in is needed to play a file and a sound card is required to hear it.
Music and sound files come in several file types, including au, wav, aif, mp3, mpeg,
and midi. For an example of a MIDI file, go to
and click on "Piano Sonata I."
Information about MIDI software and directions for saving MIDI files may be found at
MIDI Players, MIDI Plugins & Karaoke Players: Freeware for Playing MIDI Files
MIDI files cannot contain voice (singing), so they would not be used for any sung
opera music; however, a student could work with a text version of the opera and a MIDI
version of the music (no words). A free MP3 player is offered through
- Alternative Project
Follow Module 3, but substitute a video of an opera on a mythological subject (e.g., Hector
Berlioz's Les Troyens for a myth-based tragedy).
This module can be used in a music appreciation class; in a Humanities class; and, since many libretti
are in languages other than English, in an upper-level foreign language class. The skills practiced can
be used to enhance personal entertainment.