Among the many Teaching Company sets in my collection, there are a few that I can hear time after time with increasing enjoyment. And among those are four of the sets featuring the Classical scholar Elizabeth Vandiver. The one I chose to introduce to my readers is the DVD set 243, “Classical Mythology.”
Vandiver spends the first of 24 lectures with a general introduction to the subject and the next two defining “myth” and exploring the use of myths in different cultures. Her most telling point is that the “truth” of a belief is simply a myth to an outsider and a fact to the insider. (She uses the Eucharist as a familiar example.)
Talks 4-11 concentrate on specific myths (as we might as well call them) about Creation, the Olympians, various immortals and mortals, Demeter, Persephone, views of Death, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Dionysos, and Aphrodite. Talk 12 is about the much-debated “Great Goddess.”
The 12 talks on the second DVD are about several heroes and half-gods, Theseus, myth and history, the Trojan War, the highly dysfunctional House of Atreus, the change of vengeance to justice, the Furies, Oedipus, and various monsters. The last three talks consider the Roman version of some Greek tales, especially those of Ovid, and a general conclusion.
Now this could be heavy stuff, but Vandiver pulls it off nicely with a good sense of humor that she does not overdo and clear explanations. My only complaint is a lack of visuals, which would have been so helpful to the viewer if included.
The most valuable aspect of this set, other than knowing and understanding the tales that form the basis of so much of our literature, is that it leads to better understanding of where our own beliefs have originated. Such enlightenment just might create a respect for beliefs other than our own.