Review of Mythology: The Great Myths of Greece and Rome

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Mythology: The Great Myths of Greece and Rome

A feast for the eye and ear, this CD-ROM provides an interesting selection of Greek and Roman myths of gods and heroes, focusing on thirteen major divinities (the "canonical" Twelve, with Dionysus instead of Hestia, and Hades added) and the heroic voyages of Ulysses, Aeneas, Jason, and Heracles. Four paths through the CD are accessible from the main screen: Gods, Myths, Voyages, and Places. In addition, the CD provides a Glossary and a Table of Contents with a Search function to enable the user to access specific information rapidly. Images, music, and animation all accompany the presentation of information, making it particularly accessible to those of the "MTV Generation," although perhaps a bit distracting for others.

Upon choosing the Gods path, one gains access to a menu of the thirteen major divinities and to a genealogical chart based on Hesiod's Theogony. Selecting a particular divinity from the list provides an associated image, a textual description with links to other parts of the CD pertaining to that divinity, and a series of icons for associated myths provided in detail. So, for example, with Zeus appear icons for the Titanomachy, Io, Leda, and Prometheus. Most of the divinities have two associated myths; five have three or at the most four. So a flavor of the myths associated with a particular divinity may be tasted, but the size of the offering often leaves one hungry for more. Links from the text to the Glossary provide additional myths, although these are briefly summarized and not illustrated. For each divinity, a list is provided of his/her appearances in art and literature, but no actual texts or images from ancient sources are linked, again leaving the user rather unsatisfied. The Hesiodic genealogical chart has active links for many of the names that lead to the Glossary or to a God or Myth screen. An "In-Depth" link leads to a summary of the Theogony, although not enough to support the publisher's claim that the CD comes "complete with the Theogony of Hesiod."

On the Myths path, one again chooses from a list of the thirteen major divinities and then selects an individual myth from the icons available. An audio telling of the myth is accompanied by the highlighting of a series of images from a montage appearing on screen. Although quite striking, the images are sometimes difficult to discern because of overlapping, and their connection to the part of the myth being narrated is not always clear. Also, the lack of written text to accompany the audio may prove frustrating to some users. When the audio portion ends (or when the user clicks the screen, interrupting the audio), a list of terms related to the myth is provided, with links to the Glossary. A link is also provided for each myth to the description of the associated divinity in the Gods path.

The Voyages path allows the user to select among Ulysses, Aeneas, Jason, and Heracles. The first screen for each voyage provides an animated tragic actor who gives a verbal introduction to the myth cycle, while in the background the path of the voyage is traced on a map. The profusion of dots and highlighted points may prove confusing by the end of the sequence, especially for voyages that double back, a problem that might have been solved by numbering the highlighted points. Once the user selects one of the highlighted points, the episode related to that location is told in both written text and audio and symbolized by an accompanying image. So, for example, by selecting the point at the Straits of Messina, one reaches the tale of Scylla and Charybdis, told textually and verbally, and illustrated by an animated drawing of the monster Scylla. The Voyages path is the most effective of all those available on the CD, both in its presentation and its content.

The final path, Places, provides a map of the Mediterranean, either topographical or political with modern national boundaries, with highlighted active points for links to the Gods, Myths, Voyages, or Glossary sections. So, for example, one may select Paphos, Cyprus, and see icons indicating links to Aphrodite, the myths of Ares/Aphrodite and Pygmalion, and the Glossary. The Places map would be far more useful if one could link to it from other parts of the CD; e.g., from the Glossary entry for Athens to the location of Athens on the Places map, or from the mention of Lemnos in the Gods entry for Hephaestus to its location on that map. Only the Voyages path is linked to the Places map, through an icon within each voyage episode linking to the map as a whole, but no highlighting of the episode's location is provided to point the user to the right place within the map.

Overall, this CD is relatively well conceived and well executed for its audience. As I have mentioned earlier, its digital images, animation, and audio are quite impressive. Navigation is relatively straightforward through the consistent use of menus and icons and an easily accessible Help function, and links are plentiful from one part of the CD to another. A few general issues still need to be addressed. First, the Search function is limited in its utility, since it does not include all orthographic possibilities for Greek and Latin names; e.g., Heracles and Hercules are available, but Herakles is not. Cross-references within the Glossary to standard Greek transliterations would have solved this problem. The mixture of Greek and Latin names throughout the text may prove confusing to some users, e.g., Ulysses rather than Odysseus, but Heracles rather than Hercules. There is also no attempt to explain differences between the Greek and Roman gods; so, for example, Demeter is said to be "known to the Romans as Ceres," but no indication is given of the differences in myth and cult of the Roman deity. Indeed, cult is generally not a focus of the CD, although some mentions are provided under each divinity in the Gods path. The lack of primary source material or references for the myths provided on the CD will prove frustrating to those who wish to track down alternate versions. Secondary sources are also missing for the rather limited interpretations provided of the myths and divinities. The images, which are drawn from a variety of sources from classical sculpture to Renaissance painting, also are not documented. A final minor problem: the CD does not provide a utility for turning off the constant background music of the program, which I found very annoying; however, I was able to use the volume control of the computer to mute the sound. Although these problems make the CD of limited utility in teaching mythology at the undergraduate level, I think that it would be effective as an additional source for lower-level courses in classical civilization, for students at the secondary school level, and for the general public, particularly those with a visual or auditory learning style.

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