Review of Classical Mythology: History, Legends & Influences

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Classical Mythology: History, Legends & Influences

This review was not begun with hostile intent. But I had to examine the CD of Classical Mythology on a visiting Toshiba 2180CDT, mine not having a CD-ROM drive, and was only able to spend an hour examining it at the time. When two subsequent attempts to look at the program resulted in crashing the visiting Toshiba twice, I took it to a friend's office where it crashed that machine (species not noted) three times. Thus I cannot say that I have examined the CD with the degree of thoroughness or fairness that would make me comfortable, and because I had expected to be able to provide it more attention, my notes are minimal.

Two points should be made about the program:
  1. No one who teaches mythology is paid enough to afford it.
  2. Anyone who teaches mythology could produce all the content available herein, and without the musical background.

Classical Mythology gives the texts of 30 Greek and Roman myths for 13 deities (the Olympians, minus Hestia, plus Hades and Dionysus), and the stories of 4 voyages (Odysseus, Jason, Herakles, and Aeneas). These are found under the headings: Gods, Myths, Voyages, Places. The narratives are taken from Pseudo-Apollodorus as translated by Sir James Frazer, the Hugh G. Evelyn White translation of the Homeric Hymns, and West's translation of Hesiod. (The publisher apparently claimed earlier that the CD is "complete with the Theogony of Hesiod;" the blurb now refers to "extended extracts"--a nice bit of alliteration.) There is a bonus of 33 chapters from Bulfinch's The Age of Fable.

There are also a Glossary, Table of Contents, genealogical chart derived from Hesiod, search, copy-to-clipboard, and print functions, and an Internet connection. The Glossary briefly mentions various deific appearances in art or literature, but fails to provide actual images. What few statues, pots, and scenes shown are not identified. The "information-packed color map of Greece and Asia Minor" isn't. There is constant background music.

The publishers make a great deal out of the video tutorials and essays by "eminent classicists" who include Hugh Lloyd Jones, Gregory Nagy, and Mary Lefkowitz. The essays, one screen in length, cover: Origin of Myth, Definition of Myth, The Enlightenment, The 19th Century, Myth and Ritual, Psychoanalysis, and Structuralism. None of the essays is signed and no primary or secondary sources are cited. The "video tutorials" are extremely short--45 seconds to 2 minutes--on topics such as The Golden Age of Crete; The Mycenean Age, Classical Athens, with sweeping views of a generic sea with islands. (Again, I am working from minimal notes and these titles may not be precise.) There are several sessions with talking heads, though only Nagy and Lefkowitz are identified. It was nice to see them, apparently in good health, and I hope they were well paid.

A brief annotated bibliography is provided. Two examples: for the Lattimore Iliad and Odyssey - "some readers may find this translation slightly uncongenial and not very realistic;" for the Fitzgerald - "more polished than Lattimore."

The program appears to have been originally written and produced in Italy, with translation and modifications for an American audience. The CD cover says: "This outstanding CD-ROM is the ultimate interactive tool for understanding the origin, cultural contexts, and interpretive theories of Classical Mythology." This is probably not true.

Classical Mythology is said to be aimed at "secondary students, general public, undergraduate students in lower-level classical civilization courses." If so, this will be their last voluntary look at classical mythology. If the students and general public were to spend their $149 on copies of Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns, Homer, Apollodorus, et al., and do so at second-hand bookstores, they would have more material in hand than is on the CD, not have to worry about computer crashes, and still have cash left over for a couple of music CDs. Have I mentioned the background music?

The publishers' homepage is

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