CSTS 209: Classical Mythology

Course Description

A myth is a story that time has proven inexhaustible: a story that can be told and retold again and again, given new form and meaning, subverted, reclaimed, reinvented, somehow only growing more powerful, more meaningful with each telling.

In this course, we’ll explore the inexhaustible stories of the ancient Greeks: the myths that were told and retold throughout the historical period of their culture, and that have continued to find new expressions down to the present day. We’ll begin by exploring the ways the ancient Greeks themselves told their myths repeatedly in new and striking ways, then read retellings of those same myths in contemporary fiction. Along the way, we’ll look at plays, poetry, novels, graphic novels, video games, music, visual art, and any other place we can find Greek myths popping up; and you’ll find yourself challenged to tell these stories once again, for and about yourself.


Prof. Farmer

Hi! I’m Prof. Matt Farmer (he/him/his pronouns), and I’ll be your instructor this semester. I prefer to be called “Prof. Farmer” or “Dr. Farmer”. You can read all about my research and teaching here, if you’re curious. If you ever have any questions about this course or just want to chat and get to know each other better, you can email me by clicking here, or you can click here to schedule an appointment with me.

Plan for the Semester

Our work together this semester will be organized into four units, each centered around a particular myth.

In Unit One (The Whitening Thief), we’ll read the first book of the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a modern retelling of Greek myths. We’ll use the novel to explore the relevance of Greek myths to our own lives and their continued power, with a particular focus on the ways myths can be used both to reinforce and to subvert dominant structures of power (in this case, with a particular focus on discourses of white supremacy).

In Unit Two (The Women of Troy), we’ll use the myth of the Trojan War to explore the ways every telling of a mythological story is always already a re-telling: there are no fundamental, true, canonical myths, only specific tellings of a story that changes every time we tell it. We’ll read bits of Homer’s Iliad, the oldest version of the story of Troy, and then a tragedy by the Athenian poet Euripides about the effect of the war on Troy’s population of women: we’ll see that already in the world of the ancient Greeks, a myth could be told in ways that invite subversive, feminist, or other powerful new interpretations.

In Unit Three (The Name for What I Was Did Not Exist) we’ll read the entirety of the other oldest surviving Greek epic, Homer’s Odyssey. We’ll read the new translation by Penn professor Emily Wilson, the first complete translation into English of the Odyssey by a woman, both because it is my favorite translation, and because it invites us to think about translation as an act of interpretation. We’ll pair this text with Madeline Miller’s Circe, a novel expanding on the life of one of the Odyssey’s more memorable female characters.

In Unit Four (The Dragon Chariot) we’ll shift our focus to another Greek witch, Circe’s sister Medea. We’ll read Euripides’ tragedy Medea, which by now we’ll have learned to recognize as both the oldest and most canonical version of Medea’s story, and yet already in its original context a subversive retelling of the tale. We’ll think about the relevance of this story to our modern lives by exploring the work of The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women/HIV Circle.

For the full details of our schedule this semester, click here.

Course Families

Early on in the semester, you’ll be assigned to one of five Families of students in the course. You’ll have a chance to give your Family a mythological name, and make a plan for how you’ll work to support each other throughout the semester.

The Family you belong to sets the due dates for your major assignments this semester. Each Family has a unique set of deadlines for when to submit their work, which you should take careful note of at the start of the term; everyone in the class will be offered the same range of assignments, but your Family membership determines when your work is due.

When you submit work, you’ll upload it to a Google Drive folder shared by all of your Family members. You’ll have access to the work all your Family members have done, and you’ll be asked to give feedback on the work produced by two other members of your Family.

Some days in class your Family will operate as a group: I’ll ask you to sit together and collaborate in activities, games, and discussions. Beyond these expectations, it’s up to you how your Family will operate, but I would encourage you to look to the other students in your Family for friendship and support throughout the semester, and to offer support in turn if you notice Family members struggling.

Reading and Books

Most days of this semester, you will need to complete a set of assigned readings to prepare for class. Reading is the central work you’ll be doing this semester: expect it to take the bulk of the time you allocate to this class, and plan accordingly. Every time you take a contribution survey, you’ll be asked if you did the reading: if you’re skipping readings, reading summaries you find online, or otherwise not keeping up with this work, you should not be earning contribution points for doing the reading. If you’re struggling to keep up with the reading in this course, I strongly encourage you to talk with me about strategies for approaching the work, or to take advantage of the many campus resources noted on the How to Get Help page.

Here are the books you’ll need to obtain copies of yourself:

  • Rick Riordan. The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1. Disney-Hyperion. ISBN: 1368051472.
  • Emily Wilson (Translator). Homer: The Odyssey. Norton. ISBN: 0393356256.
  • Madeline Miller. Circe. Back Bay Books. ISBN: 0316556327.

These books are all available in the college bookstore. If you’d prefer to buy them from a local bookstore, I recommend Main Point Books in Wayne. If you’d like to order them online, I encourage you to use; it’s just as easy as major online retailers, but works in collaboration with – and shares profits with – local bookstores.

All of these books are also on reserve in Lutnick Library. You’ll need to bring a copy to class on days when reading is assigned, though, so I strongly recommend finding a way to obtain your own copy. If you have concerns about affording textbooks for this (or any other course), I have some suggestions for you over on my How to Get Help page.

All other assigned readings will be available as scans through the course website; you can find the repository of them here.

Assignments and Grading

Specifications Grading

This course utilizes specifications grading. This means that there are a variety of assignments available for you to do throughout the semester, and it’s up to you to decide what grade you want to earn and to do the requisite number of assignments for that grade. Individual assignments will not receive a score or grade: if you fulfill the instructions and the high standard we will set together for our work, you will receive credit. If you make a genuine effort that falls short of those standards, you’ll be invited to revise your work for credit.

The goal of this method is to increase transparency around grading and to provide students more agency in determining how they’d like to participate in the course; it can be a little complicated, however, so if this is the first specifications course you’ve taken, make sure you understand how the system works early in the semester. In the first weeks of the term, you’ll be asked to complete a plan for the course that will help us both have a clear sense of your intentions and expectations for the semester.


Your final grade this semester will be based on the following:

  • Course ContributionThroughout the semester, you’ll be expected to contribute to the course by attending class, doing the reading, participating in class activities and conversations, asking questions, and otherwise engaging with our communal work. Every two weeks, you’ll submit an online form to assign yourself a contribution score based on these activities. If you attended each day of class and did all the readings, you’ll earn 2 points for those 2 weeks; if not, you’ll have options in the survey for signaling other kinds of contributions made instead.
  • Online ForumEach week of class, this website will host conversations related to that week’s course material. To receive credit for participating in a given week, you’ll need to post at least one comment to the week’s forum by midnight on Wednesday.
  • Reflection ProjectsYou will invited to complete up to two small reflection projects this semester in which you’ll expand on what you’ve learned in class.
    • These projects will typically take the form of either a short research paper, or a small creative project accompanied by a reflection.
    • You’ll share these projects with other students in the class, and be invited to act on their feedback in making revisions.
    • To receive credit, you’ll need to complete the assignment itself, and provide feedback on two other students’ work.
  • StorytellingEach student in the class will select a Greek myth and relate it to the class in five minutes or less, accompanied by a single image. You’ll sign up for a day to present early in the semester. These presentations should be fun, informal, and above all, short.
  • Final PortfolioDuring the finals period, you’ll look back over your work this semester, and compose a short essay drawing together themes and questions from throughout the course and evaluating your own work.

Final Grades

Your final grade in the course will be based on how many and what kinds of assignments you completed. These represent minimum benchmarks; to earn the indicated grade, you need to complete the required number of each type of assignment.

Final Grade:
Online Forum
Reflection Projects + Feedback0/20/21/21/22/22/2
Revised Project0/20/20/21/21/22/2
Final Portfolio001111


The grading system outlined above is designed to give you some flexibility to make your own choices during the semester. For example, even if you are aiming for a 4.0, you could miss one week of the online forum. If you are starting to feel concerned that you are not on track to earn the grade you would like in the course, please share those concerns with us as early as possible. The grading scheme of this course is designed to give you different options, but we might need to tailor that to fit the circumstances each of us face this semester, and that’s alright.

There are two key aspects of this course flexibility that we want to draw your attention to. The first is self-assessed contribution. I won’t be tracking your attendance or participation in class; instead, every two weeks you’ll submit a contribution self-assessment, where you’ll consider whether you were able to do things like attend class regularly, do the reading, and participate in class activities. If you’re unable to contribute in the expected ways, I’ll invite you in your self-assessment to be creative in suggesting other ways you found to contribute, such as meeting with me, studying with other students outside of class, or otherwise finding ways to contribute.

The second is the opportunity to resubmit. When you submit work in this class, if you have made a good faith effort to follow the instructions but have not achieved the high standard we’ll set for each other, you’ll be offered the opportunity to correct your work and submit it again for credit. I’ll be very specific about what these corrections will entail. Unless otherwise specified, corrections are always due one week after the original assignment. Note that this is distinct from the assignment to revise a response project, which is its own assignment.

Important Statements and Policies


I am committed to partnering with you on your academic and intellectual journey.  I also recognize that your ability to thrive academically can be impacted by your personal well-being and that stressors may impact you over the course of the semester.  If the stressors are academic, I welcome the opportunity to discuss and address those stressors with you in order to find solutions together.  If you are experiencing challenges or questions related to emotional health, finances, physical health, relationships, learning strategies or differences, or other potential stressors, I hope you will consider reaching out to the many resources available on campus. These resources include CAPS (free and unlimited counseling is available), the Office of Academic Resources, Health Services, Professional Health Advocate, Religious and Spiritual Life, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the GRASE Center, and the Dean’s Office.  Additional information can be found at

Additionally, Haverford College is committed to creating a learning environment that meets the needs of its diverse student body and providing equal access to students with a disability. If you have (or think you have) a learning difference or disability – including mental health, medical, or physical impairment – please contact the Office of Access and Disability Services (ADS) at The Director will confidentially discuss the process to establish reasonable accommodations.  It is never too late to request accommodations – our bodies and circumstances are continuously changing. 

Students who have already been approved to receive academic accommodations and want to use their accommodations in this course should share their accommodation letter and make arrangements to meet with me as soon as possible to discuss how their accommodations will be implemented in this course. Please note that accommodations are not retroactive and require advance notice in order to successfully implement.

If, at any point in the semester, a disability or personal circumstances affect your learning in this course, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I want to be sure you are aware of the full range of resources and options available to you.

It is a state law in Pennsylvania that individuals must be given advance notice that they may be recorded. Therefore, any student who has a disability-related need to audio record this class must first be approved for this accommodation from the Director of Access and Disability Services and then must speak to me. Other class members need to be aware that this class may be recorded.

Academic Integrity

In a community that thrives on relationships between students and faculty that are based on trust and respect, it is crucial that students understand a professor’s expectations and what it means to do academic work with integrity. Plagiarism and cheating, even if unintentional, undermine the values of the Honor Code and the ability of all students to benefit from the academic freedom and relationships of trust the Code facilitates. Plagiarism is using someone else’s work or ideas and presenting them as your own without attribution. Plagiarism can also occur in more subtle forms, such as inadequate paraphrasing, failure to cite another person’s idea even if not directly quoted, failure to attribute the synthesis of various sources in a review article to that author, or accidental incorporation of another’s words into your own paper as a result of careless note-taking. Cheating is another form of academic dishonesty, and it includes not only copying, but also inappropriate collaboration, exceeding the time allowed, and discussion of the form, content, or degree of difficulty of an exam. Please be conscientious about your work, and check with me if anything is unclear.