Mythology: Assignment

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


On the due date noted below, you will be pleased and alleviated to turn in the most significant single piece of work you will have produced for the semester in this class, something that ought to have a respectable afterlife — at least as a potential portfolio paper or project, but possibly as the central production of your own particular expertise in Mythology studies, or the kernel of a larger future masterpiece. Eventually you’re going to die; aim for step one of immortality now. Here are the options.

1) THE SECOND PROJECT: a minimum seven-page manuscript.

If you submitted a completed four-page paper for your first assignment, this more substantial manuscript will fulfill project requirements for the semester. The typical weakness with such papers, besides plagiarism and other inauthentic submissions, is the too general nature in the analyses and the erroneous notion that selection of some vast subject will allow for superficial discussion of two or more works slapped together to fill the required pages of what is, honestly, a relatively short paper. This inevitably leads at least to a vague and diluted discussion of the purported issue, and more often to an insane mess. Such a project, and its resultant grade, will suck.

This time, be conscientious in focusing your topic, the kind of topics we have been generating in class. You are looking for a theme in mythological studies that manifests itself repeatedly in culture, maybe various cultures, through the ages: in literature, films, music, popular culture, advertising, or more (e.g., spiders, apes, particular familial relationships such as father/daughter, deification, dogs, claustrophobia, personification of the earth, cannibalism, the Pygmalion phenomenon, child-murder, bird-omens, etc.). The final title of your project can be anything you want, but, as it develops, think of it as “The Mythology of _____.” Start with Ovid’s Metamorphoses and find at least one story to ground your theme in Greco-Roman mythology. [If you’re onto a topic that doesn’t appear in any way in Ovid, you must check the plan with me far ahead of time.] You’ll be discussing this Ovidian story, plus any number of other examples of the topic showing up in other mythology, literature, films, or other fields. Without letting your paper devolve into a pointless laundry list of examples, discuss as many prominent appearances of your theme as is appropriate. Ask other students, friends, and family to supply you with other examples you may have forgotten or never have thought of on your own. Research like mad. Sometimes, the more encyclopedic the coverage of your theme the better. Don’t omit famous examples that readers will be expecting.

Once you have collected an impressive array of examples of your theme, explore the materials and work on finding a thesis — something insightful to say about the topic: not something idiotic such as “apes are scary” but a real attempt to explain why western culture traditionally treats cannibalism as a taboo, or what the true meaning of symbolic deification is, or why western culture vilifies reptiles.

You are required this time to research and include secondary sources, but original insight and analysis should still dominate the entire discussion. Your final revised essay must be a minimum of seven full, typed, double-spaced pages containing an intriguing (not underlined) title, an original unified thesis, vigorous analytical work, no extra spaces between paragraphs, all in a clean, effective, illuminating, properly documented presentation (correctly punctuated in-text parenthetical citations of author and page, and a correctly formatted MLA-style Works Cited list).

For further instruction regarding documentation, refer to the hand-out given with the previous assignment, or to the web page, or ask me ahead of time. Proofread well so that minor surface matters do not distract readers from your ideas. The grade for any project lacking a Works Cited list or containing a renegade, variant, or asinine documentation system will strike you as intensely disappointing.

2) THE FULFILLMENT OF YOUR PROMISE: a minimum ten-page manuscript, a web site, or a major happening.

If you opted in the first assignment for a work-in-progress, time to ante up, Chuckles. And it had better be impressive. Bet you’re sorry now for lolling about, back in October.

You need to submit the graded earlier text (Project 1) with the final version so I can see all the ignored advice I originally gave you. Chances are I was too polite in my comments on your proposal and you should read between the lines to cultivate an effective dread over how pitiful I really thought the project sounded. Then fix it. Overcompensate too. Realize that a lot of people who went through the agony of cranking out a complete shorter paper last time suspect you’re probably a cheesy slacker. Overcompensate some more.

See immediately above for more paper warnings.


I may welcome other kinds of projects that demonstrate the same objectives that the paper does: ability to carry out sophisticated research, to discover an original purpose and focus, to write with clarity and influence your audience’s perspective. But check with me first: I need to okay such a project. You may find a way to construct a bibliographical, filmic, pedagogical, or popular culture related project appropriate to mythology studies which will inspire enthusiasm and break new ground impressively. You may work on a collaborative endeavor with a colleague. There are many possibilities. Think about it.

4) THE SCHOLARLY FICTION: maybe a psychological pathology.

Here is a semi-creative option. From a relatively obscure myth, invent apsychological pathology. Freud took the Oedipus myth and insisted on its centrality in explaining the development of the psyche. Jung thought that was just one of many archetypal patterns. In recent years we have seen a spate of talk show guests promoting their latest self-help books based on psychological complexes they constructed: the Peter Pan Syndrome, for example. So you come up with one from Greco-Roman mythology (the Erysichthon Complex?). Explain the “disease” to a general audience, invent case studies, suggest how victims of the problem can help themselves overcome it, offer a questionnaire for readers to see if they might have the problem — any or all of these, or other items — and base all of this on one of the classical myths. Include sufficient discussion and insight about the original myth so as to be submitting ample scholarly discussion and not just fun fiction. Don’t select this option unless you are sufficiently familiar with scholarly articles and publications in the social sciences.

5) CYBERSCHOLARSHIP: a web page.

You may work alone or with someone else creating a useful resource for future students of mythology. Realize that this is a scholarly project, not an advertisement or fan page. Pick an appropriately manageable scope for the project and include all the key ingredients that you would provide for a paper: research, analysis, commentary, and whatever else would make this creation impressive and valuable. And then package this in ways appropriate for a web site (research gets registered in a Works Cited that may include hyperlinks, for example) and for an audience consisting of future students of this class. Do not just create a recycling dumpsite, that is, don’t replicate what’s already available. Instead, be sure to offer the one thing most lacking on the web: critical analysis — not a full paper’s worth, since that just invites plagiarism, but some sophisticated components of commentary.

If you choose this project because it seems easy and you think you can submit any old crap with a jpg of a statue with the arms broken off, you are doomed and will fail most miserably. A sequence of images scanned in from Glamour and titled “Archetypes of Aphrodite” will fail abysmally. If you take up this challenge heroically and meaningfully, it will show. And we can discuss afterwards how to display, link, or incorporate the work most appropriately and helpfully.

Sample papers, good to excellent, are available on this web site, as are instructions and examples for the required MLA-style documentation. Visit my Writing Hospital for much more advice on that aspect of the project.

I am glad to provide advice and help at any stage, from pre-writing and researching to the drafting, of this project. Ultimately, though, it must be completed and turned in when due; the compressed schedule of late semester does not allow for screwing around and cheesy excuses.