Classical Mythology, Day 23

From Hellenistic Greece to the Modern Day

This class covers over two thousand years in one day, emphasizing instead of detail general trends that characterize the transformation and persistence of myth from Ancient Greece to the modern day. We start by discussing how Classical Greek myth was decontextualized and de-ritualized when it was exported during the Hellenistic period. While oral storytelling and myth-making continued to be a living feature of Mediterranean culture (as clear even superficially from the work of Pausanias), much of what we mean when we talk about “Greek Myth” was ‘fossilized’ through the process of recension and editing in the intellectual centers of Hellenistic kingdoms.

We start by discussing the activities of Hellenistic editors and then move to the literary appropriation of myth by authors like Apollonius of Rhodes, the work of mythographers who collected and catalogued myths, the reinterpretation of allegorists, and the ‘scientific’ interpretation of rationalists like Palaephatus.

We then move to the question of how myth changed under the influence of the rise of Christianity and into the 20th century. After surveying the storytelling patterns of early Christian Saints, I turn to modern ‘secular’ storytelling traditions and the theoretical genre of the “Fantastic”.  Fantastic genres like horror, science fiction, and fantasy continue to dominate multiple forms of media because of their similarity in form and function to ancient myth. We will close the class by surveying the development of what we now call horror and the cultural position of revenants like werewolves, vampires, and zombies.


Ancient Authors Discussed

Herodotus, Classical Period

Ovid, Roman Imperial Period

Apollodorus, Roman Imperial Period?

Pausanias, Roman Imperial Period


Some Suggested Course Texts


Apollonius Rhodes, First 100 Lines

Callimachus, Hymn to Athena [Bath of Pallas]

Links to Blogposts


St. Patrick

Ancient Greek Vampires, 1 (Empousa) and 2 (Lamia)

Modern Authors Mentioned

Tzvetan Todorov

Erik Rabkin

Arthur C. Clarke

Frank Herbert

John William Polidori

Mary Shelley

Bram Stoker

Other Articles for Additional Reading

Barnes, Timothy D. “PRE-DECIAN ‘ACTA MARTYRUM.’” The Journal of Theological Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1968, pp. 509–531. JSTOR,

J. P. Christensen. “The Hero Herself: From Death-Giver to Storyteller in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” in Ancient Women and Modern Media, William Duffy and Krishni Burns (eds.) Cambridge Scholars Press, 2016: 117–138.

J. P. Christensen. “Time and Self-Referentiality in the Iliad and Frank Herbert’s Dune.” in Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens (eds.). Oxford, 2015: 161–175.

C. W. Marshall. “Do Androids Dream of Electric Greeks.” Eidolon Oct. 26, 2017.

For Additional Reading, also see these collections:

Brett Rogers and Benjamin Eldon Stevens (eds.). Classical Traditions in Science Fiction. OUP, 2015.

Brett Rogers and Benjamin Eldon Stevens (eds.). Classical Traditions in Modern Fantasy. OUP, 2017.

Brett Rogers and Benjamin Eldon Stevens (eds.). Once and Future Antiquities in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Bloomsbury, 2018.

Brett Rogers, Benjamin Eldon Stevens and Jessie Weiner. Frankenstein and Its Classics: The Modern Prometheus from Antiquity to Science Fiction. Bloomsbury, 2018.

Similar Myths



Student Links

Podcast: Pygmalion Meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Structures and Margins

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s