Cool Class: CAMS 45: Classical Mythology

In CAMS 34, students get creative in exploring the modern relevance of ancient myths.

classroom sign that says Cool Class CAMS 45: Classical Mythology


Erin Hanses, assistant teaching professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, has always loved classical mythology, the many stories of the many goddesses and gods in the Greco-Roman pantheon. She channeled that love into CAMS 45—a course she designed with her husband, Mathias Hanses, associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, African American, and African studies, that, she says, attracts students whose interest in mythology was piqued by the Percy Jackson book series.

“That’s their entry point,” Hanses says, “they come to the class with some degree of familiarity, and then it becomes a moment of discovery as their minds open to all these different stories, and all the different versions of the classic myths.”

In CAMS 45, students read those myths that best represent the characteristics of particular gods and goddesses: The myth of Pandora, who unleashes evils upon the world from her infamous box (in the Greek, says Hanses, it's a jar). The myth of Athena and the talented Arachne, who dared challenge the goddess to a weaving contest, and was turned into a spider. Hanses’ personal favorite is the myth of Apollo and the nymph, Daphne, who wanted nothing to do with Apollo, and is changed into a laurel tree to escape his advances.

“You think she’s saved, but she really isn’t, she’s possessed forever,” Hanses says. “These ancient myths all have modern relevance, and I make no secrets that I approach them from a feminist perspective.”

As for the students, they love the story of Medusa, the woman with snakes growing out of her hair, cursed by Athena to turn any man to stone should he look her in the eye, and of Persephone, queen of the underworld. Hanses asks them to get creative with these myths—choreograph a dance piece, create a podcast, write an original song based on the stories. “I’ve had students turn in amazing videos of raps or skits, where they act out a myth of gods and goddesses with a group of classmates,” she says.