Why Study Greek Mythology?

why-study-greek-mythologyLearning Greek mythology is part of having a well-rounded education. Many (I almost want to say most) great works of literature (including Shakespeare) refer back to Greek mythology, and there is no way to properly understand what the greatest authors of all time were saying without knowing about this topic. When literature refers to another famous work of literature, this is called an allusion, and allusions abound in great literature, not only in books and plays, but in poetry as well. This is because the great authors assumed that people who were reading their literature were educated. The basic building blocks of literature that the great books refer to the most are the Bible and Greek mythology.

I used to tell my public school students that even if they didn’t believe in God, they needed to know about the famous, classic stories in the Bible, like the story of David and Goliath, or Adam and Eve. I told them they would never be truly educated without knowing the Bible, because the greatest thinkers of all time knew it, even if they were refuting it. I am not insinuating that the truth in the Bible is in any way comparable to the absurdity of Greek myths. After having read hundreds of classics, however, I can confidently say that these two sources are necessary to read in order to understand all the rest.

Now I will state the opposite side, the side that says we should not study Greek mythology because it’s the study of demons. Do not dismiss these people or consider them stupid. I have researched Scripture, and in actual fact, Paul referred to the Greek gods as demons (Acts 14:12-15; I Corinthians 10:20). Because it’s in Scripture, and the Word of God is inerrant, I have no doubt that what Paul was saying was true, at least as far as the temples were concerned. Temples were built for the worship of demons, who happened to have the same names as are mentioned in these Greek mythology stories.

Notwithstanding, Paul had studied Greek mythology thoroughly, and he was therefore able to lead the people of Athens to Christ because he was an informed person, not an ignorant person. (The Greek gods are referred to in Scripture by name in the book of Acts, so your understanding of Scripture also hinges on your ability to understand the culture in which Scripture was written.)

Even your understanding of everyday idioms such as “You’ve just opened Pandora’s box,” or “That’s my Achilles’ heel” is completely unintelligible if you forbid the reading of Greek mythology just because Paul called them demons. After all, the true study of demons is completely different than the almost comedic blunders of the Greek gods and goddesses who often have more problems than mere mortals. Flying sandals, ogres with one eye, and a green-faced woman with snake hair that turns you to stone are more like fairy tales than an invitation to study the dark side.

What it comes down to is this: if you do not study Greek mythology, you are crippling your understanding of life as well as literature. You will not understand newspaper allusions and will appear ignorant to unsaved people, who will shut their ears to you because you don’t know even the basics of what everybody knows. Be educated. Gain wisdom. Teach your children true discernment, because they will encounter much worse stuff when they leave home. They need to be prepared.

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8 Responses to “Why Study Greek Mythology?”

  1. Agreed! The Classical Curriculum we use encourages the same thing.

  2. Lori Deihl says:

    Dear Susan,
    I teach Greek mythology with my 8th grade Language Arts students. I have had several disagreements with parents regarding the study of Greek myths. I appreciate your perspective and completely agree. The study of the Greeks is a building block to understanding literature and our culture today. The study in no way tries to imply that students should worship these gods and goddesses, but a lot can be learned about human nature by looking at the myths…in fact I like to ask students if they think humans and their wants and needs have really changed over the past 3,000 years…

  3. Juliette says:

    The Greek word ‘daimon’, as used in the Greek New Testament, is not the same as the modern word ‘demon’, which developed its current meaning in the medieval period. A ‘daimon’ was something in between a deity and a mortal, and not inherently evil – Paul was explaining that the pagan gods were not deities like God, but lower beings, he wasn’t calling them evil anyway.

  4. Dana says:

    I love your post about why ‘we’ should study Greek mythology! Well said! And, I also read your post about why ‘we’ shouldn’t study Latin. That’s something I’ve debated off and on and I loved your insight! From someone who took 2 years of Latin in high school, and no other ‘foreign language’, I wish I would have (also?) studied a language I could communicate in! I think I might stick to Latin roots in my daughter’s studies. Thanks again!

  5. Christian faith, whether we like it or not, is on many occasions a re-working of ancient Eastern Mediterranean mythologies — of course, with new, higher meanings cast in the old mythological moulds. Knowing the background helps better understand the foreground, doesn’t it?

    I am a Greek Orthodox Christian by faith, and an earnest believer, as well as an amateur of mythology and religions.

    I would be happy to enter in conversation about the subject, if this might interest you. :)

  6. katherine says:

    Thanks…this is just the explanation I wanted for my 14 year old daughter, that I could not quite put into words so well as you! We will read and discuss this post!

  7. Bob Newman says:

    We would also do well studying the many Greek sayings and stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. My Mother was Greek and she could always pull out a relevant Greek saying for almost every occasion and nearly everyone I’ve heard her say was wise and contained some great advice.

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