Myths of Britain

Ben Pestell   
Friday 2.30pm – 4.30pm
Autumn term only starts 27th Sept (10w)           £106.00

What is the native mythology of the British Isles? From Arthurian legend, Celtic folklore and Norse myths, to adopted classical Greco-Roman tales, these lands have proved fertile ground for a great diversity of myths to flourish. This course will explore the mythical stories that captured our
imagination before the coming of Christianity, and continue to do so today.

What the course covers
We begin with an overview of the assorted mythical influences that have held sway in the British Isles, considering George Steiner’s claim that we naturally turn to Greek and Roman classics rather than Arthurian traditions for our mythical touchstones. The course examines not just the tales that captivated the pre-Christian inhabitants but the myths that continue to enrich our imaginations today. Following this overview, each subsequent week is devoted to a mythical theme and an exemplary myth: the Norse Odin and he invention of poetry (2); the principle of metamorphosis common to many myths, and found, for example in the collection of Welsh tales known as the Mabinogion (3); the highly evocative tales of King Arthur and his knights (4); the revival in modern
times of the ancient opposition of Christ and the Great God Plan (5); the eternal theme of the Quest, exemplified by the Greek hero of the Trojan war, Odysseus (6); the medium of tragic drama, embodied in Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (7); the current concern with nature and
ecology, which finds its first expression in the 5000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh (8). Towards the end of the course, we turn to the idea that we live in a rational, ‘disenchanted’ world in which we cannot truly believe in the power of gods or myth (9); and we conclude with the vision of the
apocalypse, as presented in the Norse tale of Ragnark (10).

NB: If the course were to run over 11 weeks, the extra week would be given over to discussing students’ own favourite myths.

Methods: Teaching methods include tutor presentations, use of handouts and PowerPoint presentations, reading aloud, group work, class discussion, and student presentations. There will also be an opportunity for students’ class presentations, and deciding texts for one session. If
required, students can be assessed by individual learning plans and class participation.

No previous knowledge required, and no essential skills required beyond reading English.

Please bring: A pad and pen for note-taking. Extracts from the essential texts will be supplied (as handout, or via email). Students will be expected to read the supplies extracts outside of class.
They will also be encouraged to read as widely as they wish, using their local libraries or following a supplied list of recommended texts.

View or download course handout pdf