“How to Read Literature Like a Professor”Chapter 9: It’s Greek to Me Book by Thomas C. Foster Presentation by Andrew Pollard Period 3, 9/28/11
Mythology Thomas C. Foster defines myth as “a body of story that matters,” and that myths are means by which we, as humans, explain ourselves in ways that science cannot prove (65). Foster goes on to say that myths shape our culture, and, in turn, we are shaped by them. For instance, there are names of cities in the US called Ithaca, Sparta and Rome; school mascots with names like Trojans; and modern fiction books about Myths, such as The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.
Types of Myths There are three types of myths: Shakespearean, biblical, and folk/fairy tale. Foster states that “Of the three, biblical myth probably covers the greatest range of human situations” (65). Biblical myths, as well as Shakespearean and folk/fairy tales cover a very wide range of human experience: relationships, physical, psychological, spiritual, and even sexual experiences.
Perception The way that the myth is perceived is often more important than the myth itself. Foster says “We’re chiefly concerned with how that story functions as material for literary creators, the way in which it can inform a story or poem, and how it is perceived by the reader” (Foster 64). A modern writer borrows situations from the Greek heroes to put his/her characters in and the reader can perceive them in such a way as they make sense in his/her own life.
“Icarus, the Kid, the Daredevil” Myths feel so real, so true because they can relate to the situations of today, even though they were written many years ago. For example, the story of Icarus. Foster tells us that “In it [Icarus’ story] we see so much: the parental attempt to save the child and the grief at having failed . . . the youthful exuberance that leads to self – destruction” (Foster 66). Socrates once said “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” This is usually the way adults feel even now.
Homer’s The Iliad & The Odyssey • Foster states “Those who have never read it [The Iliad] assume that it is the story of the Trojan War. It is not. It is the story of a single, rather lengthy action: the wrath of Achilles” (69). • A common belief is that The Iliad is about Paris stealing Helen, and the Greeks going to war to recapture her. Foster tells the reader that it is mostly about the inner struggles of a man. • After the “coalition” left to go to Troy, Agamemnon stole Achilles’ war bride, causing Achilles to not participate in the war. He only returned to fight when his childhood friend, Patroclus, was killed. • Somehow, through the centuries, The Iliad has become a story that “epitomizes ideals of heroism, loyalty, sacrifice and loss” (Foster 70).
The Power of Myth Foster notes “That recognition [of myth] makes our experience of literature richer, deeper, more meaningful, so that our own modern stores also matter, also share in the power of myth” (73). I believe that Foster is saying that myth is something of our own creation, a kind of imagination, something that we want to believe. Myth has the power to enrich our literature, as well as bring the reader closer to understanding his surroundings.
Application to Great Expectations • Many of the characters in Great Expectations go through trials and changes just like the heroes in Homer’s works do. For instance, Achilles comes back to fight in the war because his friend is killed, and feels that it was his fault. Therefore, Achilles fights to regain, and maintain his dignity, just as Pip does in Great Expectations when Estella humiliates him, and when he wrongs Joe and Biddy. • Pip tries to maintain his dignity by hiding his tears from Estella. Pip remembers that “The moment they [Pip’s tears] sprang there the girl looked at me with a quick delight in having been the cause of them. This gave me power to keep them back” (Dickens 68). • Pip begs of them “’Don’t tell him, Joe, that I was thankless; don’t tell him, Biddy, that I was ungenerous and unjust . . . pray tell me, both that you forgive me!’” (Dickens 532, 533).
Application to Everyday Life Foster tells the reader of each character in the Iliad & Odyssey and their meaning; “The need to protect one’s family: Hector. The need to maintain one’s dignity: Achilles. The determination to remain faithful and to have faith: Penelope. The struggle to return home: Odysseus. Homer gives us four great struggles of the human being: with nature, with the divine, with other humans, and with ourselves” (Foster 71). In life, all of these exist. The man of every household works at his job to protect his family from becoming homeless. Competitive people fight to the finish of a game to protect their pride. Many husbands and wives struggle to stay faithful, and many who have lost everything struggle to have faith. The armed forces fight for their lives, just so that they can return home to their families.
Works Cited & Bibliography Foster, Thomas C. New York: How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Harper – Collins Publishers, Inc., 2003. Print. Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York. Barnes & Noble Books, 2003. Print. Patty, William L., and Louise S. Johnson. "195. Socrates (469-399 B.C.). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989." Bartleby.com: Great Books Online -- Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and Hundreds More. Web. 24 Sept. 2011. <http://www.bartleby.com/73/195.html>.