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The deep-seated origins and wide-reaching lessons of ancient myths built the foundation for our modern legacies. Discover the mythologies of Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Learn what makes these stories so important, distinctive, and able to withstand the test of time.

Great Mythologies of the World is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (60 episodes). The series first aired on August 21, 2015.

Great Mythologies of the World is available for streaming on the The Great Courses website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Great Mythologies of the World on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon, Kanopy online.

The Great Courses
1 Season, 60 Episodes
August 21, 2015
Cast: Grant L. Voth
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Great Mythologies of the World Full Episode Guide

  • Comparing the Incas to the Roman Empire, you'll find some fascinating parallels, both in history and in mythology. Hear the Kolla creation story from the Incas, based on their understanding of their world, which can still speak to us across the years.

  • Mesoamericans gods have several "manifestations" or "aspects," and each different manifestation has a different appearance, different powers, and is responsible for different things. Meet some of the major characters, and learn how to follow the stories in all their iterations.

  • Travel down to South and Central America to learn about the Maya, the Aztecs, and the Incas. While there are many shared stories and common origins, these people maintain cultures and myths that are significantly different from those of their cousins to the north.

  • Explore an excellent example of an emergence myth from the Zuni people, involving Awonawilona All-Father, his two boys, and the first writhing creatures of the deep. Compare this to a similar story from the Hopi, which stars Tewa the Sun Spirit, the culture hero Spider Grandmother, and Masauwu the Skeleton Man.

  • Revisit the concept of "earth-diver" and "emergence" origin stories and see how they differ in the Southwest as you explore "air-spirit people" and their intriguing fables. Gain a deeper understanding of the duality of the Trickster as he both thwarts and contributes to the cultivation of the world.

  • The Southeast region of the United States was home to many different Native American cultures. Five major languages were spoken in the area, and a sign language was invented for easier inter-group communication. Learn how the constant cultural exchange resulted in an encompassing body of myths that tie the peoples together.

  • Hear a riveting Inuit story of Sedna, the Old Woman (or Earth Mother) who lives under the sea. You'll also encounter the Nanabushu stories and the archetype of the Trickster, who is often a cultural hero, responsible for aiding in the creation of what we know today.

  • Nature spirits take on a variety of forms in various cultures. Discover the maize myths and other stories about the origins of nature in the Americas. Learn how these stories demonstrate the way people answered questions about how the world came to be as it is.

  • Examine many variants on common mythological themes in this region: accounts of humanity emerging from eggs, intricate tales of the origins of different animals, and stories of how humans acquired (or reacquired) fire. Compare Trickster tales of the clever, delicate mouse-deer with those of the mischievous ape.

  • Delve into variations of myths about the sun and moon, how humans and other creatures were created, and how death came into the world. Learn about the development of anthropology as a field of study, and see how cross-cultural misconceptions and fascinations can fuel false reports.

  • Compare versions of the same myths found all over Micronesia, such as the creation story of the cosmic spider and the rebellious acts of the Trickster Olofat. Consider how the missionaries, anthropologists, and other Westerners who recorded these myths left their own indelible marks.

  • Polynesian tales center around spirits of the natural world, some of whom are compassionate helper-deities and some, like the nasty menehune, that delight in causing trouble. Meet the supreme figures Ku and Hina, who have myriad subordinate versions; Lono, who has power over seas, clouds, and storms; and Maui, an inveterate Trickster who brings many gifts to humanity.

  • Discover how centuries of borrowing religious and political mythology from China and Korea led to a syncretic blending of political myth-making that was heavily influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism. Consider the dynastic myth of Okuninushi and his 80 brothers, and compare it to the story of the brothers Hoderi-no-mikoto and Hoori-no-mikoto.

  • Meet some pivotal figures of Korean mythology: the mythical culture hero Mireuk and his rival Seokga, the legendary king Hyokkose of Silla, and the self-sacrificing magistrate Pak Che-sang. Consider the porous border between mythology and history, and learn a trick for telling which myths have been altered by scholars.

  • Early Koreans interacted with the spirit world through spirit mediums, primarily women, who perform shamanic rituals and preserve cultural knowledge even up to the modern day. These traditions incorporate religious, mythological, and scholarly borrowings from Japan and China into a distinctively Korean syncretic blend.

  • After centuries of oral retellings, the myths and sayings of rural peasants were transformed into formal verse by scholars, becoming the foundation for a highly sophisticated and nuanced body of writing that profoundly shaped subsequent literature. Unfortunately, much of the originality and charm of the myths was often removed in the name of moral lessons.

  • Chinese myths about the feats of culture heroes and the deeds of rulers, while relating stories about how things came to be, also engage with questions of what ought to be. Utopian stories of sage-kings are often told alongside dystopian tales of degenerate leaders. Explore the legends of the three revered kings Yao, Shun, and Yu the Great, and those of the two degenerates Jie and Zhou Xin.

  • Begin your journey into the mythology of Asia and the Pacific with the story of Fu Xi, which illustrates a profound truth about both Chinese society and the mythology of the Pacific Rim: culture and human relations come first. See how the importance of social networks, the omnipresence of water, and the value of sacrifice comprise the three key motifs of the myths of this region.

  • Since the goal of mythology is often to provide reason to the unexplainable, it is no surprise that death and the afterlife are major themes throughout African stories, expressing yearning for immortality and questioning why we die. These myths draw blatant links between the importance of following divine instructions and adhering to communal law.

  • The epic of Bakaridjan Kone is much more recent than the Dausi, but it comes from almost the same part of Africa. Much of its history was wracked by war and tensions with the peoples of the surrounding communities, many of whom had been converted to Islam. Bakaridjan's story bears clear traces of the strong Muslim influence in that society.

  • The epic looms large as a storytelling genre in world mythology. Because of their customary length and level of detail, epics often provide a more comprehensive sense of the early cultures that spawned them than any other literary form. African mythology contains numerous captivating epics. Explore what is known of an ancient and powerful one: the Dausi.

  • Lesser divinities are often heavily involved in human affairs. The interactions between African gods and mortals express many different ideas about the relationship between mortal life and the divine. Examine the stories of Mregho and Ruwa, Miseke and Thunder, goddesses and mortals, and how Tricksters get involved in mortal relationships.

  • A recurring theme in African myth is the physical separation between the original creator god and humanity and how that separation came about. While there are parallels to biblical stories of the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the many ways in which theme is explored and retold offer interesting insights into the cultural framework behind it.

  • Tricksters are prevalent in mythologies around the world. From Anansi the Trickster spider to Norse Loki and Japanese Susa-no-wo, the archetype of the Trickster has resonated in storytelling worldwide. Tricksters in African myth are unrepentant troublemakers who are skilled at deception, just as they are in other folkloric traditions around the world.

  • The hierarchy of African religious myths is similar to that of many Western cultures. A single god occupies a high position of authority, responsible for the creation of the world. In variations across Africa, this supreme creator has many different names and stories. Learn about Cagn, Jok, Ngewo, and others, as well as a plethora of lesser divinities, sprit beings, and the emergence of shamans.

  • Can an overwhelmingly secular text be read as mythology? Find out in this lecture on the One Thousand and One Nights, known in the West as The Arabian Nights. You'll get insights into great heroes like Sindhbad the sailor, mythical creatures like jinns, and the text's use of the supernatural to provide real-world guidance.

  • The Book of Kings is widely regarded as the national epic of the world's Persian-speaking community. Go inside this 11th-century epic poem that traces 50 generations of Persian kings and heroes, including Rostam--whom you'll follow on his famous "seven labors" and his battle with the crown prince of Persia.

  • According to Professor McClymond, it's best to understand the mythology of Buddhism as a grand anthology of short stories. With this in mind, explore the life and beliefs of the Buddha, ponder the teachings of Buddhist myth as told through its stories, and examine stories that pit Buddhism against other religious traditions.

  • Turn now to a section of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita. You'll peel back the layers behind the popular story of the warrior Arjuna; learn how to read the Gita as a devotional story and a manual for life; and discover how it shaped Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy.

  • Get inside Indian culture with this lecture on its two great epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Both are frame narratives that bring together hundreds of smaller stories. Both help establish Vishnu's importance among other Hindu gods. And both have had a lasting effect on Indian spirituality, politics, and literature.

  • Examine the biblical Book of Job through a mythological lens and learn how it addresses the same basic questions of other myths. How do Job's trials and tribulations at the hand of the Hebrew god force us to look at the world--and our role within it--from a fresh perspective?

  • The pharaohs themselves played a vital role in Egyptian culture: maintaining cosmic order throughout the land. Investigate the lives and deaths (and possible afterlives) of several of ancient Egypt's 330 pharaohs, including King Amenhotep IV, who tried to become a supreme god, and Cleopatra, the civilization's last pharaoh.

  • Focus on three Egyptian gods who are inextricably linked with the pharaohs. They are the murdered and resurrected Osiris, associated with nature; Horus, the sky god responsible for unifying Upper and Lower Egypt; and Ra, the popular sun god known for his nightly journeys through the land of the dead.

  • Perpetual violence. A destructive struggle between order and chaos. Welcome to the mythography of ancient Egypt, which includes multiple creation stories tied to different city centers; a fantastic pantheon of gods; different historical and mythic "time lines"; and maat, the overarching concept of morality and justice.

  • Where did ancient Babylonians believe the world came from? What startling similarities does their account have with the Bible's? Explore these and other questions in this look at the Enuma Elish, a sophisticated creation story (or cosmogony) that casts the average Babylonian as a mere afterthought in the eyes of the gods.

  • Start these riveting lectures at the only appropriate point: the oldest story in the world. In looking at the epic of Gilgamesh, you'll learn how this foundational Babylonian myth reflects real historical tensions between ancient Eastern city-states; tensions mirrored in the myth's concerns with civilized--and untamed--human nature.

  • Skidbladnir, the ship of the gods that can also fit in your pocket. Andvarinaut, a powerful ring that inspired a cycle of mythological stories. These and other magical items are the prized possessions of Norse kings, warriors, and heroes. And their importance--and legacies--are the subject of this final lecture.

  • Dark and brooding, Norse mythology reflects the harsh living conditions of ancient Germanic and Scandinavian people. Here, focus on two of the most well-known Norse gods: Odin (the god of war who sacrificed himself on a tree) and Thor (the god of order who wields his dwarf-crafted hammer, Mjolnir).

  • Using the intriguing tale of Dagda and his magic harp as a framework, Professor McClymond introduces you to the often unappreciated world of Celtic mythology. Meet unforgettable heroes like CÂș Chulainn and Lugh, and encounter powerful magical items and treasures with unique personalities, including the Stone of Fal.

  • What does Cybele reveal about the great mother goddesses of mythological traditions? Learn how this classic figure evolved over thousands of years, how it adapted to different cultures, how it became connected in Rome with power and aristocracy, and where it appears (and doesn't appear) in other human cultures.

  • Discover why Aeneas, the ancestor of all Romans, and Tarpeia, who betrayed Rome for personal gain, are two sides of the same coin. As you explore their stories, you'll see how they offer inspirational (and cautionary) testaments to Rome's values--and reflect character types we see in almost every civilization's myths.

  • An altogether different--and darker--mythological adventure story is Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. In pondering the best-known versions of both Jason's story and his wife, Medea's, you'll begin to see Jason as a failed hero and Medea as more than just the woman who murdered her own children.

  • Turn now to the hero of Homer's celebrated Odyssey: Odysseus. From his plans for the Trojan horse to his tricking of a murderous cyclops to his final arrival back in Ithaca, learn how Odysseus's scheming and lying led to heroic triumphs that made his story relatable to everyday ancient Greeks--and to modern readers.

  • Investigate the mythological roots and legacies of the powerful--but flawed--Greek hero, Herakles. Explore common threads that run through some of his twelve labors, including the slaying of the Hydra and the cleaning of the Augean stables. Also, ponder Herakles's role in ancient Greek society as both mortal and god.

  • Discover fresh insights into several Greek myths that teach us about the relationship between gods and humans. Is Prometheus a troublemaker (according to Hesiod) or a liberator (according to Aeschylus)? What happened after Pandora's box of evil spirits was opened? How did Persephone's kidnapping inspire the Eleusinian Mysteries?

  • Meet three iconic goddesses whose personalities and stories reflect how the ancient Greeks viewed women. They are: Athena, who emerged fully-formed from Zeus's head and is linked to legal courts; Aphrodite, best known for her wild love affair with Adonis; and Hera, Zeus's wife-sister, who presides over marriage and childbirth.

  • Welcome to the ancient Greek myths: some of the most popular, well-known stories in Western civilization. When did these tales emerge, and what are our earliest sources for them? Find out in this lecture on father-son conflicts between Uranus, Kronos, Zeus, and the other first-generation gods known as the Titans.

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