The World of Mythology
Stories of a world filled with gods and goddesses and imaginary people and places are called myths. Written to entertain and enlighten, all myths:
• Lack identifiable authors
• Exist in multiple versions
• Are transmitted by oral tradition
• Seek to explain the origins of the world, human society, and culture
The gods and goddesses of mythology rule the lives and control the fate of mortals; the gods expect devotion and punish mortals who don’t pay them the proper respect. To anger a god or goddess is sure to bring death and destruction, but to have a god or goddess show you favor is sure to bring you joy and love. The gods themselves have no code of ethics to follow, and therefore, do whatever they please to whomever they please.
In order for students to better understand the gods and goddesses in these books, have them read the “Author’s Note” and “About the Gods” in Quiver by Stephanie Spinner; the “Afterword” in Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney; and the “Genealogy of the Gods in this Tale,” “Cast of Characters,” and “Afterword” in The Great God Pan by Donna Jo Napoli. Then discuss with your students the implications the information might have on the story. Draw a genealogy chart on the board tracing the gods and goddesses your students read about in the selections you have assigned.
“Fiercely original and beautifully written, Quiver is a book for all readers who love Greek mythology.”
–Mary Pope Osborne, author of Favorite Greek Myths and Tales from the Odyssey
King Iasus has summoned his daughter Atalanta with a simple, chilling command: marry and produce an heir. Fleet-footed Atalanta, determined not to betray Artemis, goddess of the hunt and mistress of the wild, counters with a grim proposal. She will marry the first man to outrun her in a footrace, and those she defeats must die. It is Atalanta’s desperate hope that no man will be foolish enough to meet her challenge.
1. Atalanta wants no romantic entanglements because she has taken a vow of chastity in honor of Artemis. (p. 6) Why would a vow of chastity bring honor to Artemis? When Atalanta broke her vow by marrying Hippomenes, did she dishonor Artemis? Why or why not?
2. When Jason asks Castor if he could buy one of his bows, which he has heard are perfect, Castor refuses because “he had strong opinions about perfection. He said it was hard to find, harder to achieve, but hardest of all to forget.” (p. 29) What did Castor mean? Can you give an example of perfection–or striving for perfection–that fits this statement?
3. Artemis sends a wild boar to plague King Oeneus for failing to sacrifice to her, and as a result, the king and queen die and all their heirs are killed or turned into guinea hens. (pp. 10 & 27, respectively) On page 14, Ancaeus claims, “No goddess can protect the boar from this,” (meaning his two-edged ax). Atalanta is aghast that he would insult Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and is not surprised when he pays for his reckless comment with his life. The punishments King Oeneus and Ancaeus suffer do not seem to fit the crime. What does this tell you about the power and lack of mercy the gods feel toward mortals? What present-day sins, misjudgments, or actions occur where the punishment seems extreme?
4. The running commentary between the gods and goddesses about the events as they occur gives the reader insight into their thinking. How does this commentary affect your attitude toward the mortals? Toward the gods and goddesses? What “gods and goddesses” are present today that rule over our lives? What would they say about us?
5. When Atalanta sets forth conditions for her suitors to meet, she feels sure that the threat of death will keep all suitors away. However, she learns that the threat of death is alluring to some, and many come to win her hand. Honoring her conditions means death for many men, and Castor has taught her that honor is keeping one’s word. Can you think of another way Atalanta could have honored her word without causing death? What other consequence could she have set that would not have meant death?
6. The punishment meted out by Zeus to Atalanta and Hippomenes for desecrating sacred ground seems cruel, but is it? Is there any way that Atalanta and her mate benefit from what Zeus does?
Goddess of Yesterday
Caroline B. Cooney
Grades 7 up
Delacorte Press hardcover
The Great God Pan
Donna Jo Napoli
Grades 5 up
Wendy Lamb Books hardcover
Stephanie Spinner is the bestselling author of many books for young readers, including Aliens for Breakfast (with Jonathan Etra) and Expiration Date: Never (with Terry Bisson).
From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.