Many diverse concepts can be taught through the topic of Myths and Legends. Different cultures and values can be explored, different writing styles and literary techniques can be investigated and an array of oral history can be experienced.
WHAT IS A MYTH?
A myth is a story with a purpose. lt tries to explain the way the world is – concentrating onnatural phenomena. Myths also try to explain the relationship between gods and humans. Even though the events in a myth are usually impossible, they try to send a message that has an important social or religious meaning.
Mankind has always tried to find answers to questions such as who made the universe or what causes a storm. Religion, gods, and myths were created when people tried to make sense out of these questions. For early civilizations, myths were akin to modern-day scientific theories. We may think this is insane, with the raft of scientific knowledge at our disposal, but early peoples had to explain the world around them without the aid of science as we know it – and much of their world was thought to be controlled by ancient gods.
There are many famous myths. Many of the most famous myths are from ancient Greece. Ancient Greek myths include:
- The Trojan War – a story that summarizes the Trojan War between Troy and Greece.
- The Odyssey – a story of how one warrior, Odysseus, made it home to lthaca, and the troubles he found when he got home.
- The Founding of Athens – how Athens was created.
- The Birth of Aphrodite – a story of Aphrodite’s unusual birth.The Battle of Marathon – a story about a war between Athens and Persia.
However, not all myths come from ancient Greece. Some come from ancient Egypt; some from ancient Rome (although many ancient Roman myths have a firm foundation in Greek mythology); some from the Vikings and some from early civilizations in lndia.
ANCIENT GODS AND GODDESSES
Many of the myths that we know today feature ancient gods and goddesses. Most early civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, Aztecs and Vikings worshipped a range of gods and goddesses.
ANCIENT GREEK GODS
According to Greek mythology, after the overthrow of the Titans, the new pantheon of gods and goddesses was confirmed. Among the principal Greek deities were the Olympians living on top of Mount Olympus under the eye of Zeus. Besides the Olympians, the Greeks worshipped various gods of the countryside, the goat-god Pan, nymphs (spirits of rivers), naiads (who dwelled in springs), dryads (who were spirits of the trees), nereids (who inhabited the sea), river gods, satyrs, and others. In addition, there were the dark powers of the underworld, such as the erinyes (or Furies).
Each god descends from his or her own genealogy, pursues differing interests, has a certain area of expertise, and is governed by a unique personality. Most gods were associated with specific aspects of life. For example, Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades the god of the dead, and Athena the goddess of wisdom and courage.
Many ancient Greek myths feature heroes, some of whom had one divine parent and were therefore called demi-gods. These are humans with amazing powers. Famous ancient Greek heroes include:
- Jason, (who joined with the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece).
- Hercules (called Heracles in Greek mythology), the son of Zeus and a mortal woman.
- Odysseus – in the tenth year of the Trojan War, the Greeks tricked the Trojans into bringing a colossal wooden horse within the walls of Troy. The Trojans had no idea that Greek soldiers were hidden inside, under the command of Odysseus. That night they emerged and opened the city gates to the Greek army. Troy was destroyed and Odysseus and the other Greeks returned to their kingdoms across the sea. This event begins the famous tale of the Odyssey.
ANCIENT ROMAN GODS AND GODDESSES
At the founding of Rome, the gods were ‘numina’, divine manifestations, faceless, formless, but no less powerful. The idea of gods as beings came later.
For the ancient Romans, everything in nature was thought to be inhabited by numina. Numina manifest the divine will by means of natural phenomena, which the pious Roman constantly seeks to interpret. That’s why great attention is paid to omens and portents in every aspect of Roman daily life.
A group of 12 gods called Dii Consentes was especially honoured by the ancient Romans: Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Vesta, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars, Mercurius, Neptunus, Volcanus, and Apollo. The twelve Dii Consentes were lead by the first three, which form the Capitoline Triad. These are the three cornerstones of ancient Roman religion.
SOME MAJOR GREEK/ROMAN DIETIES
|Aphrodite (Roman name Venus)||Goddess of love, beauty and fertility. The poet Hesiod said that Aphrodite was born from sea-foam. Homer, on the other hand, said that she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.When the Trojan prince, Paris, was asked to judge which of three Olympian goddesses, Aphrodite, Hera and Athena was the most beautiful, he chose Aphrodite.The latter two goddesses had hoped to bribe him with power and victory in battle, but Aphrodite offered the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen of Sparta, who became infamous as Helen of Troy when Paris subsequently eloped with her. In the ensuing Trojan War, Hera and Athena were implacable enemies of Troy while Aphrodite was loyal to Paris and the Trojans.|
|Apollo||God of prophesy, music and healing.According to Greek myth, it was Apollo who brought about the demise of Achilles. Of all the heroes besieging the city of Troy in the Trojan War, Achilles was the best fighter. He had easily defeated the Trojan captain Hector in single combat. But Apollo helped Hector’s brother, Paris, slay Achilles with an arrow.|
|Poseidon (Roman name Neptune)||God of the sea, earthquakes and horses. Although he was officially one of the supreme gods of Mount Olympus, he spent most of his time in the sea. Poseidon was brother to Zeus and Hades. These three gods divided up creation. Zeus was ruler of the sky, Hades had dominion of the Underworld and Poseidon was given all water, both fresh and salt.|
|Zeus (Roman name Jupiter)||The supreme god of the Olympians. He was the father of the heroes Perseus and Heracles. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans, Cronus and Rhea. When he was born, his father, Cronus, intended to swallow him as he had all of Zeus’s siblings, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera, lest they destroy him. But Rhea hid the newborn in a cave on Mount Dicte in Crete.When he had grown up, Zeus caused Cronus to vomit up his sisters and brothers, and these gods joined him in fighting to gain control of the universe from the Titans and Cronus, their king. Having vanquished his father and the other Titans, Zeus imprisoned most of them in the underworld of Tartarus. Then he and his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, divided up creation. Zeus was accorded supreme authority on Earth and on Mount Olympus.|
|ROMAN AND GREEK GOD COMPARISONS|
AZTEC GODS AND GODDESSES
Religion was extremely important in Aztec life. They worshipped hundreds of gods and goddesses, each of whom ruled one or more human activities or aspects of nature. The Aztecs had many agricultural gods because their culture was based heavily on farming; they also included natural elements and ancestor-heroes.
The Aztecs believed that the balance of the natural world, the processes that make life possible – like the rain or solar energy – and that the destiny of people depended on the will of these gods. While some deities were benevolent, others had terrifying characteristics. The Aztecs also thought that the power of the gods should be acknowledged and thanks given to them, so as to avoid the catastrophes that their rage could cause.
For this reason, monumental ceremonial centres were built and there were many religious rites. The existence of the gods and their goodwill were maintained by offering up human sacrifices.
AZTEC GODS AND GODDESSES INCLUDE:
- Chalchiuhtlicue – goddess of lakes and streams. She is also a patroness of birth and played a part in Aztec baptisms.
- Chantico – goddess of fires in the family hearth and volcanoes. She broke a fast by eating paprika (which was forbidden for fast-breaking) with roasted fish, and was turned into a dog by Tonacatecuhtli. She also wears a crown of poisonous cactus spikes, and takes the form of a red serpent.
- Chicomecoatl – goddess of food and produce, especially maize and, by extension, a goddess of fertility. Every September, she received a sacrifice of a young girl, decapitated. The sacrifice’s blood was poured on a statue of Chicmecoatl and her skin was worn by a priest.
- Coatlicue – goddess who gave birth to the moon, stars, and Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun and war. She is represented as a woman wearing a skirt of writhing snakes and a necklace made of human hearts, hands and skulls. Her feet and hands are adorned with claws (for digging graves).
- Coyolxauhqui – moon goddess, daughter of Coatlicue and the ruler of the Centzon Huitznahuas, the star gods.
- Ehecatl – god of wind. His breath moved the sun and pushed away rain. He fell in love with a human girl named Mayahuel, and gave mankind the ability to love so that she could return his passion.
- Xochipilli – god of love, games, beauty, dance, flowers, maize and song. As one of the gods responsible for fertility and agricultural produce, he was associated with Tlaloc, god of rains, and Cinteotl, god of maize.
- Omacatl – god of feasting, holidays and happiness, and an aspect of Tezcatlipoca. He is represented as a black and white figure, squatting and eating. As a god worshipped primarily by the wealthy, he wore a crown and a flower-decorated cloak and carried a sceptre.
INDIAN GODS AND GODDESSES
The early Hindus accepted the religions and rituals of the original inhabitants of lndia. Primitive spirits, ‘godlings’ and animal totems of the tribal people of lndia were gathered into Hinduism.
Initially revealed in the primal spiritual symbol ‘Om’, God appeared as an infinite pantheon of deities. Gods were heavenly beings who could descend to Earth as avatars and limitless incarnations. ‘Om’ is an evocation of the universal soul – the Brahman. The Upanishads (Hindu philosophical texts composed between 600 to 200 BC), explain the universe as creation of the ‘Brahman’. Every form of life is a revelation of the ‘Brahman’. The Brahman was known as ‘Nirguna’, without form, neither male nor female. Gradually, the formless ‘Nirguna Brahman’ evolved into ‘saguna Brahman’ (the Great God).
The Brahman appeared as a male trinity, a three-faced god called ‘Trimurti’. The Trimurti has a human form, one body with three heads that express the cycle of life. As Brahma, he takes over the creation of the universe, Vishnu maintains dharma (righteousness) and order, and Shiva holds the power to destroy.
Even the Trimurti evolved as each of the gods found celestial consorts (goddesses in their own right). Brahma’s consort was Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth appeared from the ocean and married Vishnu. Parvati danced before Shiva and broke his meditation – an entranced Shiva married Parvati and their children Kartikeya and Ganesha joined the heavenly family.
WHAT IS A LEGEND?
The word legend has several meanings. A legend today may be someone famous or well known. Another meaning of legend is a literary genre, usually used interchangeably with myths (albeit incorrectly). However, it makes more sense to use the term legend to name a type of literature that falls somewhere between myth, tall tales, and history.
Myths tend to be focused on explaining natural phenomena, answering questions about why things are the way they are in the natural world, while legends focus on individuals and their accomplishments. Legends can also be distinguished from myths by virtue of them being fictional – people may once have believed they were true, but legends are invariably clever works of fiction, such as the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Other famous legends include Robin Hood and his Merry Men and the legend of Atlantis – a city under the sea.
WHAT IS A TRADITIONAL STORY?
Traditional stories are tales passed down through the generations. Some traditional stories will be oral; some will be written – and many have become popular fairytales or nursery rhymes, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs and the Gingerbread Man.
Some traditional stories are fables – a succinct story (in prose or verse) that features animals, plants or forces of nature that take on human qualities. Fables (and traditional stories in general) usually include a moral lesson at the end. Parables are also classed as traditional stories, however, these differ from fables in that they exclude animals, plants and inanimate objects.
Download the Myths and Legends project plans below:
Myths and Legends Literacy Project Plans (Open Access)
- Literacy Project 1: Analysing traditional stories (Key Stage 1). Download the accompanying slideshow here.
- Literacy Project 2: Herculean Literacy (Key Stage 2+). Download this project’s slideshow here.
- Literacy Project 3: Mythical Storyboarding (Key Stage 2). This project’s slideshow is available for download here.
- Literacy Project 4: The Legend of King Arthur (Key Stage 2)
- Literacy Project 5: Arthurian adjectives (Key Stage 2)
Myths and Legends Numeracy Project Plans
- Numeracy Project 1: Mythical (and legendary) maths (Key Stages 1 and 2). Download this project’s slideshow here.
- Numeracy Project 2: Shield shapes (Key Stages 1 and 2)
Myths and Legends Science Project Plans
- Science Project 1: Myth versus science (Key Stage 2)
- Science Project 2: Mythical astronomy (Key Stage 2)
Myths and Legends History Project Plans
- History Project 1: The Trojan War (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- History Project 2: Ancient Rome (Key Stage 2)
Myths and Legends Geography Project Plans
- Geography Project 1: Amazing Atlas (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- Geography Project 2: An undersea search (Key Stage 2)
Myths and Legends Drama Project Plans
- Drama Project 1: Mythical theatre (Key Stages 1 and 2)
Myths and Legends Art & Design Project Plans
- Art & Design Project 1: Designing a mythology game (Key Stage 2)
Myths and Legends Music Project Plans
- Music Project 1: Mythical music (Key Stages 1 and 2). Download the accompanying slideshow here.