Myths Live On

Many words in the English language come from Greek, sometimes specifically from characters of Greek mythology.  In the same vein, some English words with Latin roots come from the Roman names of those same mythological figures. For instance, the word arachnid (i.e. spider) comes the story of Arachne, a skilled weaver who was turned into a spider.  Hypnos – named Somnus in Latin – is the personification of sleep, from whom we get hypnosis (and hypnotic and hypnotized) and insomnia.  The god Hermes aka Mercury is the source of mercurial, commerce, merchant, and possibly merge. There are plenty of others.  It’s up to your students to find more of these and write about one of them.

The Figure

Students should first search the web for characters of Greek or Roman mythology – be they titan, god, or human – who have at least one word named after them that’s used in modern English.  The students can take some time perusing through the results to familiarize themselves with the myths, and then they’ll need to select one of those figures to write about. The final product that students need to turn in is a paper.  The first section in the paper (it can be just a paragraph) has to introduce the character with a brief description.  If they are a deity, what concepts do they embody or represent?  If they are human, why are they significant (do they possess a remarkable skill, or are they related to someone important)?

The Tale

The second section should be a retelling (in the students’ own words) of the myth for which the figure is most well known.  If they are more prominent figures in Greek mythology (like most of the Olympians), then students should select the story that most closely relates to the words for which they are named. For example, if you want to associate Mercury with the word mercurial, you should retell a story that highlights him as the cunning and shifty trickster god.  But if you want to associate Mercury with the word merchant or commerce, you should talk about him as the messenger god who often facilitated transaction between other figures of Greek mythology.

The Terminology

The third and final section is about one of the words that comes from that mythological figure.  If there are multiple options, students can choose whichever they like; it would be nice to mention in the paper all the words that the student found, but they only need to focus on one of those words for the following. This final section should have two parts.  The first part should look just like a dictionary entry for the chosen word. The second part should be an explanation.  What does this word have to do with that mythological figure?  For the example of Arachne, spiders today weave webs in a similar way to how Arachne wove fabrics when she was human.

When students have finished with all three sections, they should turn their papers in to the teacher.  If there is time, students can present their findings to the class.

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