Sunday, April 11, 2010

Words from Mythology

Greek and Roman mythology gave rise to a number of names, words, and phrases including ambrosia, echo, psyche, oracle, hypnosis, Morpheus, Titanic, narcissistic, Zephyr, siren, Achilles' heel, the Midas touch and Pandora's box (not to mention some months of the year and names of  planets). Many of these connotative words have found their way into commercial enterprises like Midas Muffler, Oracle, and Pandora, the Music Genome Project.  For the mythological origins of scientific words, try to get a copy of Words from the Myths (Asimov).

Mythology is making a comeback and it is not just for "gifted" students, despite what I've been reading online. Legendary beasts roam the grounds of Harry Potter's Hogwarts and mythical figures reshape Percy Jackson's world, bringing a fresh lens to issues like dyslexia and attention deficit. (The book beats the movie.) I recently discovered a fabulous rendition of Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses, retold in prose and poetry by the late English poet Adrian Mitchell and wonderfully illustrated by Alan Lee. This collection is suitable for about 5th grade and beyond. There are about 35 myths, each made memorable by malice and mayhem. Why not read one myth a week? During the school year look for mythological traces in the words used in narrative and informational texts, songs, and movies. 

For more books that teach mythology, visit Teach with Picture Books.  Even more mythology books are in the public domain, and freely made available for download, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.  For example, the classic Bulfinch's Mythology is available at Project Gutenberg. Print it out, read it online, or save it to your Kindle.

Many states call for secondary students to study mythology. Here is an excerpt from California's Academic Content Standards for English (Reading) for grades nine and ten: 

1.0  Word Analysis, Fluency, and Systematic Vocabulary Development 
  • 1.3  Identify Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology and use the knowledge to understand the origin and meaning of new words (e.g., the word narcissistic is drawn from the myth of Narcissus and Echo).

Resources and tips for teaching mythology are offered by EDSITEment, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Also, Behind the Name provides a fairly comprehensive list of first names, including names drawn from mythology. Exploring the origins of one's name might foster word consciousness and ultimately vocabulary (last week's post). 

There's much more to say about mythology and vocabulary but that will do for now.

1 comment:

  1. Soupy, how right you are. Thanks for the link. I went to it. Here's an interesting excerpt from the page:

    Medical terminology is based largely on Greek and Latin languages. Greek and Roman mythology have contributed many terms. Some terms are based upon
    the appearance, the shape, or the originally supposed function of a part.

    The first cervical vertebra upon which the head is supported is named for Atlas the famous Greek Titan who according to mythology was condemned by Zeus to bear the heavens on his shoulders.


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