Classical Mythology and Ovid's Metamorphoses: Lands of Myths and Legends

86 TUTOR: Gillian Hovell (

The telling of colourful stories from Classical Mythology continues today across many media. However, mythology has always been so much more than just stories. With this in mind, this course asks what mythology is, how do we define it and what were its vital and varied roles in ancient times? You will learn to identify the roguish Greek and Roman gods and discover their surprising legacy in our modern world. You will then spend three sessions exploring Ovid's epic work of Metamorphoses in translation. There will be some snippets of Latin, however, no experience is required. Ovid's stunning storytelling simultaneously thrills, touches and shocks. Yet, it also reveals ancient truths about mythology.

Course Notes

(The following agenda is flexible and includes time for discussion and debate) 


- An introduction to the ancient world of mythology and legends

- Welcome and Introduction to course

- The course consists of richly illustrated lectures combined with plenty of discussion and handouts

- Defining Myth and Legend: What are they for?

- The Eternal Pantheon: getting to know the Greek & Roman gods and goddesses


- Greek mythology was deeply influenced by the stories that came from the east. Greece, in turn, with her remarkable literature, art and culture, would strongly shape the Roman myths and even provide the Romans with new (renamed) gods. Then the Romans re-formed the myths in their own image we follow this extraordinary journey that informs our understanding of classical religion, literature and society.

- Origins of Classical Mythology: Near East & Homer

- The Greek & Roman Divide: Virgil & Rome's use & transformation of Greek mythology


- We meet Ovid, the great Roman poet of Emperor Augustus' time. His life and works culminate in the great epic of mythology, the Metamorphoses. Selecting essential extracts, we trace his work through the intricate themes and messages held within it. Love is always on the agenda for Ovid. And we begin, as Ovid did, with creation and the earliest myths, enriched by his use of sources from around the Mediterranean. Ovid's Metamorphoses: An introduction & Books 1-3: including Creation, Apollo, Echo & Narcissus and themes of divine revenge

- Ovid's Metamorphoses: Books 4-6: including Tales from Afar, Pyramus & Thisbe, Perseus, Demeter & Persephone. We explore the themes of Aetiology and ill-fated families.


- The central books of Ovid's Metamorphoses move into a world of legendary names and places and tackles challenging themes. He faces human frailty and the depths it can sink into; love is not always triumphant. Jason and Medea, the Minotaur, Hercules, Orpheus and King Midas of the Golden Touch are all here as Ovid leads us on an ever-moving adventure through humanity.

- Ovid's Metamorphoses: Books 7-9: including Legends and Tales from Prehistory such as Theseus, Ariadne, Daedalus & the Minotaur. We delve into the themes of creative art, drama and justice as well as reward and punishment, and a broad range of doomed love stories.

- Ovid's Metamorphoses: Books 10-12: including Orpheus & Eurydice, Adonis, Atalanta, Midas and his golden touch, and the Trojan War. Themes of loss and Homer's Trojan War dominate.


- The final books of the Metamorphoses enter a land of legend. He takes us to the Trojan War; but Ovid's telling includes the civilians caught up in the horrors, and his take on Virgil's patriotic poem of Aeneas' escape from Troy is a totally new approach. Ovid's cascade of love stories tumbles into the Roman world; as we leave the Greek world, great changes are afoot

- Ovid's Metamorphoses' closing books take a surprising new turn.

- Books 13-15 include the women's view of war, Aeneas (and Dido) and Rome's native gods and legends, blended with the Greek.

- Book 15 turns to philosophy, a view on how the universe works, plus the deification of Roman Emperors

- We close by exploring the story of how his work survived and influenced people through the ages to our modern lives; this story is just as astonishing as Ovid's own tales.

Course Tutor

Gillian Hovell

About Gillian


After graduating with 2-1 (Hons) in Latin and Ancient History from Exeter University, Gillian worked in BBC Television and went on to become an award-winning freelance writer, author and public speaker, specialising in archaeology, prehistory and in the Greek and Roman eras. She is a lecturer at York University and at the British Museum and presents in the media.

Having led and supported community archaeology projects in a hands-on way (hence 'The Muddy Archaeologist'), Gillian now actively digs at major sites in the UK and Europe (from Orkney's prehistoric Ness of Brodgar to Roman Pompeii and Vindolanda and sites and eras in between).

She also teaches courses and lectures in the UK and beyond for The Arts Society, summer schools (such as Marlborough), museums (including the British Museum and the Ashmolean in Oxford and, of course, local museums), schools and audiences ranging from the WI to the national media.

A month-long Arts Society lecture tour of Australia was so successful in 2018 that another was planned for 2021(Covid delay to 202/3)and one to New Zealand in 2022.

Gillian travels widely in her work and lectures and guides on tours and cruises around the UK and the Mediterranean for companies such as Andante, Voyages to Antiquity's cruises (including exclusive 'Muddy Archaeologist Groups'), Smithsonian Journeys, Ciceroni Travel, Academy Travel, ASA (Australians Studying Abroad) Tours, Paideia Institute and Saga specialist archaeology tours, and she used to run her own tour company,Visiting the Past Tours.Her lecture tours cover every era and destination from the Neolithic in Orkney & Roman Britain, to the Greeks and Romans and ancient civilisations throughout the Mediterranean.

Gillian shares her passion for ancient history in person, in books & freelance writing, in the field, in the media and on-line. She engages with folk in social and professional environments and inspires them to see that archaeological finds and sites are full of human life and passion. Gillian changes the way that people see their work and leisure, human nature and the world around them. Gardens, food, professions, art, architecture, even the words we speak, are given fresh new dimensions.

For history and archaeology are not just about the past, they're everywhere, and they add colour, depth and meaning to every aspect our lives today.

Even if you don't yet know that you're interested in ancient history, archaeology or Latin, Gillian can fire your imagination and inspire you to new visions.



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All courses run for 5 days

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