“How to Read Literature Like a Professor” Presentation by Andrew Pollard

“How to Read Literature Like a Professor”
Chapter 9: It’s Greek to Me
Book by Thomas C. Foster
Presentation by Andrew Pollard
Period 3, 9/28/11
 Thomas C. Foster defines myth as “a body of story that
matters,” and that myths are means by which we, as
humans, explain ourselves in ways that science cannot
prove (65).
 Foster goes on to say that myths shape our culture, and, in
turn, we are shaped by them.
 For instance, there are names of cities in the US called
Ithaca, Sparta and Rome; school mascots with names like
Trojans; and modern fiction books about Myths, such as
The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.
Types of Myths
 There are three types of myths: Shakespearean, biblical,
and folk/fairy tale. Foster states that “Of the three,
biblical myth probably covers the greatest range of
human situations” (65).
 Biblical myths, as well as Shakespearean and folk/fairy
tales cover a very wide range of human experience:
relationships, physical, psychological, spiritual, and even
sexual experiences.
 The way that the myth is perceived is often more important
than the myth itself. Foster says “We’re chiefly concerned
with how that story functions as material for literary
creators, the way in which it can inform a story or poem, and
how it is perceived by the reader” (Foster 64).
 A modern writer borrows situations from the Greek heroes
to put his/her characters in and the reader can perceive
them in such a way as they make sense in his/her own life.
“Icarus, the Kid, the Daredevil”
 Myths feel so real, so true because they can relate to the situations
of today, even though they were written many years ago. For
example, the story of Icarus.
 Foster tells us that “In it [Icarus’ story] we see so much: the parental
attempt to save the child and the grief at having failed . . . the
youthful exuberance that leads to self – destruction” (Foster 66).
 Socrates once said “The children now love luxury; they have bad
manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders
and love chatter in place of exercise. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their
legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” This is usually the way adults feel
even now.
Homer’s The Iliad & The Odyssey
 Foster states “Those who have never read it [The Iliad] assume that
it is the story of the Trojan War. It is not. It is the story of a single,
rather lengthy action: the wrath of Achilles” (69).
 A common belief is that The Iliad is about Paris stealing Helen, and the
Greeks going to war to recapture her. Foster tells the reader that it is
mostly about the inner struggles of a man.
 After the “coalition” left to go to Troy, Agamemnon stole Achilles’ war
bride, causing Achilles to not participate in the war. He only returned to
fight when his childhood friend, Patroclus, was killed.
 Somehow, through the centuries, The Iliad has become a story that
“epitomizes ideals of heroism, loyalty, sacrifice and loss” (Foster 70).
The Power of Myth
 Foster notes “That recognition [of myth] makes our
experience of literature richer, deeper, more meaningful,
so that our own modern stores also matter, also share in
the power of myth” (73).
 I believe that Foster is saying that myth is something of
our own creation, a kind of imagination, something that
we want to believe. Myth has the power to enrich our
literature, as well as bring the reader closer to
understanding his surroundings.
Application to Great Expectations
 Many of the characters in Great Expectations go through trials and changes
just like the heroes in Homer’s works do. For instance, Achilles comes back
to fight in the war because his friend is killed, and feels that it was his fault.
Therefore, Achilles fights to regain, and maintain his dignity, just as Pip does
in Great Expectations when Estella humiliates him, and when he wrongs Joe
and Biddy.
 Pip tries to maintain his dignity by hiding his tears from Estella. Pip
remembers that “The moment they [Pip’s tears] sprang there the girl
looked at me with a quick delight in having been the cause of them. This
gave me power to keep them back” (Dickens 68).
 Pip begs of them “’Don’t tell him, Joe, that I was thankless; don’t tell him,
Biddy, that I was ungenerous and unjust . . . pray tell me, both that you
forgive me!’” (Dickens 532, 533).
Application to Everyday Life
 Foster tells the reader of each character in the Iliad & Odyssey and their
meaning; “The need to protect one’s family: Hector. The need to maintain
one’s dignity: Achilles. The determination to remain faithful and to have
faith: Penelope. The struggle to return home: Odysseus. Homer gives us
four great struggles of the human being: with nature, with the divine, with
other humans, and with ourselves” (Foster 71).
 In life, all of these exist. The man of every household works at his job to
protect his family from becoming homeless. Competitive people fight to
the finish of a game to protect their pride. Many husbands and wives
struggle to stay faithful, and many who have lost everything struggle to
have faith. The armed forces fight for their lives, just so that they can
return home to their families.
Works Cited & Bibliography
 Foster, Thomas C. New York: How to Read Literature Like a
Professor. Harper – Collins Publishers, Inc., 2003. Print.
 Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York. Barnes &
Noble Books, 2003. Print.
 Patty, William L., and Louise S. Johnson. "195. Socrates
(469-399 B.C.). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of
Quotations. 1989." Bartleby.com: Great Books Online -Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and Hundreds More. Web.
24 Sept. 2011. <http://www.bartleby.com/73/195.html>.