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Myth in Human History  By  cover art

Myth in Human History

By: Grant L. Voth,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Grant L. Voth
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Publisher's Summary

Myths provide the keys to truly grasping the ways that principles, rituals, codes, and taboos are woven into the fabric of a particular society or civilization.

It's through myths that we can answer these and other fundamental questions: How was the universe created, and why? What is the purpose of evil? Why is society organized the way it is? How did natural features like rivers, mountains, and oceans emerge?

This entertaining and illuminating course plunges you into the world's greatest myths. Taking you from ancient Greece and Japan to North America and Africa to New Zealand and Great Britain, these 36 lectures reveal mythology's profound importance in shaping nearly every aspect of culture. You'll also discover the hidden connections between them - a comparative approach that emphasizes the universality of myths across cultures.

Along with the stories themselves, you'll encounter fascinating characters, including Herakles, the ancient Greek hero whose life illustrates the idea that all heroic stories have a similar structure; Loki, the shape-shifting trickster who introduces the concept of time into the Norse realm of Asgard; and King Arthur, the Celtic lord and founder of the Knights of the Round Table.

Myths, according to Professor Voth, are "gifts from the ancestors to be cherished." His enchanting lectures are the perfect way for you to celebrate these cherished gifts, inviting you to develop your own interpretations of these age-old tales, as well as to ponder the role that myths - both ancient and everyday - play in your own life.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2010 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2010 The Great Courses

What listeners say about Myth in Human History

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Five stars, with some caveats

This course is an excellent introduction and overview of world mythology. It covers a lot of ground, and does it well. While I would recommend it to anyone, I need to add the following caveats:

Because it covers so much ground, it moves as a very brisk speed, and in some cases I would have preferred to get more depth (for example, more detail on some of the hero myths, and more discussion of the psychological interpretation of myth, a la Rank, Jung and Campbell). Dr. Voth did a really good job of covering the material, but there's enough here for two or even three lecture series.

Second, I found my interest waning slightly in during the latter part of the course. This may have been because (while he never says so) Prof. Voth seems to be suggesting a kind of monomyth for trickster myths (similar to the monomyth of the hero). While I thought the argument and evidence presented for the hero monomyth was compelling, it seemed that the trickster myths were much more diverse (hard to see an parallel between the Norse Loki and the African Anansi as presented here, for example).

Still, the course material was very engaging, and I will definitely be broadening my study of mythology as a result.

41 people found this helpful

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Biased

It's clear that the author has a Christian bias towards the subject. As someone who isn't Christian, it was frustrating to hear about everything is a myth except Christian concepts.

22 people found this helpful

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Great idea, good lecturer, missing materials

Any additional comments?

This book refers to lecture notes etc., that should be available with the recording. They are not provided and it's hard to follow what Prof both is referring to. Majorly disappointed in audible here.

16 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Good introduction to world mythology

This is an eclectically organized analysis of myths from around the world, focusing on patterns which come up in all myths, regardless of location. Voth speaks about creation myths, tricksters, heroes and heroines, destruction myths, and how we can look at all these patterns to see some basic truths about ourselves as humans.

I learned a great deal from this series of lectures, though it left me feeling a bit frustrated. Voth, by focusing on the analytical side and on the patterns of myth, did not have time to tell the myths in their entirety. As such, I am ready to devour books upon books telling the actual stories that he merely touched upon.

I definitely do recommend this course for anyone who knows little of world mythology and is curious to learn more, or wants some direction to go for their research.

15 people found this helpful

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Excellent overview of myths!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I was initially looking for a place to start my research into Greek and Roman myth, and this series turned out to be the perfect place. It introduced me to so much more than I set out to discover. It not only touched on individual myths from across the globe, but it also explored the many types/categories of myths and the reasons for their existence. I feel that if I had focused on Greek and Roman mythology without first listening to this series, I would have missed out on so much foundational knowledge. Having a stronger understanding of mythology now will enhance my exploration of ancient cultures and their myths in the future.

What did you like best about this story?

I love that I walked away from this lecture series with a greater sense that myths from across the globe and throughout time are both unique/dynamic as well as universal and fundamentally connected. The details of myths may change, but the reason for their existence in human culture is not so different.

What about Professor Grant L. Voth’s performance did you like?

Professor Voth was very energetic and enthusiastic about the subject matter, and this was certainly contagious. I would have enjoyed this subject matter either way, but his delivery made it so much more enjoyable and kept my interest the entire time. He also gave great suggestions on further research, which I've already pursued. I was actually very sad when this series ended because the new series I've started is taught by a different professor. This series has been my commute companion for quite some time, and Professor Voth made the ride something I really looked forward to each day!!!

14 people found this helpful

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Very well done and insightful

Where does Myth in Human History rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is a very worthwhile course. It contains really good analysis of how myths tell us a lot about the culture, principles, and views held by civilizations, what is most important to them at a particular time, and how that evolves over time (such as people’s conception of “god”). Tales of tricksters were some of the highlights of the course. These tales were not only humorous but also were good topics for psychological analysis (they allowed for people to either question or poke fun of their society’s social norms/rules without ostracism). A great number of myths were covered in the course even though I hoped for a little more time spent on classic fairy tales and the purposes or lessons behind them.

Specific "likes" of mine:
• Myths from a wide variety of places were discussed: North American Native American, Sumeria/Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Australia, Britain, Africa, China, Japan, etc. (NOTE: myths of ancient Greece were limited due to Professor Vandiver's "Classical Mythology" course)
o Discussion around how ancient myths tell us a lot about the culture, principles, and views held by civilizations and what is most important to them at a particular time
o Classification of creation myths into genres:
- Earth Diver myths in which creation comes from mud retrieved from water
- Cosmic egg
- Earth being created from the body of a dismembered god
- Ex Nihilo myths in which creation comes out of nothing from a god (i.e. Old Testament)
- Emergence myths in which creatures discover the earth from underground worlds
- World parent myths in which a parental unit breaks apart into separate individuals
- Rebirth of earth via flood stories

o How people conceive/view “god” has changed over time as peoples and civilizations have changed both internally and externally; Peoples’ conception of “god” has morphed from a pre-eminence of a mother goddess to sky gods (when conquering people invaded the lands) to a family of gods (when civilizations sprung up) to a single male god who created everything (monotheism) and then the need to bridge the gap between a god that had become too transcendent and humanity (Jesus, Buddhism, mysticism, etc.)

o Exploration of the common themes of what makes a hero and how all hero myths have similar storyline elements leading some to conclude that all myths may be a part of one general myth/archetype that may either be a reflection of how humans have apprehended the divine or psychological analysis of the unconsciousness

o Tales of the Trickster- a clever troublemaker who stands on the boundaries of humans and the gods and outside the social conventions and values of a society but brings something positive to that society such as introducing fire or the sun to people even if he does so as more of a side effect of his selfish purposes vs altruistic ones

• The professor’s laugh when discussing humorous myths was contagious and created an endearing quality to his style

Relatively minor "dislikes" from me:
• At one point I found myself tuning out when one world creation myth after another was being discussed and they sounded like they were all rolling into one another without distinction
• The lectures on sacred places weren’t intriguing to me (would’ve liked more trickster myths!)
• Would’ve liked more discussion of fairy tales and the purposes and lessons behind them (only two or three were mentioned as part of another topic)

If you have any interest whatsoever in ancient myths and what they say about a civilization, I highly recommend this course. I am not sure anyone else could've handled the topic better.

12 people found this helpful

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Eye-Opening

This was a wonderful course. I was worried at the beginning that it was too introductory -- I hold a degree in history, English, and theatre and the first two lectures were old hat for me. But as soon as Prof. Voth moved into discussing individual myths and influences, I was completely on board. Even the very familiar Adam and Eve myth was given new light. I highly recommend the course!

6 people found this helpful

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Needed introduction to obscure myths

The course compares myths from different cultures along certain themes, such as creation myths, flood myths, great goddess, creator god, mythic heroes, and tricksters. It was hard to keep track of the characters from the obscure myths from Africa, Japan, China, Mesopotamia, and Sumeria (compared to the more familiar myths from Greek, Norse, and Egypt). It would have been better if the author started with an introduction of the gods and goddesses of those unknown myths. Then the comparison of the various myths would have been easier to follow.

5 people found this helpful

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Myth vs Religion

I just want to point out that the only difference between myth and religion is in the belief of the person asking the question. Tip toeing around the fact in a class on myths gives extra credence to whichever myth you are tip toeing around at the time. Granted we all know that in the USA this will be done around the Aberhamic religions (Catholic, Christianity and its many sub-styles, and Islam we don't even tip toe around Scientology and Morman myths. All myths have some good moral or knowledge to pass on and at the same time they are all fictional in the sense that the characters and stories are make believe to exaggeration to downright silly. At the same time some nugget of knowledge can be extracted as well. I guess my point is if someone takes a class on mythology should be prepared for the fact that there religion is a myth just like everyone else's, and in more cases than not there religions myths are most likely borrowed from older religions/myths. Things like virgin births, important dates, and many storylines are similar as well. Suck it up

4 people found this helpful

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  • 12-14-14

Not what I expected

The author of this course is very knowledgeable, however, his presentation is extremely dry and irrelevant. I had hoped to learn how the history of myth in our cultures has exerted an influence on how we express ourselves today. What I got was a litany of events that felt boring and irrelevant. I can't finish listening to it!

3 people found this helpful

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  • Finn
  • 06-16-18

A broad array of myths with provocative analysis

The course achieves a good balance of myth-telling with analysis of those myths. Myths are taken from a generous range of cultures, grouped by theme rather than origin. This is important, as it allows common motifs to be identified across stories of different origin, establishing patterns and typical narrative frameworks.

The lecturer is engaging and fluid: the myths are told warmly, and their significance well-emphasised.

Overall, the course allows an insight into something more than the history of different cultures. It is a window into the minds of the people who held those myths as sacred - how they viewed the world, where they thought their place in it was, and what they valued.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Diogenes
  • 06-25-17

A very knowledgeable and enthusiastic lecturer who might be able to structure this better.

The thematic structure makes this course unnecessarily complex and difficult to follow.

I would have preferred it if the course covered all of the themes upfront and in detail and then when through each set of myths or cultures as a collective. This would give the listener more time to become familiar with the characters and more cultural specific elements of each myth or set of myths. Of course while going through each "set" of myths by region or culture the lecturer could make reference to the themes (or analytical tools) referred to at the beginning.

Unfortunately of the 25 or so Great Courses that I have completely (several more than once) this is the most difficult to follow, not because of its content, but because of its structure.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Exidia
  • 09-28-14

Really easy way to learn!

What did you like best about this story?

It's not a story, but a series of lectures about how humans have used myths to explain things they couldn't understand. You have to engage brain in order to appreciate it, but it is well worth the effort.

What about Professor Grant L. Voth’s performance did you like?

He has a lively style and is a good, listenable lecturer.

Any additional comments?

The only reason it didn't get full marks was that the man who introduces each lecture shouts in the most annoying way!!

3 people found this helpful

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  • mr
  • 06-02-14

Not great

A subject that is very interesting, made boring. The stories are great and should be left to speak for them selves, less repition, more variety.

2 people found this helpful

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  • maz
  • 10-19-19

Highly recommended

A great insight into the world of mythology. Great analysis of why we have myths and the theories behind them. Grant L . Both was a joy to listen to with an abundance of information.

1 person found this helpful

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  • K. Reid
  • 10-01-21

Stunning course

A compelling and likeable professor who delivers a grand and insightful tour of world mythology. Deserves repeat listening. This gives you the stories but also some tools for how to think about them, compare them and interpret them. One of the BEST Great Courses I have listened to and I have listened to a lot.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-28-21

Fantastic and insightful

This was absolutely fantastic and I found it very informative and inspiring. Grant L. Voth does a great job of explaining the different elements of myth and how they relate back to both the culture as well as other myths found in others. His voice was perfect as there is clear interest and enthusiasm heard within it. No dry, or monotonous tones here. absolutely recommend if you have an interest in mythology or cultural beliefs.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-05-19

A great introduction to human myth

This course is fairly fast paced but is a delightful introduction to the concepts and themes within human myth. There is some questionable pronunciations of places and people throughout, but overall a very enjoyable book.