Exposing students to classic mythology can be daunting. That’s why we’ve put together a roundup of engaging myths from our digital literacy program that both teachers and students will love. Each of these Greek and Roman classics feature compelling characters and exhilarating plots that are sure to keep students interested and provide great reading comprehension practice. These texts are also a great entrypoint for students to build their background knowledge and launch deep discussions around universal themes such as morality, vanity, and power.
Whether you’re new to CommonLit’s literacy program or a longtime CommonLit fan looking to refresh your ELA instructional plans, you’re sure to find a great text for your students from this list.
Theseus and the Minotaur by E2BN.org (6th Grade)
In this particular myth, a prince travels to fight a monster. The intense quest and twist-ending will be sure to keep students on the edge of their seats.
This is great text for tracing how a character’s actions and characteristics help drive the plot. After reading, engage students in Discussion Question 2, "How does the ending of the story change your opinion of Theseus' character? Do you think the gods should punish him? Why or why not?"
Jupiter and His Mighty Company End the Golden Age by James Baldwin (7th Grade)
The text begins by establishing the background: the time in which Saturn, the King of the Titans, ruled was known as the Golden Age, an era of prosperity. Despite this prosperity, Saturn’s son, Jupiter, plots with his siblings to overthrow Saturn and remove the Titans from power. After a lengthy war, Saturn gains power and his reign is defined by greed and destruction, marking the end of the Golden Age.
This piece is well-suited for a lesson that explores how a myth’s themes can be used to make text-to-world connections. Try opening such a discussion with Discussion Question 4, “Should power always belong to those who are the strongest? Is it fair for the strong to rule over the weak? In the context of this text, is power used fairly?”
The Story of Prometheus and Pandora’s Box by James Baldwin (8th Grade)
James Baldwin’s accessible retelling of this class myth allows students to dive deep into its action and theme. Prometheus asks the gods to grant him fire to address the suffering of mortals, but Jupiter denies this request. Prometheus decides to take matters into his own hands, bringing fire to mankind. As a result, Jupiter punishes mankind by creating Pandora, a woman out of clay. Prior to her wedding, Athena gifts Pandora a box, warning her to never look inside. Despite these warnings, Pandora opens the box, releasing disease and anxieties onto humankind.
This dramatic tale is a great launchpad for students to weigh consequences of choice. Start with Discussion Question 1, “Would it have been better if Prometheus never came and gave the people fire? Was humanity better off because it had fire and civilization, or worse off because the cost was misery and disease?”
The Legend of Oedipus by CommonLit Staff (9th Grade)
Oedipus’s origin story is sure to spark students’ interest: prior to his birth, an oracle prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. To prevent this from happening, Oedipus’s father binds his legs and tells a servant to abandon him on a mountain. The servant disobeys, and Oedipus lives on, fulfilling the prophecy and bringing disaster to his family and city.
This is a great text for introducing students to the tragic hero. Students can extend their knowledge by reading the paired text Lord Arthur Sailve’s Crime by Oscar Wilde. Ask students to compare the themes and characters, “How did either character, if at all, contribute to the fulfillment of a prophecy?”
Echo and Narcissus by Ovid (10th Grade)
After his birth, Narcissus’s mother is told by a prophet that he will live a long life if he fails to recognize his reflection. He grows up to be an exceptionally handsome young man until a past admirer puts a curse on him to never attain the thing he loves most. Narcissus stumbles upon a pond and spots his reflection for the first time, falling deeply in love with the vision of the man he sees. Heartbroken over the untouchable man, he refuses to leave the pond and soon dies, sealing the prophecy.
After reading this text, have students watch the Related Media video to compare different interpretations of the myth. While watching the video, ask students, “How does the use of music and imagery help contribute to the mood and theme?”
The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus by Ovid (11th Grade)
When Daedalus and his son Icarus are exiled to Crete, they attempt escape by creating wings, fashioned out of beeswax. Daedalus warns his son not to fly too high or too low, but Icarus does not listen. The heat of the wax melts his wings, he falls into the sea, and dies.
This is a great text for discussing how the interaction of characters builds to the theme. It is also great for analyzing the author's perspective, particularly how the author’s point of view leads to the moral lesson to be learned from this tragedy. After reading, ask your students Discussion Question 2, “Is ‘The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus’ a tragedy of Icarus, or of Daedalus?”
The Transformation of Arachne Into a Spider by Ovid (12th Grade)
In this narrative poem, Arachne, a highly skilled weaver, is unwilling to acknowledge the source of her talent, the goddess Pallas. She then competes against Pallas by weaving beautiful tapestries but loses. After losing, Arachne hangs herself. Pallas brings her back to life by transforming her into a spider.
This poem is full of mythological references and well suited to examine development of the theme through dueling character perspectives and the symbolism of the tapestry such as Assessment Question 9: “Compare the imagery both Pallas and Arachne weave into their work. How do these images develop the myth’s overall meaning?”
If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program, join one of our upcoming webinars!