I know more about Greek mythology than I do about the Bible. As a member of the generation that grew up with Percy Jackson novels, this isn’t very surprising. However, when you work in the fact that I went to an Episcopalian school from the first to eighth grade with obligatory daily chapel attendings, this schism gets more perplexing.This is all extra intriguing because this Christian school is where I received the majority of my mythological education.
I took my first mythology exam in 3rd grade, which is coincidentally my first memory of stress. Everyone in our class received a D’Aulaires Book of Greek myths. For the next month and a half, we spent hours memorizing the names and details of basic Greek stories. The first memories of stress I have stem from Preparing for the exam. I scrawled things like “Zeus births Athena from his head” onto my flashcards, blissfully unaware of how seedy the majority of the stories I was reading were. I am not sure how my third-grade teacher at our Christian, Texan elementary school managed to explain the concept of Zeus’ repeated, persistent adultery to a room of eight-year olds with zero understanding of the concept of sex. But the mythology exam covered everything, blemishes in Zeus’ record and all.
This “mythology exam” wasn’t just a test we took for class credit. Rather, it was a two-hour long testing experience that was nationwide … or so I was led to believe. It wasn’t until I went to high school and college that I realized this wasn’t a curious relic of the no child left behind curriculum.
“Oh my god you know what’s such a weird memory,” I asked my roommate last semester. “The national mythology exam! What was that”.
I got a blank stare in return.
“You know, like the test you took every year for nearly a decade from ages eight to fourteen?” I asked. “You don’t know?”
This exam was my LIFE once a year for five years, and, I think, the start to my crippling test anxiety. I would spend months in preparation because our teachers made it out to feel like SUCH a big deal. The pressure I felt to have the entirety of the Greek’s mythological anthology profiled in my brain superseded any pressure I felt to believe in a God at all. I attended our daily chapel ceremonies each morning and sang “How Great is our God” while flipping through the Roman names of Greek gods in my brain. As we shared our “peace be with you” handshakes I strained to remember the names of every woman Zeus adulterated with.
I was so invested in acing this test because of how the results were presented to us. Every year when our testing scores came back, our school sent emails to the parents of the entire student body. In late May they poured into our chapel and proudly sat down next to their children. One by one our teachers called us up to hand us our awards. We were called up not by our grade but by where we placed in the exam. First Bronze, then Silver, and then Gold. By the time our teachers got to the end of this list, there were often only a handful of students left in the pews. While standing in the front of the church with your award, you could often hear the sniffles of the students who did not place. It was brutal.
My experience going to this school was overall a very good one. Although they would not be happy to hear I am now agnostic, they would be happy to hear that I actually remember a surprising amount of mythology. Probably because I spend every day in subconscious fear that someone on the street is going to run up to me and say: “Quick! Name four separate instances where Hera tortured the mistresses of Zeus by turning them into animals!”