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Early rival classifications of Greek mythos by Euhemerus, Plato's Phaedrus, and Sallustius were developed by the neoplatonists and revived by Renaissance mythographers as in the Theologia mythologica (1532). Nineteenth-century comparative mythology reinterpreted myth as evolution toward science (E. B. Tylor), "disease of language" (Max Müller), or misinterpretation of magical ritual (James Frazer). Later interpretations rejected opposition between myth and science, such as Jungian archetypes, Joseph Campbell's "metaphor of spiritual potentiality", or Lévi-Strauss's fixed mental architecture. Tension between Campbell's comparative search for monomyth or Ur-myth and anthropological mythologists' skepticism of universal origin has marked the 20th century. Further, modern mythopoeia such as fantasy novels, manga, and urban legend, with many competing artificial mythoi acknowledged as fiction, supports the idea of myth as ongoing social practice.
Nature of myths
|List of mythologies|
Typical characteristicsThe main characters in myths are usually gods, supernatural heroes and humans. As sacred stories, myths are often endorsed by rulers and priests and closely linked to religion or spirituality. In the society in which it is told, a myth is usually regarded as a true account of the remote past. In fact, many societies have two categories of traditional narrative, "true stories" or myths, and "false stories" or fables. Creation myths generally take place in a primordial age, when the world had not yet achieved its current form, and explain how the world gained its current form and how customs, institutions and taboos were established.
TerminologyThe term "mythology" can refer either to the study of myths or to a body or collection of myths. For example, landscape mythology is the study of landscape features in terms of totemistic mythology, whereas Hittite mythology is the body of myths of the Hittites. In folkloristics, a "myth" is a sacred narrative usually explaining how the world or humankind came to be in its present form, "a story that serves to define the fundamental worldview of a culture by explaining aspects of the natural world and delineating the psychological and social practices and ideals of a society". Many scholars in other fields use the term "myth" in somewhat different ways; in a very broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story or, in casual use, a popular misconception or imaginary entity. Because the folkloristic meaning of "myth" is often confused with this more pejorative usage, the original unambiguous term "mythos" may be a better word to distinguish the positive definition from the negative.
Closely related to myth are legend and folktale. Myths, legends, and folktales are different types of traditional story. Unlike mythos, folktales can be set in any time and any place, and they are not considered true or sacred by the societies that tell them. Like mythos, legends are stories that are traditionally considered true, but are set in a more recent time, when the world was much as it is today. Legends generally feature humans as their main characters, whereas myths generally focus on superhuman characters.
The distinction between myth, legend, and folktale is meant simply as a useful tool for grouping traditional stories. In many cultures, it is hard to draw a sharp line between myths and legends. Instead of dividing their traditional stories into myths, legends, and folktales, some cultures divide them into two categories, one that roughly corresponds to folktales, and one that combines myths and legends. Even myths and folktales are not completely distinct. A story may be considered true (and therefore a mythos) in one society, but considered fictional (and therefore a folktale) in another society. In fact, when a myth loses its status as part of a religious system, it often takes on traits more typical of folktales, with its formerly divine characters reinterpreted as human heroes, giants, or fairies.
Myth, legend, and folktale are only a few of the categories of traditional stories. Other categories include anecdotes and some kinds of jokes. Traditional stories, in turn, are only one category within folklore, which also includes items such as gestures, costumes, and music.
Origins of myth
EuhemerismOne theory claims that myths are distorted accounts of real historical events. According to this theory, storytellers repeatedly elaborated upon historical accounts until the figures in those accounts gained the status of gods. For example, one might argue that the myth of the wind-god Aeolus evolved from a historical account of a king who taught his people to use sails and interpret the winds. Herodotus (5th century BC) and Prodicus made claims of this kind. This theory is named "euhemerism" after the mythologist Euhemerus (c.320 BC), who suggested that the Greek gods developed from legends about human beings.
AllegorySome theories propose that myths began as allegories. According to one theory, myths began as allegories for natural phenomena: Apollo represents the sun, Poseidon represents water, and so on. According to another theory, myths began as allegories for philosophical or spiritual concepts: Athena represents wise judgment, Aphrodite represents desire, etc. The 19th century Sanskritist Max Müller supported an allegorical theory of myth. He believed that myths began as allegorical descriptions of nature, but gradually came to be interpreted literally: for example, a poetic description of the sea as "raging" was eventually taken literally, and the sea was then thought of as a raging god.
PersonificationSome thinkers believe that myths resulted from the personification of inanimate objects and forces. According to these thinkers, the ancients worshipped natural phenomena such as fire and air, gradually coming to describe them as gods. For example, according to the theory of mythopoeic thought, the ancients tended to view things as persons, not as mere objects; thus, they described natural events as acts of personal gods, thus giving rise to myths.
Myth-ritual theoryAccording to the myth-ritual theory, the existence of myth is tied to ritual. In its most extreme form, this theory claims that myths arose to explain rituals. This claim was first put forward by the biblical scholar William Robertson Smith. According to Smith, people begin performing rituals for some reason that is not related to myth; later, after they have forgotten the original reason for a ritual, they try to account for the ritual by inventing a myth and claiming that the ritual commemorates the events described in that myth. The anthropologist James Frazer had a similar theory. Frazer believed that primitive man starts out with a belief in magical laws; later, when man begins to lose faith in magic, he invents myths about gods and claims that his formerly magical rituals are religious rituals intended to appease the gods.
Functions of mythMircea Eliade argued that one of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior and that myths may also provide a religious experience. By telling or reenacting myths, members of traditional societies detach themselves from the present and return to the mythical age, thereby bringing themselves closer to the divine.
Lauri Honko asserts that, in some cases, a society will reenact a myth in an attempt to reproduce the conditions of the mythical age. For example, it will reenact the healing performed by a god at the beginning of time in order to heal someone in the present. Similarly, Roland Barthes argues that modern culture explores religious experience. Because it is not the job of science to define human morality, a religious experience is an attempt to connect with a perceived moral past, which is in contrast with the technological present.
Joseph Campbell defined myths as having four basic functions: the Mystical Function—experiencing the awe of the universe; the Cosmological Function—explaining the shape of the universe; the Sociological Function—supporting and validating a certain social order; and the Pedagogical Function—how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.
Study of mythologyHistorically, the important approaches to the study of mythology have been those of Vico, Schelling, Schiller, Jung, Freud, Lévy-Bruhl, Lévi-Strauss, Frye, the Soviet school, and the Myth and Ritual School.
Pre-modern theoriesThe critical interpretation of myth goes back as far as the Presocratics. Euhemerus was one of the most important pre-modern mythologists. He interpreted myths as accounts of actual historical events, distorted over many retellings. This view of myths and their origin is criticised by Plato in the Phaedrus (229d), in which Socrates says that this approach is the province of one who is "vehemently curious and laborious, and not entirely happy . . ." The Platonists generally had a more profound and comprehensive view of the subject. Sallustius, for example, divides myths into five categories – theological, physical (or concerning natural laws), animastic (or concerning soul), material and mixed. This last being those myths which show the interaction between two or more of the previous categories and which, he says, are particularly used in initiations.
Although Plato famously condemned poetic myth when discussing the education of the young in the Republic, primarily on the grounds that there was a danger that the young and uneducated might take the stories of Gods and heroes literally, nevertheless he constantly refers to myths of all kinds throughout his writings. As Platonism developed in the phases commonly called 'middle Platonism' and neoplatonism, such writers as Plutarch, Porphyry, Proclus, Olympiodorus and Damascius wrote explicitly about the symbolic interpretation of traditional and Orphic myths. Interest in polytheistic mythology revived in the Renaissance, with early works on mythography appearing in the 16th century, such as the Theologia mythologica (1532).
19th-century theoriesThe first scholarly theories of myth appeared during the second half of the 19th century. In general, these 19th-century theories framed myth as a failed or obsolete mode of thought, often by interpreting myth as the primitive counterpart of modern science.
For example, E. B. Tylor interpreted myth as an attempt at a literal explanation for natural phenomena: unable to conceive of impersonal natural laws, early man tried to explain natural phenomena by attributing souls to inanimate objects, giving rise to animism. According to Tylor, human thought evolves through various stages, starting with mythological ideas and gradually progressing to scientific ideas. Not all scholars — not even all 19th century scholars — have agreed with this view. For example, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl claimed that "the primitive mentality is a condition of the human mind, and not a stage in its historical development."
Max Müller called myth a "disease of language". He speculated that myths arose due to the lack of abstract nouns and neuter gender in ancient languages: anthropomorphic figures of speech, necessary in such languages, were eventually taken literally, leading to the idea that natural phenomena were conscious beings, gods.
The anthropologist James Frazer saw myths as a misinterpretation of magical rituals; which were themselves based on a mistaken idea of natural law. According to Frazer, man begins with an unfounded belief in impersonal magical laws. When he realizes that his applications of these laws don't work, he gives up his belief in natural law, in favor of a belief in personal gods controlling nature — thus giving rise to religious myths. Meanwhile, man continues practicing formerly magical rituals through force of habit, reinterpreting them as reenactments of mythical events. Finally, Frazer contends, man realizes that nature does follow natural laws, but now he discovers their true nature through science. Here, again, science makes myth obsolete: as Frazer puts it, man progresses "from magic through religion to science".
Robert Segal asserts that by pitting mythical thought against modern scientific thought, such theories implied that modern man must abandon myth.
20th-century theoriesMany 20th-century theories of myth rejected the 19th-century theories' opposition of myth and science. In general, "twentieth-century theories have tended to see myth as almost anything but an outdated counterpart to science […] Consequently, moderns are not obliged to abandon myth for science."
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1873–1961) tried to understand the psychology behind world myths. Jung asserted that all humans share certain innate unconscious psychological forces, which he called archetypes. Jung believed that the similarities between the myths from different cultures reveals the existence of these universal archetypes.
Joseph Campbell believed that there were two different orders of mythology: myths that "are metaphorical of spiritual potentiality in the human being," and myths "that have to do with specific societies".
Claude Lévi-Strauss believed that myths reflect patterns in the mind and interpreted those patterns more as fixed mental structures — specifically, pairs of opposites (i.e. good/evil, compassionate/callous) — than as unconscious feelings or urges.
In his appendix to Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, and in The Myth of the Eternal Return, Mircea Eliade attributed modern man’s anxieties to his rejection of myths and the sense of the sacred.
In the 1950s, Roland Barthes published a series of essays examining modern myths and the process of their creation in his book Mythologies.
Examples of myths
- The earth-maker myth (Native American mythos, California): In the darkness of the vast waters of Outer Ocean, Earth-Maker was afloat in his canoe; Earth-Maker took clay to form the First People and created the seas with his tears.
- Obàtálá (Yoruba mythos): Obàtálá, created by the supreme entity Olódùmarè, was given ownership of every being's head (the seat of the soul), created the land by causing a rooster to kick and scatter the earth, and founded the first Yoruba city, Ife; he is also called the King of White Cloth, Orisha-Nla, or Olufon.
- The Primary Chronicle (Slavic mythos, 12th century): Perun (the creator of lightning and thunder) and Veles oversee the 10th-century peace treaties between the Eastern Slavs and the Byzantine emperors; Vladimir I of Kiev later introduces a pantheon of Perun, Hors, Dažbog, Stribog, Simargl, and Mokosh. (Due to lack of firsthand sources, reconstruction of pre-Christian Slavic mythos is based on this and similar late works.)
Comparative mythologyComparative mythology is the systematic comparison of myths from different cultures. It seeks to discover underlying themes that are common to the myths of multiple cultures. In some cases, comparative mythologists use the similarities between different mythologies to argue that those mythologies have a common source. This common source may be a common source of inspiration (e.g. a certain natural phenomenon that inspired similar myths in different cultures) or a common "protomythology" that diverged into the various mythologies we see today.
Nineteenth-century interpretations of myth were often highly comparative, seeking a common origin for all myths. However, modern-day scholars tend to be more suspicious of comparative approaches, avoiding overly general or universal statements about mythology. One exception to this modern trend is Joseph Campbell's book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), which claims that all hero myths follow the same underlying pattern. This theory of a "monomyth" is out of favor with the mainstream study of mythology.
Modern mythologycultural studies are now beginning to research the idea that myth has worked itself into modern discourses. Modern formats of communication allow for wide spread communication across the globe, thus enabling mythological discourse and exchange among greater audiences than ever before. Various elements of myth can now be found in television, cinema and video games.
Although myth was traditionally transmitted through the oral tradition on a small scale, the technology of the film industry has enabled filmmakers to transmit myths to large audiences via film dissemination (Singer, “Mythmaking: Philosophy in Film”, 3-6). In the psychology of Carl Jung, myths are the expression of a culture or society’s goals, fears, ambitions and dreams (Indick, “Classical Heroes in Modern Movies: Mythological Patterns of the Superhero", 93-95). Film is ultimately an expression of the society in which it was credited, and reflects the norms and ideals of the time and location in which it is created. In this sense, film is simply the evolution of myth. The technological aspect of film changes the way the myth is distributed, but the core idea of the myth is the same.
The basis of modern storytelling in both cinema and television lies deeply rooted in the mythological tradition. Many contemporary and technologically advanced movies often rely on ancient myths to construct narratives. The Disney Corporation is notorious among cultural study scholars for “reinventing” traditional childhood myths (Koven, “Folklore Studies and Popular Film and Television: A Necessary Critical Survey”, 176-195). While many films are not as obvious as Disney fairy tales in respect to the employment of myth, the plots of many films are largely based on the rough structure of the myth. Mythological archetypes such as the cautionary tale regarding the abuse of technology, battles between gods, and creation stories are often the subject of major film productions. These films are often created under the guise of cyberpunk action movies, fantasy dramas, and apocalyptic tales. Although the range of narratives, as well as the medium in which it is being told is constantly increasing, it is clear that myth continues to be a pervasive and essential component of the collective imagination (Cormer, "Narrative." Critical Ideas in Television Studies, 47-59.)
Recent films such as Clash of the Titans, Immortals or Thor continue the trend of mining traditional mythology in order to directly create a plot for modern consumption. Although these are generally considered inaccurate to the original mythologies on which they are based, it can be argued that as film itself has become a way transmitting myths, these films are no more inaccurate than the variants told by storytellers of the oral tradition. In fact, it is argued that these new contributions to traditional myths add value and meaning to the stories for new generations (Matira, "Children's Oral Literature and Modern Mass Media", 55-57).
With the invention of modern myths such as urban legends, the mythological traditional will carry on to the increasing variety of mediums available to the consumer in the 21st century and beyond. The crucial idea is that myth is not simply a collection of stories permanently fixed to a particular time and place in history, but an ongoing social practice within every society.
- Archetypal literary criticism
- Artificial mythology
- Creation myth
- Deluge myth
- Legendary creature
- LGBT themes in mythology
- Mythical place
- Mythological archetypes
- Myth and religion
- Kirk, p. 8; "myth", Encyclopædia Britannica
- Dundes, Introduction, p. 1
- Kirk, "Defining", p. 57; Kirk, Myth, p. 74; Simpson, p. 3
- Lincoln, Bruce (2006). "An Early Moment in the Discourse of "Terrorism": Reflections on a Tale from Marco Polo". Comparative Studies in Society and History 48 (2): 242-259. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3879351. "More precisely, mythic discourse deals in master categories that have multiple referents: levels of the cosmos, terrestrial geographies, plant and animal species, logical categories, and the like. Their plots serve to organize the relations among these categories and to justify a hierarchy among them, establishing the rightness (or at least the necessity) of a world in which heaven is above earth, the lion the king of beasts, the cooked more pleasing than the raw."
- Bascom, p. 9
- "myths", A Dictionary of English Folklore
- O'Flaherty, p.78: "I think it can be well argued as a matter of principle that, just as 'biography is about chaps', so mythology is about gods."
- Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, p. 23
- Pettazzoni, p. 102
- Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 10-11; Pettazzoni, p. 99-101
- Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 6
- Kirk, p. 8; "myth", Encyclopædia Britannica
- Grassie, William (March 1998). "Science as Epic? Can the modern evolutionary cosmology be a mythic story for our time?". Science & Spirit 9 (1). "The word 'myth' is popularly understood to mean idle fancy, fiction, or falsehood; but there is another meaning of the word in academic discourse .... Using the original Greek term mythos is perhaps a better way to distinguish this more positive and all-encompassing definition of the word."
- Dundes, "Madness", p. 147
- Doty, p. 11-12
- Segal, p. 5
- Kirk, "Defining", p. 57; Kirk, Myth, p. 74; Simpson, p. 3
- "myth". Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.). Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1993. p. 770.
- Bascom, p. 7
- Bascom, p. 10
- Kirk, Myth, p. 22, 32; Kirk, "Defining", p. 55
- Bascom, p. 17
- Bascom, p. 13
- Doty, p. 114
- Bulfinch, p. 194
- Honko, p. 45
- "Euhemerism", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
- Segal, p. 20
- Bulfinch, p. 195
- Frankfort, p. 4
- Frankfort, p. 15
- Segal, p. 61
- Graf, p. 40
- Meletinsky pp.19-20
- Segal, p. 63
- Frazer, p. 711
- Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 8
- Honko, p. 51
- Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 19
- Honko, p. 49
- Roland Barthes, Mythologies
- Campbell, p. 22-23
- Guy Lanoue, Foreword to Meletinsky, p.viii
- Segal, p. 1
- On the Gods and the World, ch. 5, See Collected Writings on the Gods and the World, The Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1995
- Perhaps the most extended passage of philosophic interpretation of myth is to be found in the fifth and sixth essays of Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic (to be found in The Works of Plato I, trans. Thomas Taylor, The Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1996); Porphyry’s analysis of the Homeric Cave of the Nymphs is another important work in this area (Select Works of Porphyry, Thomas Taylor The Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1994). See the external links below for a full English translation.
- Segal, pp. 3-4
- Segal, p. 4
- Mâche (1992). Music, Myth and Nature, or The Dolphins of Arion. pp. 8.
- Segal, p.20
- Segal, p.67-68
- Segal, p. 3
- Campbell, p. 22
- Segal, p. 113
- Kroeber, Theodora; Heizer, Robert F. (1968). "Story of Creation". Almost Ancestors: The First Californians (hardback ed.). New York City: Sierra Club/Ballantine Books. p. 62.
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- Littleton, p. 32
- Northup, p. 8
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- Dunes, Alan. "Madness in Method Plus a Plea for Projective Inversion in Myth". Myth and Method. Ed. Laurie Patton and Wendy Doniger. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996.
- Eliade, Mircea. Myth and Reality. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.
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- Fabiani, Paolo "The Philosophy of the Imagination in Vico and Malebranche". F.U.P. (Florence UP), English edition 2009. PDF
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- Graf, Fritz. Greek Mythology. Trans. Thomas Marier. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
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- Kirk, G.S. Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
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- Leonard, Scott. "The History of Mythology: Part I". Scott A. Leonard's Home Page. August 2007.Youngstown State University, 17 November 2009
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- Simpson, Michael. Introduction. Apollodorus. Gods and Heroes of the Greeks. Trans. Michael Simpson. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976. 1-9.
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- Olson, Eric L. "Great Expectations: the Role of Myth in 1980s Films with Child Heroes." Virginia Polytechnic Scholarly Library. Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University, 3 May 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-05172011-113805/unrestricted/OLSON_EL_T_2011.pdf>.
- Matira, Lopamundra. "Children's Oral Literature and Modern Mass Media." Indian Folklore Research Journal 5.8 (2008): 55-57. Print.
- Cormer, John. "Narrative." Critical Ideas in Television Studies. New York, United States: Charendon Press, 2007. 47-59. Print.
- Stefan Arvidsson, Aryan Idols. Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, University of Chicago Press, 2006. ISBN 0-226-02860-7
- Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)
- Kees W. Bolle, The Freedom of Man in Myth. Vanderbilt University Press, 1968.
- Richard Buxton. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
- E. Csapo, Theories of Mythology (2005)
- Edith Hamilton, Mythology (1998)
- Graves, Robert. "Introduction." New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Trans. Richard Aldington and Delano Ames. London: Hamlyn, 1968. v-viii.
- Joseph Campbell
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press, 1949.
- Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension: Select Essays 1944-1968 New World Library, 3rd ed. (2002), ISBN 978-1-57731-210-9.
- The Power of Myth. Doubleday, 1988, ISBN 0-385-24773-7.
- Thou Art That (book). New World Library, 2001, ISBN 1-57731-202-3
- Mircea Eliade
- Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. Princeton University Press, 1954.
- The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Trans. Willard R. Trask. NY: Harper & Row, 1961.
- Louis Herbert Gray [ed.], The Mythology of All Races, in 12 vols., 1916.
- Lucien Lévy-Bruhl
- Mental Functions in Primitive Societies (1910)
- Primitive Mentality (1922)
- The Soul of the Primitive (1928)
- The Supernatural and the Nature of the Primitive Mind (1931)
- Primitive Mythology (1935)
- The Mystic Experience and Primitive Symbolism (1938)
- Charles H. Long, Alpha: The Myths of Creation. George Braziller, 1963.
- O'Flaherty, Wendy. Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook. London: Penguin, 1975.
- Barry B. Powell, Classical Myth, 5th edition, Prentice-Hall.
- Santillana and Von Dechend (1969, 1992 re-issue). Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-87923-215-3.
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- Walker, Steven F. and Segal, Robert A., Jung and the Jungians on Myth: An Introduction, Theorists of Myth, Routledge (1996), ISBN 978-0-8153-2259-7.
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- Zong, In-Sob. Folk Tales from Korea. 3rd ed. Elizabeth: Hollym, 1989.
|Look up myth or mythology in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikiversity has learning materials about School:Comparative Mythology|
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- The New Student's Reference Work/Mythology, ed. Beach (1914), at wikisource.
- Leonard, Scott. "The History of Mythology: Part I". Youngstown State University.
- Greek mythology
- Sacred texts
- Myths and Myth-Makers Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by comparative mythology by John Fiske.
- LIMC Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, a database of ancient objects linked with mythology