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  • All universal theories of myth are automatically wrong

    G. S. Kirk, 1977

    MDS2/3CLM: Lecture 12 Theories of Myth (2)

  • There is no theory-free approach to myth

    Ken Dowden

    The Uses of Greek Mythology

  • Early Approaches

    Allegory: Myth as a story that represents or symbolises in a disguised form the reigning ideas and beliefs of a society

    Nature allegory: Myth as a story that explains in a

    symbolic or personified way the events of nature Comparative mythology: Looking for similaries between

    the myths of different cultures F. Max Mller (1823-1900), and later Georges Dumzil


  • Myth and Ritual Theory Ritual is the act while myth are the words

    associated with the act, which then become stories Sir J. G. Frazer The Golden Bough (1890-1915) Classicist Jane Harrison: Greek myth and ritual

    both arise from the same cultural concerns

    Originally applied universally: all myths and rituals are related

    Later, more carefully and specifically: only some are related, or can be proved to be related (Walter Burkert, Fritz Graf)

  • Psychoanalysis and myth

    Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): Myths are the dreams and repressed

    concerns of a specific ethnic imagination Classicists: Philip Slater, Richard Caldwell

  • Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961): Myths reveal the collective unconscious Myths give expression to archetypes, manifested

    as heroes, gods etc. The archetypes can be expressed in new ways in

    different cultures and times (even suggested UFOs were a new myth arising from the space-faring era)

    Classicists: Karl Kerenyi

    Psychoanalysis and myth

  • Structuralism Claude Lvi-Strauss (1908-2009) Different versions of a myth must be broken down into

    their component parts (mythemes) and arranged to reveal the underlying binary oppositions (the underlying structure)

    A mediating figure in the myth helps to symbolically resolve the cultures contradictions

    Not interested in the linear story Classicists (in adjusted forms): G.S. Kirk, Marcel

    Detienne, William Blake Tyrell

  • Ambivalence of Nature/Culture in The Odyssey

    G.S. Kirk, Myth: Its Meaning and Function in Ancient and Other Cultures, 1970 NATURE

    savage hostile

    vs idyllic



    disease drunkenness

    vs civilized



    civilized humanity

    vs uncivilized




    plundering lawless


    intelligent guest

  • Formalism

    Vladimir J. Propp (1985-1970) Russian folktales broken into common plot

    elements (31 functions) that always occur in the same order (although not all need occur in every tale)

    Emphasis on the structure of the story itself Classicist: Walter Burkett

  • The Heroic Biography

    The structure of the life-cycle of the hero from birth until death, as recounted in myth and folklore

    Joseph Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces

  • Semiotics and Myth Sign: something that stands in for something else Signifier: how it is communicated, a gesture or

    word Signified: the literal meaning Roland Barthes (1915-1980): Myth is the deeper,

    cultural connotations of the sign E.g. the word Odysseus (signifier) stands for the

    character/hero (signified) but mythically suggests cunning, long-enduring etc.

  • Myth looks natural and universal to the culture that produces it

    But it is in fact culturally and historically specific

    Analysis of the myth will reveal its ideology Classicists: Charles Segal

    Semiotics (continued)

  • Myth and Ideology Ideology: A set of values, ideas, beliefs, feelings,

    representations and institutions by which people collectively make sense of the world they live in

    Karl Marx (1818-1883): "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas

    After Barthes, Marxist scholars have tended to

    merge myth and ideology together Bruce Lincoln: Myth as ideology in narrative


  • Challenges what is taken for granted, what is seen as natural and exposes these ideas as human, cultural, historical constructions

    Seeks to discover the way texts are aligned with class, gender, race or other interests

    Seeks to show how dominant ideas in a given society at a particular time are transmitted

    Examines how opposing ideas have been dealt with (e.g. ridiculed, punished, brought back into the fold)

    Ideological analysis:

  • Amazons

    Homers Iliad (c. 750 B.C.E.) Priam recalls fighting the Amazons, mens

    equals (3.189) The Amazons who fight men in battle (6.186)

    are slaughtered by Bellerophontes.

  • Black figured amphora signed by Exekias Achilles killing the Amazon Queen Penthesilea c. 540-530 B.C.E. Made in Athens Found at Vulci (now Lazio, Italy)

    Image URL: http://www.ancient.eu.com/image/512/

  • Athenians: men, public sphere, warriors Daughters of Athenians: women, private sphere,

    wives, mothers of sons Amazons: women, public sphere, warriors,

    mothers of daughters A mixing rather than a complete inversion of

    gender roles

    William Blake Tyrrell:

    Gendered Oppositions & The Amazons:

  • Persian War (490-479 B.C.E.)

    Pre-war: Theseus rapes Amazon, leading to invasion of Athens

    Post-war: No mention of the rape, Amazons depicted in Persian outfits

    New imperialist rationale for Amazon invasion

    William Blake Tyrrell: Foreigner/Athenian, Man/Woman

  • Wonder Woman

    Image URL: http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/comicmasterpost/50121990/29773/original.jpg

    Image URL: http://www.singularitynyc.com/images/Rosie-the-Riveter.jpg

    Amazon becomes World War II heroine in 1941

    Post-war controversy when women were supposed to return to traditional roles

  • Poststructuralism and Myth

    Meaning (including poetic, mythic) is never fixed: John Peradotto

    Meaning shifts in the relationship between texts, between texts and their readers, and between different voices within the text

  • Greek Mythology is an intertext, because it is constituted by all the representations of myths ever experienced by its audience and because every new representation gains its sense from how it is positioned in relation to this totality of previous representations

    Ken Dowden 1992: 8

  • Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, London: Vintage, 1957, 1993. Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Richard Caldwell, The Origins of the Gods: A Psychoanalytic Study of Greek Theogonic Myth, New York & Oxford:

    Oxford University Press, 1989. Jospeh Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces, 2nd edn, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949, 1968. Eric Csapo, Theories of Mythology, Malden MA: Blackwell, 2005. Ken Dowden, The Uses of Greek Mythology, New York: Routledge, 1992 Sigmund Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey, New York: Basic Books, 1954 Sigmund Freud, Medusas Head, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud,

    trans. James Strachey, Vol. XVIII, London: Hogarth, 1955. Fritz Graf, Greek Mythology: An Introduction, trans. Thomas Marier, Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins

    University Press, 1993. C. G. Jung, Jung: Selected Writings, ed. A. Storr, Bungay, Suffolk: Fontana G.S. Kirk, Myth: Its Meaning and Function in Ancient and Other Cultures, Berkeley: University of California Press,

    1970 G. S. Kirk, On Defining Myths, in Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth, ed. A. Dundes, Berkeley:

    University of California Press, 1984 G. S. Kirk, The Nature of Greek Myths Harmondsworth Middlesex: Penguin, 1974 Claude Lvi-Strauss, The Structural Study of Myth, in The Structuralists from Marx to Levi-Strauss, eds. R. and F.

    De George, New York: Doubleday, Anchor, 1972. Bruce Lincoln, Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, Scholarship, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press,

    1999. Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Psychoanalysis and the Study of the Ancient World, Freud and the Humanities, London:

    Duckworth, 1985. Lucia Nixon, The cults of Demeter and Kore, Women in Antiquity: New Assessments, eds. R. Hawley and B. Levick,

    London & New York: Routledge, 1995. John Peradotto, Man in the Middle Voice: Name and Narration in The Odyssey, Princeton University Press, 1990. Charles Segal, Greek Myth as a Semiotic and Structural System and the Problem of Tragedy, Interpreting Greek

    Tragedy: Myth, Poetry, Text, Ithaca NY: 1986. Philip Slater, The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek Family, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press,

    1968. William Blake Tyrrell, Amazons: A study in Athenian mythmaking, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.


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