ways of interpreting myth the web of myth ancient vs. modern

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  • Slide 1
  • Slide 2
  • Ways of Interpreting Myth The Web of Myth Ancient Vs. Modern
  • Slide 3
  • The Web of Myth Interpreting myth is like Penelope at her loom. Thread upon thread of interpretation is interwoven in myth. As one approach to myth goes out of favor and is unraveled from the fabric, another takes its place. The result is that, like Penelope's shroud, the cloth of myth interpretation is ever- changing and can never be finished. See Sienkewicz on the Web of MythSienkewicz on the Web of Myth See also Michael Websters Ways of Interpreting MythsWays of Interpreting Myths
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  • Ancient Ways of Viewing Myth Archaic 750-480 B.C. Classical 480-323 B.C. Hellenistic 323-146 B.C. Xenophanes Theagenes Anaxagoras Aeschylus Euripides Socrates Plato Euhemerus Myth as Venerable Tradition Questioning of Myths (Rationality) Myths as Allegory Myths as Instructive Models Myths as Inaccurate Myths of Questionable Morality Myths as Dangerous Gods as Deified Heroes and Kings Timeline: http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Contemporaries.htmlhttp://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Contemporaries.html
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  • Xenophanes of Colophon c.570 B.C. Questioned the Anthropomorphism of the Gods #170 But mortals consider that the gods are born, and that they have clothes and speech and bodies like their own. #171 The Ethiopians say that their gods are snub- nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have light blue eyes and red hair. #172 But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.
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  • Xenophanes of Colophon c.570 B.C. Questioned Polytheism #173 One god, greatest among gods and men, in no way similar to mortals either in body or in thought. #174 Always he remains in the same place, moving not at all; nor is it fitting for him to go to different places at different times, but without toil he shakes all things but the thought of his mind. #175 All of him sees, all thinks, and all hears.
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  • Myths as Allegory Theagenes of Rhegium (525 B.C.) gods as symbols of human qualities; e.g., Athena = wisdom Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (c.500-428 B.C.) The misdeeds of the gods are intended to illustrate evil and teach virtue.
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  • Myths as Instructive Models (Paradigmatic Model) Orestes at trial with Apollo, Athena, and the Erinyes The Erinyes of Clytaemnestra pursue Orestes. Beside Athena, who presides the court, sits Apollo. Engraving from G. Schwab's Die schnsten Sagen, 1912 Aeschylus (c.525-456 B.C.) used myth to teach Athenians about the gods and the their role in the civic life of Athens.
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  • Myths as Inaccurate Euripides on the birth of Dionysus: Confusion between thigh (meron) and hostage (hemeron), a reference to the false image of Dionysus which Zeus gave to Hera as a hostage. Watch out for this in Euripides Bacchae (295) Homer: The Embassy Scene in the Iliad Boston Museum of Fine Arts 95.39 Attic Red-Figure Lekythos
  • Slide 10
  • Ancient Ways of Viewing Myth Archaic 750-480 B.C. Classical 480-323 B.C. Hellenistic 323-146 B.C. Xenophanes Theagenes Anaxagoras Aeschylus Euripides Socrates Plato Euhemerus Myth as Venerable Tradition Questioning of Myths (Rationality) Myths as Allegory Myths as Instructive Models Myths as Inaccurate Myths of Questionable Morality Myths as Dangerous Gods as Deified Heroes and Kings Timeline: http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Contemporaries.htmlhttp://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Contemporaries.html
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  • Myths as Dangerous Plato Banishes Poetry (=Myths) from his Ideal Republic The poets pretend to know all sorts of things, but they really know nothing at all. The things they deal with cannot be known: they are images, far removed from what is most real. By presenting scenes so far removed from the truth poets, pervert souls, turning them away from the most real toward the least. Worse, the images the poets portray do not imitate the good part of the soul. The rational part of the soul is quiet, stable, and not easy to imitate or understand. Poets imitate the worst parts the inclinations that make characters easily excitable and colorful. Poetry naturally appeals to the worst parts of souls and arouses, nourishes, and strengthens this base elements while diverting energy from the rational part Poetry corrupts even the best souls. It deceives us into sympathizing with those who grieve excessively, who lust inappropriately, who laugh at base things. It even goads us into feeling these base emotions vicariously. We think there is no shame in indulging these emotions because we are indulging them with respect to a fictional character and not with respect to our own lives. In Republic Book X Socrates banishes poets from the city as unwholesome and dangerous because:
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  • Euhemerism On Euhemerus of Messene, see http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/euhemerus.html. http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/euhemerus.html From Diodorus Siculus: Now Euhemerus, who was a friend of King Cassander [of Macedonia (301 to 297 B.C.)] and was required by him to perform certain affairs of state and to make great journeys abroad, says that he traveled southward as far as the [Indian] ocean; for setting sail from Arabia he voyaged through the ocean for a considerable number of days and was carried to the shore of some islands in the sea, one of which bore the name of Panachaea. On this island he saw the Panachaeans who dwell there, who excel in piety and honor the gods with the most magnificent sacrifices and with remarkable votive offerings of silver and gold.... There is also on the island, situated on an exceedingly high hill, a sanctuary of Zeus, which was established by him during the time when he was king of all the inhabited world and was still in the company of men. And in the temple there is a stele of gold on which is inscribed in summary, in the writing employed by the Panchaeans, the deeds of Ouranos and Kronos and Zeus.
  • Slide 13
  • Ancient Ways of Viewing Myth Archaic 750-480 B.C. Classical 480-323 B.C. Hellenistic 323-146 B.C. Xenophanes Theagenes Anaxagoras Aeschylus Euripides Socrates Plato Euhemerus Myth as Venerable Tradition Questioning of Myths (Rationality) Myths as Allegory Myths as Instructive Models Myths as Inaccurate Myths of Questionable Morality Myths as Dangerous Gods as Deified Heroes and Kings Timeline: http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Contemporaries.htmlhttp://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Contemporaries.html
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  • Modern Interpretations of Myth Externalist Theories: Myths as Products of the Environment Internalist Theories: Myths as Products of the Mind Two modern meanings of mythology: a system or set of myths the methodological analysis of myths A monolithic theory of myth vs. the multifunctionalism of myth The autonomy of myth See: Some Theories of MythSome Theories of Myth
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  • Externalist Theories: Myths as Products of the Environment Myths as Aetiology Comparative Mythology Nature Myths Myths as Rituals Charter Myths
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  • Myths as Aetiology myth as explanation of the origin of things myth as primitive science Aetiology in Greek Myth Europa (eponymous hero) Creation myths Arachne Apollo as source of plague Athena and Arachne in Ovids Metamorphoses
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  • F. Max Mller Nature Myths Max Mller 1823-1900) For Mller, the culture of the Vedic peoples represented a form of nature worship, an idea clearly influenced by Romanticismnature worship Comparative approach: Study of Vedic peoples of ancient India applied to myths of other cultures (Greece and Rome) Founder of the social scientific study of religion
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  • Zeus as the Sky Dyaus pitrSanskrit Dyaus = he who shines pitr = father Zeus pater Greek Jupiter Latin Tiu Vater Teutonic (German) Indo-European
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  • Cyclops as Nature Myth Leo Meyer (1857) solar interpretation of Polyphemus' eye Grimm (1857) origin in nature symbolism Nature struggle: Night vs. Day Eye of Cyclops as solar symbol
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  • Myths as Ritual Sir James Frazer The Golden Bough (1890- 1915) myths as byproducts of ritual enactments stories to explain religious ceremonies The Golden Bough On-Line: http://www.bartleby.com/196/ Germain (1954) Cyclops myth as a very ancient initiation rite with ram cult as source
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  • Charter Myths Bronsilaw Malinowski (1884-1942) Selected Bibliography: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/An S/Anthro/Anth206/malinowski.htm belief-systems set up to authorize and validate current social customs and institutions.
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  • Internalist Theories: Myths as Products of the Mind Individual Mind Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) Laistner (1889) All monsters of myth originated in nightmares. Roheim (1952) disguised version of the Oedipus complex Collective Mind Carl Jung (1875-1961)
  • Slide 23
  • Ernst Cassirer (1874-1975) German philosopher and historian of ideas, often typed as one of the leading exponents of neo-Kantian thought in the 20th century. The great symbol systems from science to mythology are not modeled on reality but model it. Myth as mind's spontaneous creation of an emotionally satisfying cosmos. More on Cassirer: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/cassir.htmhttp://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/cass

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