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Lecture 9

CLAS 203 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Comparative Mythology, Collective Unconscious, Euhemerism

Course Code
CLAS 203
Margaret Palczynski

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CLAS203 Lecture 9 Notes
Theories of Myth Interpretation:
Myth interpretation: what do the myths signify?
o Long tradition of myth interpretation
o The Greeks themselves began inquiry
o Philosophers: theories of interpretation
o Search for the ‘truth’ that myths contain
o Tradition continued through the Renaissance
o Modern theories focus not only on the content of myth, but also on its social
function (anthropologists) and the emotional needs it satisfies (psychologists)
Approaches to myth:
Myth embodies the tensions, values, and intellectual currents of the society that
produces it.
Investigation of myth fuelled by development of Greek philosophical thought
o Reasoning about causes, effects, nature of things
o Critical of myth: implausible details, immoral behaviour
What does myth tell us? How can myths be interpreted and understood? It is too
complex to be explained by any one theory
Every approach at myth interpretation is a valid one, but none of them can fully exhaust
the depth of meaning and importance of myth. We can interpret from various angles
and what we garnish from each is equally important and should provide the complexity
of myth
Greek Theories:
Rationalism: examine the nature of myth
o Offended by immoral, unethical behaviour of gods, irrational details
Xenophanes (6th c. B.C.): questions truth of the gods’ existence
Other philosophers
o Myths contain an element of philosophical or historical truth, but must be
correctly interpreted
Plato: Theory of Forms: important truths lie beyond the grasp of human reason
o Wanted to show the eternal realities (forms/ideas) that lie behind the changing
surface of the present
o Wrote his own myths (Er, Atlantis)
o Myths present a false reality: corrupt
Allegory/Symbolism: myths mean other that what they appear to say
Changing frame of reference
o Symbols, i.e. Daphne = virginity (desirable for a woman)
Physical/psychological allegory: gods/heroes represent natural forces
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