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Lecture 9

Lecture 9 Notes.docx

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McGill University
CLAS 203
Margaret Palczynski

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 (6 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 o Apollo: fire, Poseidon: water: battle in Iliad expresses basic opposition between fire and water o Athena: rational thought, Areas: irrational violence, Aphrodite: desire, Hermes: reason o Word-play, i.e. Cronus = Chronos ‘time’ o Maintain respectability and usefulness of myth o Euhemerism: historical allegory: gods were actually real people, so great or important that they were worshipped after death  Moral allegory: system of advice on good and bad behaviour o Harpies: prostitutes o Hera (active), Athena (contemplative), Aphrodite (amorous) lifestyles every young man must choose  Medieval and Renaissance Theories o Moral meanings applied to stories: Odysseus encounter with Sirens: temptations
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