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CLAA05-Lecture 1.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Jonathan Tracy

Ancient Mythology 1: Mesopotamia and Egypt - CLAA05 This class focuses on Mesopotamian and Egyptian myths Mesopotamia is located in the modern Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Iran) It is an ancient region of southwestern Asia in present-day Iraq, lying between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Its alluvial plains were the site of the civilizations of Akkad, Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt Definition of Myth • A myth is known as a story featuring mythical creatures (make believe) • A traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature. • Some may argue, a myth is a ridiculous story no one really believes. But this is not the case since myths still exist. Think about your own firmly held beliefs. Perhaps you believe a deity spoke to a man through a burning bush (the story of Moses in the Hebrew Bible). Maybe he performed a miracle to make a tiny amount of food feed a multitude (New Testament). How would you feel if someone labeled them as myths? You'd probably argue they aren't myths. You might admit you can't prove them to unbelievers, but the stories simply aren't as fantastic as myth (said with tones indicating disparagement). Vehemence of denial doesn't prove one way or another that something is or is not a myth, but you could be right. • The story of Pandora's box is said to be a myth, but what makes that any different from: • Biblical Myths: The Biblical story of Noah's Ark is not necessarily considered a myth by a religious Jew or Christian. • Plato The parable of Atlantis is stoutly defended as non-myth by those who believe in Atlantis. • British Myths: How about the legend of Robin Hood or King Arthur? • American Myth: Even the disproved legend about the axing of a cherry tree by the perennially truth-telling George Washington may count as a myth. The word myth is used in many contexts, but it doesn't seem to have a single meaning. When discussing myth with others, you should determine what they mean in order to have a common frame of reference and avoid hurting someone's feelings. • A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes. • As alluded to above, what is myth for one group is truth and part of the cultural identity for another. Myths are stories shared by a group that are a part of that group's cultural identity -- just like family traditions. • Most families would be offended to hear their stories described as myths (or lies and tall tales, which probably fit them better than myth because a family is generally considered smaller than a cultural group). Myth can also be used as a synonym for a despised religious dogma or, as the quotation above says, a religion in which no one any longer believes. There are several definitions of Myths • Myths are Origins Myths are often stories of origins, how the world and everything in it came to be in illo tempore. – Eliade (historian of religion). • Myths are Dreams Sometimes myths are public dreams, which like private dreams, emerge from the unconscious mind. – Freud (neurologist and psychoanalysist). • Myths are Archetypes Indeed, myths often reveal the archetypes of the collective unconscious. - Jung. • Myths are Metaphysical Myths orient people to the metaphysical dimension, explain the origins and nature of the cosmos, validate social issues, and, on the psychological plane, address themselves to the innermost depths of the psyche. - Campbell. • Myths are Proto-Scientific gives them reasons for natural occurrences Some myths are explanatory, being pre-scientific attempts to interpret the natural world. - Frazer. • Myths are Sacred histories Religious myths are sacred histories. - Eliade. • Myths are Stories Myths are both individual and social in scope, but they are first and foremost stories. - Kirk. • From definitions indicated above, we can see that myths are important stories. Maybe people believe them. Maybe they don't. Their truth value isn't at issue. Approaching, but not quite reaching an adequate, thorough definition of myth is the following: • "Myths are stories told by people about people: where they come from, how they handle major disasters, how they cope with what they must and how everything will end. If that isn't everything what else is there?“ • Robert O'Connell Jungian archetypes • Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that archetypes are models of people, behaviors or personalities. He suggested that these models are innate, universal and hereditary. Archetypes are unlearned and function to organize how we experience certain things. • "All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes," Jung explained in his book The Structure of the Psyche. "This is particularly true of religious ideas, but the central concepts of science, philosophy, and ethics are no exception to this rule. In their present form they are variants of archetypal ideas created by consciously applying and adapting these ideas to reality. For it is the function of consciousness, not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us." • The self is an archetype that represents the unification of the unconsciousness and consciousness of an individual. • The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts and shortcomings. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown. These latent dispositions are present in all of us, Jung believed, although people sometimes deny this element of their own psyche and instead project it onto others. Jung suggested that the shadow can appear in dreams or visions and may take a variety of forms. It might
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