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Lecture 1: Interpretation and Definition of Classical Mythology

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University of Toronto St. George
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Chapter 1: Interpretation and Definition of Classical Mythology THE PROBLEM OF DEFINING MYTH * no one definition of a myth o cant account for all diff. stories that can be called myths * attempt to define myth only serves to highlight the diff. qualities a myth can have THE MEANING OF THE WORD MYTH * myth: o Greek word mythos (talestory) o myth is essentially a story o some argue it must be traditional, in that it has a lasting value, and is told over and over again through various mediums MYTH, SAGA OR LEGEND, AND FOLKTALE * myth: o not a comprehensive term for all stories, but only those focused on gods and their relations with mortals * sagalegend: o a story containing a kernal of historical truth, despite later fictional additions + i.e. Zeus, originally a Cretan prince who overthrew his father * folktale: o a story, usu. of oral origin, that contains fantastic and magical elements o often about the adventures of a heroheroine o main function is entertainment, but can also educate via moral content * rarely, if ever, a pristine, uncontaminated example of any of these types of stories is found in GreekRoman mythology MYTH AND TRUTH * myth serves to interpret the human experience o interpretation can be truefictitious, valuableinsubstantial, apart from its historiacal veracity MYTH AND RELIGION * myth cannot be seperated from religion, rituals, and belief o mythologist Mircea Eliade, spoke of the timeless and holy world of the myth MYTH AND ETIOLOGY * an etiological interpretation of myth states that a true myth must give the altia, or causereason for a practiceinstitution o but etiology, the study of causation, is too limiting and rigid in its definition o however, if the concept of altia of a myth is expanded to encompass any story that explainsreveals somethinganything, then etiology provides for one of the most fertile ways to interpret a myth + although we cannot define it # what story can avoid offering an explanationrevelation? # is traditional story, thus, the best definition of a myth?
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