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Defining Myth and the Birth of Philosophy • Muthos is a traditional body of stories. They often seem fantastic, bizarre or irrational • The noun muthos and verb mutheomai appear in our earliest works of Greek lit - the Iliad and Odyssey • At this stage, muthos signifies only “word, speech, utterance” and also sometimes “story, report” and has no inherent sense of falsehood or fantasy • Ancient sources often associated myths with childishness • But myth is widely held and circulated, not just upheld by children • Myth is a widely held and circulated false belief that resonates with some deep psychological or socio-cultural need/interest • The story’s popular value and “truth” are independent of the question of factual accuracy - they are of the people, by the people, for the people • Rational, analytical and scientific minds of the Greco-Roman world tried to make sense of them, just as we do in the modern world today • Fundamental questions include: • Why do myths arise? • What functions do myths perform for the individual by/to whom and the societies in which they are recited • What uses and lessons can myth hold for us today? th th • From the late 7 -6 cent. B.C. on into the Classical Period, Greek philosophers find themselves in conflict with mythological tradition • Goals and methods of the early Greek philosophers were determined by their antagonism toward and interaction with the mythological tradition. They wanted to determine what was true, and how truth compared and contrasted with myth • Greek myth was central to Greek identity. Often we find attempts of philosophers and historians to work myth into reality, or a rational framework - to “save” myth • Ancient historians and philosophers, while explicitly distancing themselves from the category of “myth” implicitly, repeatedly acknowledge and exploit the power of myth upon their intended audiences • Poetic myth is a vehicle for the transmission of scientific truth • Greek myth leads to • The pre-socratics, and then to Lucretius • Logographers, and then to Herodotus • Philosophy is not entirely opposed to myth: in many ways Greek myth underlines the growth of pre-socratics • And Greek myth feeds into logographers, who write accounts of mythical genealogies, trying to make sense of mythic tradition • Lucretius is the underlying figure of the modern scientific revolution Homer • ca. 800-700 B.C. • Homer does not posit a polarity between muthos and true, rational exposition. Rather he contrasts muthos with perception, and action. It is second to direct, accurate perception of phenomena, and thus occupies a lower level of reality. • This idea persists in later conceptions of myth. • The idea of orality is also central to Homer’s use of muthos: he rarely references writing. He shows how “myths” are recited, orally, by professional bards, or exchanged orally between warriors on a battlefield. Oral speech and transmission remain central to most later conceptions of myth. • Homer represents his own core stories as originating in oral transmission from divine muses. As do other poets. • Homer shows his characters recounting “myths” at several key points in the Iliad and the Odyssey • His epics are presentations of myth, but they also reflect on the nature of storytelling and myth- making. • Especially through the theme of “story within the story”.These episodes shed light on Homer’s view of the context and function of myth-telling • In the Iliad, myths seem designed to limit conflict and circumscribe violence Iliad B6 • Homer shows an exchange of stories marking a pause in battle and interrupting the aristeia (display of valor) by Greek warrior Diomedes • Myth vs. action • Diomedes threatens to harm anyone, so long as they are not a god. He has internalized the story of the hubristic Lycurgus in a way that makes him respect the gods • He falls upon Glaucus, who tells him the story of the hero Bellerophon • King Proetus wife Anteia is spurned by Bellerophon and she then accuses him of attempted rape, and incites her husband to murder him • But Proetus shrinks from direct violence because Bellerophon is his suppliant and guest, and protected by xenia • So he dispatches Bellerophon to his (Proetus’) father-in-law Iobates, with a sealed tablet containing instructions to kill the bearer • But Bellerophon is first hosted as a guest for nine days before the message is looked at, at which point he is again protected by xenia • So Iobates sends him on a series of fantastic, suicidal missions with the hopes that he gets murdered indirectly • But Bellerophon succeeds in them all, and Iobates recognizes his worth and gives his daughter in a marriage alliance • This story validates Glaucus’own worth, being descendent from the hero (many Greek myths were created with the purpose to justify descendants) • Glaucus’story leads Diomedes to recognize a relationship of hereditary guest-friendship between himself and his antagonist, through Glaucus’grandfather Bellerophon and Diomedes grandfather Oeneus. So he can’t kill him on account of xenia • The story also reinforces the importance of honoring ties of hospitality, imposing an end to violence through negotiation • Diomedes responds by offering a pact of friendship, and they exchange their armor. This exchange is similar to that of Iobates and Bellerophon, and thus negotiation is part of myth • Glaucus story lifts the hearer’s imagination out of the parameters of the current bloody conflict, to a world of complex binding social protocols. This allows Diomedes to conceive of himself not just as a warrior, but within the network of xenia. This is a paradigm shift. Iliad B9 • Achilles withdraws whenAgamemnon insults him by stealing his prize • An embassy is sent toAchilles in order to reconcile • Three “ambassadors” (Odysseus, Phoenix andAjax) make speeches to achilles, urging him to reconcile withAgamemnon, accept the princely gifts, and return to the fight • Phoenix is an old mentor who is meant to guideAchilles. He tells of a war between the Curetes and theAeolians, with an obvious moral forAchilles. The goal is conflict resolution (again) • Meleager stopped fighting for theAeolians in a fit of pique • He withdrew to sulk, likeAchilles • His people begged him to return and offered him gifts and honors • In the end things get so bad that it seems likely the city will fall • Meleager is driven by the extremity of the situation and fights, but joins too late to get the gifts and honors • Phoenix is saying thatAchilles should accept the gifts now and join the fight, because later he’ll probably feel compelled to fight anyways • It is an allegory forAchilles: according to Phoenix’interpretation of his story,Achilles wants honor. ButAchilles is sick of honor. Honor is all for a prize which can be taken away so easily. What is the point of honor if it is a fickle thing? • If all he stands to lose by persisting his sulk is honor and trinkets, why come back? • What is missed is thatAchilles does have something to lose: Patroclus • His sulk brings about Patroclus’death • In the story Phoenix tells there is an element of affections causing honor: • Meleager comes back because his wife begged him to;Achilles comes back because of Patroclus’death • Meleager comes back for fear of losing his wife, not honor, which both Phoenix andAchilles failed to pick up on • Phoenix story has potential to liftAchilles out of his current obsession with his wounded pride, with an emotional appeal instead to his affection for his comrades and loved ones. But Phoenix’interpretation reduces the myth to a simple allegory about honor denied vs. honor achieved, so no paradigm shift occurs forAchilles, where it did for Diomedes • This highlights the dangers of myth-interpretation • These myths serve a didactic function Pre-Socratics th • Pre-Socratics describes a philosophical movement that arose in Ionia in the early 6 century B.C., continued down into the late 5 cent. B.C. • They sought natural explanations for phenomena, rejecting traditional mythology in seeking a more rational theology Xenophanes: mid-late 6 cent. B.C., from the Ionian city of Colophon. • He wrote philosophical poetry on natural science and theology • And he critiqued the gods of Homer and Hesiod on both moral and rational grounds • Also rejected anthropomorphism by drawing examples from the the wider world. It is important to note the increasing Greek exposure to the wider world of Near Eastern civilizations (and beyond) in the 7 and 6 cent. B.C. Perhaps indicating a spur to cultural relativism? • He seems to argue for a creed of Mono/Henotheism. There is one god, greatest among gods and men, and is in no way similar to mortals either in body or thought. Unlike the gods of Homer he remains in the same place, and can control things simply by thought. • Xenophanes’definition of God negates Homer’s theology (which was it’s aim) • Alot of thinkers were reluctant to go to the level that Xenophanes did, and instead adopted two types of allegory: th • MoralAllegory: believed to have been started by Anaxagoras (5 cent. B.C.) • Presents Homer’s narratives as symbolic lessons in virtue and morality • Key to subsequent myth-intepretation • E.g., Land of Lotus Eaters = Pleasure • E.g., Scylla = Shamelessness; Charybdis = Wastefulness: between rock and hard place • PhysicalAllegory: begun by Theagenes of Rhenium (6 cent. B.C.)th • Turns scandalous scenes in Homer and Hesiod to scenes of natural forces • Promotes the idea that Homer was a natural philosopher before his time • E.g., Fire vs. Water Philosophical Epic: Parmenides and Empedocles, two of the most important pre-socratic philosophers presented their ideas in epic poems (same metre as Homer and Hesiod). Positing a view of the world far removed from Homeric/Hesiodic mythology, but invested with the full imaginative power and resonance of mythical discourse Parmenides: early 5 cent B.C. From Elea • Wrote On Nature which argues for unchanging unity of the cosmos • He expresses this philosophical argument as a revelation from a goddess to the narrator • The poem begins by plunging the reader in medias res (into the middle of things) just like the Iliad and the Odyssey, with an epic journey by the narrator to the goddess’remote house • He gives concrete physical detail like Homer • There is a physical road (traveled by horses) which leads to an abstract road (traversed by the mind) • Cf. C.S. Lewis:Abstraction - > Myth - > Reality/Fact The goddess presents both the previously hidden truth and the false but plausible beliefs about • the universe currently held by mortals (cf. Hesiod) • The road is open for the man who knows: • Parmenides = “the man who knows” • Odysseus = the “man” who “saw” and “learned” • Parmenides makes a long, perilous, difficult journey to the House of Night in question of revelation; Odysseus makes a long, perilous, difficult journey to the Underworld (a place of “horrid night”) • Parmenides exploits the Greek mythological tradition to lend a heroic aura to his quest for truth and portrays it as a heroic mission on par with that of the ancient heroes: Parmenides receives revelation from the goddess as a worthy (“just”) pilgrim • But certain details of his mythic beginning also embody a key philosophical principle for Parmenides: rejecting the antithesis of night and day. These antithesis are fundamental for Odysseus trip to the Underworld • But Parmenides has them work in tandem, rather than apart; they are not treated as mutually exclusive (the daughter of Sun come fetch him from the House of Night) • Opposition is fundamentally false, which is at the root of all our false thinking of the universe: the original error Empedocles: fromAcragas, 5 cent. B.C. • Wrote another epic On Nature • Rejects anthropomorphism, yet he invokes anthropomorphic figures (white-armed muse) • The gods are elements: • Zeus/Hephaestus = fire • Hera = earth (air?) • Hades (Adoneus) = air (earth?) • Nestis (“hunger”) = water • Behind these four elements are two fundamental forces: love vs strife • This is a force of harmony and union = love, joy,Aphrodite; but also a force of conflict and disunion = strife • These forces are abstract, natural and scientific, but they are rooted in the anthropomorphic and personified gods of Hesiod’s myth • One force causes us to kill each other, the other to compete • Eros is a primal deity, and a powerful universal force who controls man and gods. He humanizes this force by calling it Aphrodite. But he does not name strife • Empedocles invests his elemental force of “Love” with all the positive traits associated by traditional mythology with the anthropomorphic love-deities, especiallyAphrodite. • He elevatesAphrodite to the level of a great, cosmic creator-goddess, going beyond anthropomorphism • His point is on a scientific, rational level and suggests that love and strife are equivalent, equal and opposite forces fundamentally built into the universe • Personally Empedocles feels an emotional engagement more with love than strife, and he wants us too because he thinks it would be better for humans • Empedocles seeks to explain the predominance ofAphrodite in traditional myth as a primitive (instinctive?) acknowledgement of this powerful, constructive force in the universe • He also imagines an age of innocence and purity for the young human race, when Love (Aphrodite) alone was worshipping in a non-violent manner (without blood-sacrifices) Later Thinkers Lucretius: Roman poet of mid-1 cent. B.C. • Epic poem On the Nature of the Universe seeks to promote the materialist, atomist physics of Epicurus. • He seeks to explain the entire working of the cosmos, in all the details relevant to our lives, including our own nature as human beings. • He exposes myth and superstitions and in a way that shows how myth and poetry can be harnessed by science for the goal of human happiness Euhemerism: Eponymous from writer/thinker Euhemerus, ca. 300 B.C. • This way of thinking promotes the idea that gods were once human, and were immortalized for their acts From Muthos to Logos - Myth-Criticism • Some modern scholars exclude written stories altogether from the category of myth, such as Bascom. In antiquity, authors distinguished between the fabulous tales passed on from nurses to children, and written accounts, subject to rational examination and refutation. • In the mid-6 cent. B.C., Greek authors began to compose treatises in prose on various subjects: geneaology, geography, local history, chronology. • These works presented themselves as rational, verified accounts of a subject.Awritten logos • Hence the term logographers: writers of logoi • This was in opposition to the poets’fanciful muthoi • E.g., Herodotus on the muthos of Trojan War • Says that Homer knew the logos but it didn’t suit the epic poetry and he deliberately rejected it • Later, Thucydides critiqued both poets and logographers • Pre-Socratic philosophers also emphatically distanced themselves from impious, irrational muthoi of the early epic poets - especially that about the gods Greece vs. China • Plato, and other philosophical writers act as though traditional myths have popular currency and traction. This is precisely what makes them so morally and spiritually dangerous • There are gradations in belief • Geoffrey Lloyd viewed mythology from a Chinese perspective • Although China possesses a rich traditional mythology, ancient Chinese historians and philosophers were not preoccupied with policing the boundary between “respectable” philosophy and history-writing and the category of “myth” • The Greeks did not do this because ancient Greek society was ferociously competitive, whereas ancient Chinese society tended to emphasize harmony and consensus • Especially within the realm of public debate, there was a competition of asserting authority (as we see in Herodotus, and then Thucydides in Myth-Criticism) • The distinct category of “myth” arises for the ancient Greeks as part of an effort to establish one’s own, superior claim to truth, in opposition to one’s predecessors or contemporaries • Past generations always refer to their predecessors as propagators of muthoi, and later they are subject to the same term • E.g., Pindar Modernity and Mythology • Max Muller: promoted the Indo-European idea of Solar Mythology • James Frazer: promoted comparative anthropology on a global scale • Literary Darwinsim and Evolutionary Psychology: in strong opposition to the “blank slate” assumptions of the “ideological” theories about myth and narrative, such as the idea that our identity is constructed by our society and culture. • Probes the biological, genetic foundations of storytelling • Rooted in modern neuroscience, attempting to understand how our brain is wired to appreciate stories. • Also rooted in comparative approach of Frazer by explaining the fundamental laws and goals underlying all human narratives • Seeks to understand why we evolved to make stories, if it is an adaptation or by-product. And why we evolved to incorporate specific elements into the basic, universal story patterns. • There are three categories of traditional narrative, taken from Bascom: • Myth • Legend • Folktale • But the distinctions between these categories can be blurred, such as in Homer • Further distinctions separate saga from legend • Saga: myths with a firm basis in history, especially about a single ruling/heroic family • Legend: myths with weaker historical value Sir James Frazer • In 1880’s he discovered the world of comparative anthropology • He realized that customs, beliefs and myths of “primitive” peoples could be used to shed light on the customs, beliefs and myths of the Greeks and Romans • In essence, Greece and Rome were NOT unique • Greco-Roman customs were comparable to and explicable through Near Eastern customs. But also to all pre-modern peoples, of all races around the world • Their belief system was primitive and thus could not have been purely Greek (they were too rational to come up with it) • The theory at the time was that it must have been a contamination from the East. Frazer challenges this, basing his premise on the idea that we all as individuals want and need the same basic things, and that as societies we pass through the same stages in our efforts to obtain them • The Greeks don’t have to journey into far off countries to learn about the world! • The Golden Bough is a monumental challenge to the divide erected by anti-Semitic classicists between the “mystic” East and the “rational” West. • Frazer regards the idea of decay and rebirth as a universal experience • He associates related rituals and myths from all cultures of the world in the effort to elucidate bizarre customs. This association is crucial to primitive magic, ritual and myth • Frazer’s society had 3 stages, which are all fundamentally rational, identifying patterns of correlation, cause and effect, in the observation of the natural universe : • Magic: attempts to control the natural world directly, through rituals, assuming the operation of fixed natural laws • Imitative/homeopathic magic: by acting on a like object you act upon your victim/ subject • Contagious magic: by acting upon something once belonging or connected with some object/person it is possible to affect that object/person • Religion: attempts to control natural world indirectly, by propitiating deities (who control the natural world directly) • Science: attempts to control the natural world directly, through technology depending on the operation of fixed laws • Frazer interprets a variety of myths as reflections, distortions, or explanations of rituals enacting sacrifice and rebirth • For Frazer, ritual does not necessarily precede myth: a myth can be paired with a ritual in describing the same magical/natural “truth” enacted or effected by the ritual • But ritual is more fundamentally conservative than myth • Rituals can be repeated exactly, with a simple set of steps, for generations. But in an oral tradition, a myth changes with every telling • Thus, ritual is more reliable than myth in reaching back to the roots of folk-belief about life- and-death matters • Frazer usually only introduces myth as supporting evidence and prefers to substantiate claims about some ritual with comparisons to other rituals • Frazer’s Golden Bough is not meant to provide a coherent theory of myth; his goal is to explain a particular, bizarre ritual (Nemi) • When Frazer is primarily concerned with elucidating myth, he reveals a much more expansive, nuanced and humane view of myth that is characteristic of some practitioners of the “ritual” school • He warns against ritualism which would restricts the scope of myths to ritual as if nothing but ritual could give rise to myths • Frazer rejects the “faded-god” theory, whereby the heroes of Greek legend were originally gods, gradually degraded to the level of mere mortals • Rather he adopts a Euhemerist approach: • Great Man (Age of Magic) -> Hero (Transitional) -> God (Age of Religion) • E.g., Heracles • But he also warns against Euhemerism which works backwards really, and thus resolves the gods into dead men The Grove of Nemi • Frazer was fascinated by a bizarre custom governing succession to the priesthood of Diana in the grove of Nemi • Strabo tells us that the Temple of theArician Diana is a copy of that of Tauropolos, and that there are barbaric, and Scythian elements. He goes on to explain that the priest is a runaway slave, and has killed the previous priest for his office • Pausanias explains that Hippolytus was killed, and then resurrected. In his new life he came to theAricians and became their king, and set up the temple of Diana. This particular aspect of Diana entailed human sacrifice, but this was changed so that instead there was a certain tree from which it was not permitted to break a branch. The opportunity was granted to any fugitive slave who removed a branch to fight in single combat with the fugitive priest of the temple. This was installed in commemoration of the original flight and fighting as given as an allegory of ancient sacrifice. • Frazer wanted to know why the priest was called the Rex Nemorensis (King of the Grove/ Wood) and why he had to be killed by his successor in what appears to be human sacrifice? Also, why does a branch from a certain oak tree need to be removed by the challenger prior to combat? • Answer One: Sacred King • Frazer amasses a wealth of comparative evidence on the primitive association of kings/ chiefs with divine power • During the transition from theAge of Magic to theAge of religion • Sacred king is intimately connected to the natural world via contagious magic, and can affect it for good or ill through his actions and experiences • The King of the Wood was originally conceived as a tree-spirit/sky-god, paired with Diana (goddess associated with vegetation and childbirth) in order to promote general fertility. This is through homeopathic magic • Answer Two: The Dying God/King • To prevent his powers from dissipating through old age or illness, the sacred king would be ritually killed while still in his prime, so that his powers could be transferred intact to his successor • This ritual sacrifice later tied to the agricultural cycle, enacted in order to ensure continued renewal of crops • Fire was an important element: there was a sacred fire in Diana’s temple at Nemi, and the renewal of crops was associated with an annual fire-festival. Fire promoted fertility, purification (of evil influences), sunlight (through homeopathic magic) • Perhaps the Rex Nemorensis was originally burned alive at a midsummer bonfire • Answer Three: Mistletoe • Virgil compares his Golden Bough (identified by popular opinion in antiquity with the branch of the sacred tree at Nemi) to misteltoe • Compares this to the myth of the Norse god Balder, who otherwise invulnerable, is slain by mistletoe and then burned on his ship • Mistletoe then is an “external soul” (contagious magic) • It is golden because it is connected to the fire of the sun, which it feeds via annual bonfires of oakwood • Frazer establishes the story of a god who dies, and is somehow resurrected, usually every year as central to the world’s mythology • Often paired with original rituals involving the actual sacrifice of human surrogates for the god • This reflects a preoccupation with the cycle of seasons, and renewal of vegetative fertility among primitive humans, leading to the myth of the Dying God • Examples include: Osiris,Attis, Dionysus, etc. • But his paradigm may be too simplistic, and applied to indiscriminately. • E.g.,Adonis: his festivals may actually be concerned with sterility, and inappropriate sexuality The Grove of Nemi and theAeneid • Frazer’s description of Nemi explains why Virgil would put it in hisAeneid • Virgil is writing in the 20s BC after a century of war and the fall of the Roman Republic • In the world of theAeneid old Troy is gone, just like old Rome • But from the ashes something new and great will rise: renewal and destruction is key to the grove of Nemi. • Fundamentally it is an epic of rebirth and renewal • This set of rituals at Nemi would be a very good symbolic vehicle for Virgil to express Rome’s rebirth after the bloodshed of civil war • The grove rituals are still meaningful for the Roman people, as is evidenced by Caligula’s concern with the growing popularity of the priest, culminating in his (the priest’s) assassination. • Frazer regards the ritual at Nemi as a bizarre anachronism, completely out of place in sophisticated, early-imperial Italy • But the shrine and its priesthood were of considerable relevance to the Roman people • E.g., Roman women still paid homage to Diana Nemorensis in gratitude for help with pregnancy and childbirth • We can expect Virgil to regard this as an important and recognizable set of associations for his intended audience.Ancient commentary picks up on this, stating that popular opinion saw the bough of Virgil as that of Nemi • The episode of the Golden Bough occurs in B6 at the epic’s midpoint • This is a dark point for Aeneas. He has suffered the fall of Troy, the death of his father, the temptation of Dido, and the loss of ships. • Aglorious future awaits him in Italy but it is only achieved through bitter struggle. • In preparation for this future he undergoes symbolic death and rebirth: Katabasis, a hero’s descent into (and return form) the Underworld • Aeneas’katabasis grants him the insight needed to fight, negotiate his way through the conflict that awaits him in Italy • He does this to obtain enlightenment from his father’s ghost. • This scene is modeled on B11 of the Odyssey, but with some key differences: • The precondition for Odysseus visit is various sacrificial offerings to the dead • Instead,Aeneas must: • 1) obtain the golden bough, which is obtained with the help of his mother, Venus • 2) ritually burn a newly deceased comrade (Misensus) on a funeral pyre. • Misensus is cremated in a massive conflagration for all his grieving crew mates, who fell an ancient grove for the wood. This can be compared to the annual fire-festival at Nemi and the supposed burning of the newly slain Rex Nemorensis, and then the pyre of Julius Caesar • Caesar’s spirit lives on in his adopted son Octavian, who takes the name of Caesar to rally Caesar’s veterans to his cause. In essence he become Caesar • Virgil compares the bough to mistletoe, and that it is the light in darkness -- it’s life-force continues (does not die in winter); when one bough is wrenched off it is replaced with an identical one • Charon is a figure of death, and the golden bough tames him • Life masters death • OnceAeneas arrives in Italy the king Latinus makes an alliance with him. But the king’s people start to war with the Trojans. • Latinus is seen as not being able to control his own people. He is old, weak, and out of touch. • The war betweenAeneas and Latinus is a choice made by Virgil - the narrative is not always like this. He wants to suggest that the old regime of Latinus needs to be swept aside, replaced by the new vigor ofAeneas and his followers • Just like how the old rotten corrupt senatorial regime of the Roman Republic, led by Pompey, deserved to be replaced by Caesar andAugustus. Just how an Old Rex Nemorensis needs (and deserves) to be slain by his vigorous young successors in order to preserve the land’s fertility • Virgil presents Latinus as being tied to trees: his home is like a sacred grove. Here it is very clear that he is the Rex Nemorensis. • Aeneas’principle antagonist in the second half of the epic is a young warrior Turnus • This is a comparison betweenAugustus and Antony • The warrior is not himself older, but he belongs to an old order. He stands in the way of Roman progress • Aeneas’conflict with Turnus is likewise configured in terms and images reminiscent of the rituals at Nemi. In order to bring about the death of Turnus (and thus new life to Roman order) Aeneas must first pull out his spear, which has become stuck in a tree-stump • This is easily compared to the bough, and as she did before, Venus aidsAeneas in taking it out • Aeneas’killing of Turnus is on par with the sacred duty ofAugustus. He is sacrificing to bring about the new glorious order of the Roman empire by sacrificing those who are in his way. The gods call for his sacrifice, and his criminal blood will be spilled in atonement • Virgil is suggesting that there is a price for the lands continued prosperity, and that is the death of the king of the Grove. BothAeneas andAugustus live behind a string of sacrifices/deaths all allegories for the old Rex Nemorensis The Dying God in Christianity • The dying-god motif allows Frazer to investigate the core narrative of Christian belief as a “myth” • Frazer assembles cross-cultural evidence for the ritual “eating” of a god (usually a fertility- god) embodied in some key item (transubstantiation) • He also explores the widespread use of scapegoats, often in human form, whereby common evils and sins are “transferred” to the dying god and thus expelled from the community • C.S. Lewis retorted that the truth of Christianity is affirmed by its ripples and reflections in previous mythology • Lewis proposes that “myth became fact”: When we translate myth we get abstraction. Myth does not reveal truth (which is about something) but reality (that about which truth is), and therefore every myth becomes the father of innumerable truths on the abstract level. • Myth connects the world of thought to reality • By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth. To be Christian you must both assent to the historical fact and receive the myth with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths • Death and resurrection of Christ = reality + myth + abstraction • Pagan reflections ought to be there - it would be a stumbling block if not • God is mythopoeic (myth-making) and we must be mythopathic (myth-receiving) Association • Frazer’s assembly of data on folk-belief from as many different cultures as possible points the way forward to the necessary methodology for any comparative approach that is premised on human “universals” • Problem 1: Data Collection: • The issue remains that his information is entirely dependent on reports from travelers and missionaries which are often biased, condescending and unreliable • Problem 2: Data Interpretation • Frazer’s method of “associating” related beliefs or customs is rendered problematic by the frequent looseness of connection between the different beliefs/customs • As long as belief/customAshares one element in common with belief/custom B, Frazer (often) represents B as elucidatingAin its entirety • This creates a fragile chain of explanations for customs. You rely on associations for explanation • E.g., the Mark of Cain: • Cain kills Abel, and is driven out of his home as punishment • He fears for his life thinking anyone would kill him because of his murder • God puts a mark on him preventing anyone from killing him • Frazer finds this conflicting as there aren’t many people around from whom he needs protection • The mark is “really” designed to disguise Cain’s identity fromAbel’s vengeful ghost • The ghost-motif is vaguely suggested by the biblical reference toAbel’s blood “crying out” to God from the ground • The murderer’s ritual disguise is a widespread folk custom • The mark of Cain is thus associated with the murderer’s disguise because apparently they both change the appearance of a murderer • Abel’s blood is associated with the vengeful ghost: the remains of the unhappy dead which seeks vengeance • This association essentially strips the Mark of all its meaning with the specific content of the Biblical narrative • If we look from the biblical perspective it is not used to disguise Cain but to identify him as being under the gods special protection • Frazer is only interested in the common, recurring patterns of folk-rituals and -myths • Any variation between cultures is just noise obscuring the original shared belief or custom • E.g., Cyclops narrative: the widespread motif of a one-eyed giant blinded by a brave and clever hero who escapes via sheep/goat does seem to point to shared original • But all variations have occurred with a specific narrative content for specific narrative goals, within a specific cultural environment • What makes the Greek version “special”? Homer’s stress on the polarity between the politically organized humankind and the solitary anti-social politically unsophisticated monster. • This contrast is often obscured in other versions and is nowhere as obvious as in the Odyssey • Other versions show the Cyclops as being a cunning trickster • Frazer promotes the idea of “survival’s” which are remnants of the original narrative. But if a ritual beings with a clear “natural” logic and is accompanied by a myth expressing a similar natural logic, why would they persist into an age when their original meaning has been long forgotten, and distorted? • If we return to the Grove of Nemi: were the rites still enacted into the 2 cent.A.D. (when Virgil was writing)? Was the myth of Hippolytus and Diana still told, if it only imperfectly and distantly reflected the original “truth”? Do we need to assume some kind of unconscious survival of the core associations identified by Frazer? Frazer’s Categories Expanded • Myth: mistaken explanations for natural phenomena (including the phenomena of human life), born from our innate curiosity about the world around us • Reason gives rise to myth, which in turn leads to science • Legend: traditions relating the past stories of real people and/or places • Memory gives rise to legend, which in turn leads to history • Folktale: imaginary stories handed down orally for pure entertainment • Imagination gives rise to folktale, which in turn leads to romance • Frazer warns against over-analysis: • Folktales are not didactic, do not look for a hidden message • Not every story as an underlying myth or rite Homer: Myth vs. Legend • In B8 of Odyssey there are a series of myths told by the bard Demodocus (aiodos) when Odysseus is being feasted by Alkinoos • The first song is of a quarrel between Achilles and Odysseus, perhaps mirroring the Iliad (Achilles vs. Agamemnon) • Like Homer’s Epics, this song is inspired by a muse. One of the key functions of the muse is memory. She is a necessary source and an authority to lend accuracy to Demodocus’ account of real, historical events. Perhaps as she is for Homer’s account of the Trojan War • The third song the god steps in to inspire the song and give accurate insight • Second is concerned with human history, and tells of Aphrodite and Ares • Why would the muse need to help Demodocus narrate the recent events of the Trojan war accurately, but not the events on Olympus that, as a mortal, he could not possibly have witnessed? • One of the clues is the audience reaction: • Odysseus is deeply moved by the 2 stories about the Trojan War • These stories not only concern him personally, but also probe critical themes of human life, including Odysseus’own life: fierce competition, violent conflict and destruction • The second song raised spirits and made the audience happy. The song ofAres and Aphrodite represents an escapist interlude between the “real-world” narratives of the Trojan War.Adultery is seen as harmless sport as opposed to the a trigger for a massively destructive war (Gods vs. mortals,Aphrodite vs. Helen) • Such escapism does not require the same standard of accuracy as “historical” narrative, hence no need of Muse • Or does the fundamental “truth” about the gods merely consist of their essential characteristics? • Perhaps these stories about the gods only need to reflect their basic attributes and po
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