CHAPTER 1: INTERPRETATION AND DEFINITION OF CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY
No single theory of myths can cover all kinds of myth
Myth comes from greek word mythos which means “word” “speech” “tale” or ‘story” and that is essentially what a
myth is: a story
TRUE MYTH OR MYTH PROPER AND SAGA OR LEGEND
True myth or myth proper – used for stories primarily concerned with the gods and humankind’s relations with them.
Saga or legend – has a perceptible relationship to history and is fanciful and imaginative
FOLK TALES AND FAIRY TALES
Folktales – stories of adventure; goal is to entertain
Fairytales – particular kind of folktales; short imaginative traditional tales with a high moral and magical content
It is impossible to distinguish rigidly between a folktale and a fairytale, although perhaps a fairytale is often created
especially for the young
MYTH AND TRUTH
Myth is a many-faceted personal and cultural phenomenon created to provide a reality and a unity to what is
transitory and fragmented in the world we experience.
MYTH AND RELIGION
True myth is primarily concerned with the gods, religion, and the supernatural
Greek and Roman religious ceremonies and cults were given authority by myths that inspired belief
Mircea Eliade – writer that lays great emphasis upon the mystical in his conception of myth seen as a tale satisfying
the yearning of human beings for a fundamental orientation rooted in the religious aura of a sacred timelessness.
o This is the nature of true myths, which are fundamentally paradigms and explanations and most important
to an individual and society
MYTH AND ETIOLOGY
Myth should be interpreted narrowly as an explication of the origin of some fact or sutom. Hence the theory is called
etiological, from the greek word cause (aitia).
Myths usually try to explain matters physical, emotional, and spiritual not only literally and realistically but
figuratively and metaphorically as well.
The major problem with this universal etiological approach is that it does nothing to identify a myth specifically and
distinguish it clearly from any other form of expression (too many essentially different kinds of story may be basically
RATIONALISM VERSUS METAPHOR, ALLEGORY AND SYMBOLISM
The desire to rationalize classical mythology arose far back in classical antiquity and is especially associated with
the name of Euhemerus who claimed that the gods were men deified for their great deeds.
Antirationalist who favor metaphorical interpretations, believe that traditional tales hide profound meaning.
Metaphorical approach sees myth as allegory (sustained metaphor), where the details of the story are but
symbols of universal truths.
Allegorical Nature Myths: Max Muller. According to Muller, myths are nature myths, all referring to
meteorological and cosmological phenomena.
MYTH AND PSYCHOLOGY, FREUD AND JUNG Sigmund Freud – myth in freudan interpretation reflects people’s waking efforts to systematize the incoherent
visions and impulses of their sleep world.
o Oedipus complex
Carl Jung – interpret myth as a collective unconscious – a revelation of the continuing psychic tendencies of
o Myths contain archetypes – traditional expressions of collective dreams, developed over thousands of
years, of symbols upon which the society as a whole has come to depend
o Anima – the archetypal image of the female that each man has within him
o Animus – the archetypal image of the male that a woman instinctively harbors within her
MYTH AND SOCIETY
Myth and Ritual – J.G. Frazer, Jane Harrison, and Robert Graves
o One of the most influential and persistent point of view
Syas that myth implies ritual, ritual implies myth, they are one and the same
Myth as social characters – Bronislav malinowski
o Myths were related to practical life, and they explained existing facts and institutions by reference to
tradition: the myth confirms the institution, custom or belief
THE STRUCTURALISTS: LEVI- STRAUSS, PROPP, AND BURKERT
Structuralism - an attempt to analyze myths into their component parts
Levi Strauss sees myth as a mode of communication
o No one version of a myth is the right one: all versions are valid; for myth, like society, is a living
organism in which all the parts contribute to the existence of the whole.
o He also assumes that society has a consistent structure and therefore a functional unity in which every
component plays a meaningful part
o Myths are derived ultimately from the structure of the mind and the basic structure of the mind as of
the myths is creates is binary; that is the mind is constantly dealing with pairs of contradictions or
o Myth then is a mode by which a society communicates and through which it finds a resolution between
o Problem to this approach: it establishes too rigid, too universal a concept of the functioning of the
o Vladimir Propp – he described his structure as linear, that is, having an unchanging temporal
sequence, so that one element in the myth always follows another and never occurs out of order
Prop divided his basic structure into 31 functions