Chapter 1: The Nature of Myth 1/17/2012 4:51:00 PM
What is a Myth?
Difficult to define bc of the enormous amount of stories gathered
from many cultures by ethnographers, anthropologists, & historians
Greek word mythos meant authoritative speech/story/plot
Recently the word myth is used in a restricted way. Some deny that
the term expresses a coherent concept at all.
MYTH = A traditional story with collective importance
Character comes from a Greek word meaning a certain mental
Myths have plots, characters, & a setting.
Myth is a traditional story. traditional comes from the Latin word
trado handover (these stories have been handed-over)
Myths are anonymous, have no author
o Types of Myth
Distinguish between myths based on the nature of the principal
characters and the function that the story fulfilled for the listener &
o 1. Divine Myth (true myths/myths proper)
Stories in which supernatural beings are the main actors (superior
Generally explain why the world, or some aspect of it, is the way it
is. Origin & destruction of grand things: universe, gods, &
Greek word aition cause
Etiological Tale: Explanatory Myths. Ex; creation myths bc they
explain the causes that brought the world into existence
o 2. Legend (Sagas)
Stories of the great deeds of heroes/heroines
Legends narrate the vents of the human past
Latin legenda things that should be read
The central characters are human beings, not gods. Supernaturals
play side roles.
Main actors are nobility; royalty, aristocratic elite. Extraordinary
physical/personal qualities, more stronger/beautiful/courageous.
o 3. Folktales Stories whose actors are ordinary people or animals.
They entertain the audience and teach or justify customary patterns
Cinderella, Snow White, Tortoise & the Hare, Sinbad the Sailor
Main characters are common people, low social status (beginning),
Teach that good is eventually rewarded & evil is punished
Folktale types: Scholars recognize more than 700 folktale types in
traditions around the globe. Ex; quest
Folktale Motifs: Folktale types are made up of smaller elements
called folktale motifs that can be recombined in endless variety.
Folktales usually have several motifs. Ex; an abused youngest sister
o The Study of Myth
o Four different ways in which modern scholars study myth
o 1. The recording and compiling of a given cultures myth
Internet & communication greatly reduce the degree to which
myths are sued to guide everyday life
All written material does not match up; contradictory, confusing,
o 2. The analysis of the role that specific myths play or played within the
Depends on whose telling the tale and who is listening. Does telling
the tale enhance prestige of those who told the tale or heard it
told? Does the tale strike listeners to want to find out the meaning
of life? Does it justify the existing distribution of power & wealth?
o 3. The study of how one cultures myths are related to those of other
Different myths have migrated from one culture to another and
have transformed to suit the adopting cultures needs & traditions.
*Migration of myths from the ancient Near East to Greece is an
event of extraordinary importance in the history of civilization.
o 4. Assessment of the lasting human significance of specific myths or
groups of myths Scholars wonder whats the deeper human significance of these old
tales? Why are they still fascinating even though we know theyre
o Myths of Creation
The Rise of Zeus 1/17/2012 4:51:00 PM
o Hesiod gave the best answer to the Greeks to the question Where does
the world come from?
o It was different from the story in the biblical book of Genesis where God
stands outside of the creation and exists before it.
o Hesiod tells the story through succeeding generations of Gods.
o Cosmogony: A story that explains the origin of the world kosmos =
o Theogony: A story that explains the origin of the gods theos = god
o Hesiods thousand line poem written in 8 thcentury BC
o Chaos = chasm
o Gaea = earth
o Uranus = sky
The Children of Chaos
o First came Chaos. Opening from which the other beings arose.
o Second came Gaea, mother earth. Foundation of the world.
o Third came Tartarus, unknown meaning, some place below earth
o Olympus/topmost, Gaea/middle, Tartarus/bottommost
o Eros sexual love/attraction the source of motion that brings sexual
beings together to produce still more offspring
o Hesiod does not say that they all sprang from Chaos.
The Children of Gaea: The Titans and their Cousins
o Gaea first bore asexually, Uranus and the mountains on her upper side
that rise into the sky.
o Then she bore her watery doublet Pontus (sea). With her son Uranus,
Gaea sexually produced the 6 male and 6 female Titans.
o Cronus, who is last born, will fight against Uranus for power
o Two Titans of importance are the watery male Oceanus and female
Tethys. Homer says these two gave birth to all the gods. Gave birth to
six-thousand Oceanids, spirits of the sea, rivers, and springs.
o Coeus, Crius, Theia. Divine
o Phoebe Brilliant light of the sky