Theory- The Structural Study of Myth – Clade Levi-Strauss Reading.docx

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Classical Studies
Classical Studies 2200
Kendall Sharp

Classical Mythology 2200 Theory: The Structural Study of Myth – Clade Levi-Strauss September 23, 2013 • Myth describes fundamental ideas and ideals shared by a group • According to Strauss, getting to the most complete message requires studying all possible versions of a myth (called a cycle), since each version contains at least some elements of the ideals people believe in • Levi Strauss was interested not in just the stories, customs, and ceremonies of people, but in the understanding of human nature and society that can be developed by studying these aspects of culture • He noted that myths can often function as the “formulation of a sacred mystery” The Function of Myth • Like history, myth tells us about what happened to other people who shared a culture • It does more than history – myth tells us about the specific events in the most fundamental ideas and ideals of a group • It carries a message from one generation to the next • The stories, the focus, and the details of change with each telling • We must include all possible forms of a myth in an interpretation • The collections of versions of myths is called a cycle Levi-Strauss’Method ofAnalysis • The stages of Levi-Strauss’methodical analysis are: 1. Write each individual element of the myth on a card 2. Arrange these cards in columns and rows, according to the topics or issues they contain • If these cards are read across the rows from upper left to lower right, they follow the story line • If these cards are read vertically, going down the columns, the elemtns of the myth are organized according to idea groupings • This can identify the cultural values of the group • Myths are interpreted in conflicting ways: as collective dreams, as the outcome of a kind of esthetic play, or as the basis of ritual • Mythological figures are considered as personified abstractions, divinized heroes, or fallen gods • Psychoanalysts and many anthropologists have shifted the problems away from the natural or cosmological toward the sociological and psychological fields – but then the interpretation becomes too easy:  If a given mythology discusses the importance on a certain figure, such as an evil grandmother, it will be claimed that in such a society grandmothers are actually evil and that mythology reflects the social structure and the social relations • There is no logic or no continuity – with myth everything becomes possible • Amyth always refers to events alleged to have taken place long ago • But what give the myth an operational value is that the specific pattern described is timeless; it explains the present and the past as well as the future Myth as a Kind of Language • If there is a meaning to be found in mythology, it cannot reside in the isolated elements which enter into the composition of a myth, but only in the way those elements are combined • Although myth belongs to the same category as language, being, as a matter of fact, only part of it, language in myth exhibits specific properties • Those properties are only to be found above the ordinary linguistic level, that is, they exhibit more complex features than those which are to be found in any other kind of linguistic expression • Myth like the rest of language, is made up of constituent units • These constituent units assume the constituent units present in language when analyzed on other levels but they belong to a higher and more complex order • For this reason, we shall call them gross constituent units • The identification of these gross constituent units are rather difficult process by trial and error - "breaking down its story into the shortest possible sentences, and writing each sentence on an index card bearing a number of corresponding to the unfolding of the story" • Next step in the analysis of myth is the plotting of these units of analysis (bundles of gross constituent units) onto the two-dimensional table, with rows representing diachronic sequences (or, the time-specific sequences of events) and the columns representing the synchronic (timeless) meanings attached to events. The Oedipus Myth as an E
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