Mythology – What Is It? Extends from early Greek and Roman times up to today



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Mythology – What Is It?

Folklore, fairy tales, myths, and legends are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are differences.

  • Myths refer to early humanity’s seeking of explanations for natural phenomena; precursors of scientific investigation; sometimes used to explain customs or rituals



  • Legends are usually true stories exaggerated; involve heroes who may or may not have accomplished great deeds (Did Davy Crockett really kill a bear at age three?)



  • Folktales or fairy tales are pure fiction used to entertain or teach

By studying myths we can learn how different societies or cultures have answered basic questions about the world

Myths vary according to climate, custom, or social system

  • Greeks, who lived in a warm climate, saw humans as created from the mud of a river bank

  • Farther north, the first humans were said to have come from frozen stones


Theories of the Origins of Myths

Euhemerus’ Theory (ancient Greek scholar; late 300s to early 200s B.C.)

  • All myths based on historical facts

  • Scholars had to strip away the supernatural elements to reach the facts

  • He felt Zeus was an early king who possessed great power

  • However, it is impossible to know if mythical figures ever existed

Muller’s Theory (German born British language scholar of the late 1800s)

  • All gods and mythical heroes were representations of nature divinities

  • Heroes were originally a symbol for the sun in one of its phases

  • People eventually forgot the symbolic purpose and came to believe in the divinities themselves

Tylor’s Theory (English anthropologist of the 1800s)

  • Myths began through man’s efforts to account for unexplainable occurrences in dreams

  • While the body slept, the soul would wander freely and have many adventures

  • Adventures appeared to man in his dreams

  • Eventually came to believe that everything in nature had a soul and could be called upon for protection or special favors

Malinowski’s Theory (Polish born British anthropologist of the early 1900s)

  • Disagreed with Tylor

  • Psychological conditions lead men to create myths

  • All people recognize that a frontier exists between what man can and cannot explain logically

  • Man creates myths when he reaches this frontier

  • Had to create myths to relieve the tension brought on by not knowing why something happens

Frazer’s Theory (Scottish anthropologist of late 1800s and early 1900s

  • Myths began in the great cycle of nature – birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth

  • Societies around the world wanted to keep the world from decaying and dying

What Does Mythology Tell Us About People

Collective Representations – every society establishes certain social institutions and values which are reflected in religion; most myths simply reflect what a society views as important

Personal and Collective Unconscious – each individual’s personal unconscious is formed by his experiences in the world; his collective unconscious is inherited and shared by all members of his race; all collective unconscious is organized into basic patterns called archetypes of which myths are one kind


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