Presentation on theme: "Introduction to Mythology (and Mythology)! Feraco English 9 English 9 15 November 2010."— Presentation transcript:
Introduction to Mythology (and Mythology)! Feraco English 9 English 9 15 November 2010
A Window Into the Past Mythology gives us a window into a human past that was quiet different from our own Man was less separated from nature than he is today Little distinction had as yet been made between the real and the unreal That’s one of the reasons why the stories seem to be a mix of believable elements and fantastical ones – although not the only one
Similarities Across Time The myths tell us as much about the Greeks – their values, worldview, etc. – and their culture as they do about the heroes and gods themselves The ancient Greeks seem more similar to us from a philosophical, political, and artistic standpoint than one would expect (although there are obviously differences too)
Ordering the Universe We see the Greeks shape the Gods in their own image; they’re so unlike us, yet inseparable from us Human beings are beginning to try establishing something resembling a rational order for the universe That order makes less sense to us now than then, but the fact that we’ve moved beyond our foundations for understanding the universe doesn’t mean those foundations aren’t important
Humans Are Awesome! If you look at it closely enough, you’ll see those foundations aren’t even centered around the gods; they’re centered around us “Greek artists and poets realized how splendid a man could be, straight and swift and strong. He was the fulfillment of their search for beauty. They had no wish to create some fantasy shaped in their own minds. All the art and all the thought of ancient Greece centered in human beings.”
Pre-Science It’s important to think of the myths not as some sort of Greek Bible – they weren’t really a chronicle of Greek religion – but more as stories that provide pre-scientific explanations for things in nature, our first experimental attempts at making a system for why the universe worked the way it did in the days before we’d devised a real scientific method Where does lightning come from? Oh, from Zeus. Why do volcanoes erupt? Because some awful thing the gods trapped below the earth is trying to escape. They were trying to put a knowable, sometimes almost-human face on the things that had mindlessly terrified ancient man
Fact and Fiction The things that were terrifyingly irrational and inexplicable had almost no place in Greek mythology; no matter how seemingly crazy something was, the authors provided an explanation that seemed almost bizarrely grounded in details In fact, the more one studies them, the more one realizes that the myths can only work if their authors had a love of facts as well as fantasy
Fact and Fiction: Hamilton “Anyone who reads [the myths] with attention discovers that even the most nonsensical take place in a world that is essentially rational and matter-of-fact. Hercules, whose life was one long combat against preposterous monsters, is always said to have had his home in the city of Thebes. The exact spot where Aphrodite was born of the foam could be visited by any ancient tourist; it was just offshore of the island of Cythera. The winged steed Pegasus, after skimming the air all day, went every night to a comfortable stable in Corinth. A familiar local habitation gave reality to all the mythical beings.”
Learning the Rules We even designed the gods’ realm to be a place we could understand. We knew what the gods did there, how they ate and drank and celebrated, and devised stories for why they felt what they felt and did what they did That’s not to say the gods couldn’t be unknowable and terrifying at times; they could be very dangerous when angered So can human beings! It’s all about learning the rules of interaction. If man’s careful with man, he’ll usually be OK; so it went with the gods. Follow the rules, and you’ll generally be OK.
Laughing at the Gods You could even laugh at the gods if you wanted Zeus is a flawed figure, and Hera’s resulting jealousy is almost comedic. Hamilton argues that this is one of the ways the Greeks separated themselves from old belief systems; you couldn’t laugh at, say, a Sphinx, but you could laugh at Zeus Indeed, the stories provided the Greeks with a way of familiarizing themselves with beings who would otherwise seem unknowable; they had them walking the earth, sometimes interacting directly with mortals
Built Into the System Again, the Greeks were less concerned with worshipping something mysterious and unknowable that works in mysterious ways than with establishing an order for the universe that gave humans their due Our gods back then reflected both our flaws and our ideals, our strength and wisdom and jealousy and violence all wrapped up in a surprisingly intricate package It is true that sometimes the gods seemed to act in confusing ways – but the idea that the gods could behave as bafflingly at times as some humans was built into the system
Looking in the Mirror The more human we made the gods (even when doing so meant giving them dark qualities), the less scary they became They’re a blend of the best of us (beauty), the things that exceed us (incredible power and immortality), and the things that debase us (ancient concepts of sin); sometimes the gods act worse than any decent human being would
The Predecessors So the gods sometimes end up as odd creations, blends of things that could be factual and things that couldn’t possibly be But the ancient gods serve as predecessors of what we’d eventually want to worship Zeus is lots of things, but over the course of many stories he evolves into something resembling what humans seem to long for in their gods – something powerful but just, something simultaneously invisible and understandable, something excellent
The Final Slide This is one of the main reasons I find the myths so fascinating: they capture a human longing for something better at a time when man was about to take a tremendous leap forward in his development, an age of empires and warriors and philosophers and curiosity The writers of the myths didn’t necessarily believe them, but they valued the truths about humanity that the myths revealed…and so will we
Well, Almost Final Which of the deities seems the most interesting to you from the descriptions you’ve read so far? Support your answer with evidence from the text! When you’re done, partner up!