Sunday, March 25, 2012

Don't Know Much about Mythology. . . .

There is no subject so simple that it can't be 
made harder with higher learning.
--the Stark Raving Mythopath

There are five main theories about the origins of mythology, and conveniently, they spell H-A-R-P-S. So picture five Greek choristers playing harps, chanting dithyrambs (ancient Greek rap), and wearing letter sweaters that spell harps--or sharp, depending on where the S guy stands.

H - Hyperbole

Euhemerus, a Greek myth maven from the third century BC, said that the myths began with real people and real events. Over time, the stories were exaggerated like fish tales, until the people became gods and the events became cosmic in scope.

"I wanted a harpist, not a Harpie!"
A - Allegory

Some people think the myths are allegories. In this theory, Apollo represents light and Athena, wisdom.  And Oedipus? Honestly, don’t even want to know.

R - Ritual 

Another theory says that men made myths to explain their rituals. They had set up certain religious and political ceremonies, but could no longer remember why they did them. Hey, it happens. Hence they created stories about gods to justify their traditions.

Gimme an H, Gimme an A...
P - Personification

Other scholars think that since ancient people worshipped natural phenomena like fire and water, they gradually personified them and thus created the gods. So Thunder becomes Thor. Angry winds become harpies, sending sailors to their doom. And Oedipus becomes a regular at group therapy. 

S - Scripture

Another theory offered by Bullfinch is that the myths are a remix of Bible stories. Noah becomes Deucalion, Samson becomes Hercules, and so forth.  But Mr. B. is quick to point out that this theory can only be taken so far.

Noah's Ark - Edward Hicks

So what is the Stark Raving Mythopath’s considered literary position on the origin of myths? Are you ready to take notes? [Insert trumpet flourish and fanfare.] Here goes.

Don't know, don't care. And yes, you may quote me.

All of the major theories are interesting, and all sound at least possible. But since we can’t go back in time, we will probably never know. Perhaps they all play a part.

Okay, so maybe I care a little, but I’d rather spend my time just enjoying the stories as stories and seeing what I can get out of them. 

Atlas shrugging
I mean, who hasn’t had a week when you feel like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders? Or like Sisyphus, pushing that rock up the hill, only to have it roll back down -- push-roll-repeat in an endless loop? 

Or did you ever feel like a bureaucracy was stretching or chopping you to fit their norm, a la Procrustes? 

Political Cartoon using Procrustes' bed as a metaphor.

Who hasn’t had the occasional Sword of Damocles hanging over her head, or who hasn't had to cover his ears to drown out a siren song? And Oedipus? Um, sorry, still don’t wanna know.

All the Olympians agree that mythology is fun.
I like mythology because it's fun.  And come to think of it, maybe that's as good a theory as any. After all, the myth makers didn't have the iPad, Netflix, and American Idol. Maybe they were just having fun making up stories. And maybe it's okay if I just have fun reading them.

Guess I don't know much about mythology, but I do know a good story when I see one. And yes, that includes poor Oedipus.

1 comment:

  1. My shelf of Greek Literature is calling my name!