March 17, 2008
JUST A MYTH?
Nicolas-André Monsiau's The Twelve Olympians, courtesy of wikipedia.
El Cabrero thinks it's unfortunate that the word myth has come to mean something widely believed but untrue. Would that widely held beliefs were as cool as real myths...
The word, by the way, comes from the Greek term that means something like a spoken story. Classicist Elizabeth Vandiver defines myths as "traditional stories a society tells itself that encode or represent the world-view, beliefs, principles, and often fears of that society."
According to the scholar Walter Burkert, "Myth is a traditional tale with secondary, partial reference to something of collective importance."
Here's my shot at it: myths are stories that convey deep meaning.
Among human cultures, myth is about as universal as language, to which it is obviously intimately related. Humans seem to be hardwired for story or narrative and we construct them all the time, often unconsciously (which is literally the case when it comes to dreams). When I teach the occasional sociology class, I usually point out that humans have three main ways of making sense of the world: narrative, reasoning, and science, with narrative holding pride of place.
I don't think we can do without myths any more than rituals--when we don't have real ones, we seem pretty good at coming up with cheesy ones.
Some scholars separate myths from other kinds of traditional tales by suggesting that myths are mostly concerned with gods and religious rituals, while legends are traditional tales rooted in facts and folktales are entertaining narratives about things like unusual people or talking animals. In many and maybe most cases, they're pretty intertwined and hard to separate.
More on all this tomorrow.
UNHAPPY ANNIVERSARY. This week will mark the fifth year of the unnecessary war in Iraq. Here's Linda Bilmes with an op-ed on its mounting costs.
MICROLENDING and its limits are the subject of this New Yorker item by James Surowiecki.
THE END OF AN ERA? Let's hope so. Here's a piece that suggests the age of economist Milton Friedman is coming to an end.
DON'T PANIC is the theme of two recent books.
BACK TO THE ORIGINAL SUBJECT. Here's a nod to the uber-bard Homer from the Washington Post.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED