Myth Theory - Historical Background


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Myth Theory - Historical Background

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Nov 21, 2010, 10:39 pm

I have just finished reading Vico, in which he describes something called the "Age of the Gods". This age supposedly coincides with actual historical events. He thinks that mythology is the memory of an earlier age, a sort of proto-history.

I'm not sure I buy this interpretation. Do we even know enough about mythology to decide if it is historical or not?

Nov 22, 2010, 8:46 am

I think it's more a matter of not having adequate historical sources. We know the myths pretty well (at least the version for which we have the earliest manuscripts), but we often have very little historical data from the period.

Nov 22, 2010, 2:04 pm

Some myths mirror what's actually going on in the world. Like one time I saw a show about Thor on the History Channel and they basically said his myth was determined by the Christian invasion of that area. I may be slightly wrong because I haven't watched that episode in awile, but you get the point, right?

Edited: Nov 22, 2010, 3:07 pm

Hmm. While this kind of speculation is interesting, it usually can't be conclusive.

Did the ancient near eastern cultures write about floods because they lived in places with yearly inundations? Yeah, probably, in my opinion.

Does the Greek myth of a primordial feminine chaos being superseded by male deities mirror a historical event where a matriarchal social order was replaced by a patriarchal one? Who the heck knows.

Did oral historical traditions meld with traditional myths? Probably, sometimes. Can we tell where one begins and the other ends? I hae me doots.

Nov 22, 2010, 3:20 pm

Well, depending on what you include in "myths", there are some where you can clearly recognise that something has a basis in historical fact, like the saga of the Völsungs, where you go from slaying dragons to visiting Attila the Hun.

Nov 22, 2010, 7:46 pm

I see Cynara's point. However, Vico suggests that myth is nothing but history. Allegorical interpretations are false.

I find this to be a provocative thought. However, if it is true, we would never be able to understand what they mean.

Nov 22, 2010, 9:07 pm

6: You mean what the myths meant to their originators? We, of course, know what they mean to us.

Nov 22, 2010, 10:50 pm

Yes, to the original people. I really is impossible to figure out their meaning to the original creators/audience. We just have to settle for an educated guess.

The question I was raising is whether or not allegorical interpretations of myth, when trying to establish the original viewpoint, are valid. It is history and that's it. ??

Nov 22, 2010, 11:27 pm

I think we first have to understand the particular viewpoint of Vico, in the sense that, as for many modern philosophers, the idea was to explain the world by internal causes and not by external causes. In other words, "humanism" is this tendancy to reduce everything to human proportions. To say that myths are no more than historical facts translated into some kind of primitive discourse is to negate the very purpose of the myth, which was to express the metaphysical relations of the gods between them and in relation to the human world. It was a sacred narration of what was done "before" creation. That is why poetry was the langage of the "birds" (i.e. the Gods), and the poet perceived has a "theologian", meaning someone who makes a discourse about the Gods. When Plato taught his theory of Forms or Ideas, he was adapting the ancient doctrines into a new expression because of new mental and social conditions. For the Ancients, there was no absolute separation between the human and what is beyond, so the myths are also archetypes that informs history itself, and the historical facts have no value unless they are related to the divine relationships. In China, the historian was an astrologer, and astrology was concieved, not has "divination" like today, but the cosmic translation of metaphysical laws.

There's an interesting book about this by Mircea Eliade.