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Historical Background of Greek Myth


To marry and bear citizen children. To care for the household resources. To spin and weave ... ( F. Brown and W. Tyrell) Odysseus and the Sirens, VRoma ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Historical Background of Greek Myth

Historical Background of Greek Myth
  • And Modern Approaches to Mythology

  • What is the difference between myth, saga (or
    legend) and folk tale?

What is Myth?
  • Mythos
  • Legend, saga
  • Folktale
  • Truth literal, metaphorical, metaphysical
  • Faith vs. Fact?
  • Etiology
  • Allegory (sustained metaphor)
  • Myth, psychology, dreams
  • Collective unconscious
  • Archetype

Prehistoric Greece
Greece was settled in the Paleolithic period (c.
70,000 BCE) near the beginning of human
history. Hunter-gatherers lived a nomadic life,
sometimes inhabiting caves (such as Franchthi)
for millennia.
Franchthi figurine
Prehistoric Greece
In the Neolithic Period (c. 6000-3000 BCE),
agriculture begins. Figurines begin appearing,
85 female, mostly fat (indicating
fertility). Possibly this indicates a society
whose worship centered around feminine
deities. Scholars argue over what conclusions can
be drawn from the figurines about the nature of
this society.
Prehistoric Greece
The culture of the Cyclades (Cycladic Islands)
The Bronze Age is characterized (duh) by the use
of bronze. Three civilizations develop in three
different parts of the Greek world
Mycenaean culture develops in the mainland of
The Minoans lived on the Island of Crete
  • What are the distinguishing characteristics of
    the three major civilizations of Bronze Age

Prehistoric Greece
The Cycladic culture is known for its figurines
(also called idols) which were found in tombs
and could be objects of personal devotion (like
icons in modern Greece).
Cycladic culture was closely allied with the
Minoan civilization.
Idol Vroma Flying fish R. Basic
Prehistoric Greece
  • Minoan culture was characterized by
  • palaces, built on an open plan, with a great many
    rooms, but without fortifications
  • an apparent focus on the ocean, including
    seafaring and trade

Thera Freso, R. Basic
Prehistoric Greece
There are many images of women, often portrayed
in positions of authority
Fresco, R. Basic
Minoan civilization may have been more
egalitarian with worship oriented toward female
Sacred images often focused on the mysterious
labrys (double ax), and on bulls, including the
enigmatic representations of bull-leaping
Priestess, Thera fresco, R. Basic
Prehistoric Greece
Mycenaes Lion Gate, R. Basic
Mycenaean art tends to emphasize hunting and
warfare, while other indicators (i.e. grave
goods) argue for a warrior-dominated society.
In contrast, Mycenaean palaces are fortified with
huge walls and built to withstand siege.
Mask of Agamemnon, Artchive
Prehistoric Greece
In about 1400 BCE, the volcanic island of Thera
exploded in a disaster whose atmospheric effects
were felt around the world. Probably, ashfall
ruined agriculture for years. Possibly, a tidal
wave destroyed the Cretan navy and led to the
fall of Minoan culture.
Thera fresco, R Basic
Prehistoric Greece
Minoan civilization suffers a major setback.
Soon, the local writing system, Linear A,
disappears. Linear B, a form of Greek, used by
the Mycenaeans, appears in Crete.
Warrior Vase, R. Basic
Minoan civilization is dead, but Mycenae
flourishes. Linear B tablets reveal a complex
economic and religious world. Many of the names
of classical Greek gods appear on these early
bronze age tablets.
Prehistoric Greece
On the coast of Asia Minor, another Bronze Age
City flourishes. Like the Mycenaean cities, it is
heavily fortified. The archeological record shows
that it was destroyed by fire, not once, but
several times in about 1300-1250 BCE, and again
in about 1200 BCE.
Greeces earliest and most respected poet, Homer,
composing in about 700 BCE, sang about the Trojan
war. Perhaps he referred to this city.
Prehistoric Greece
Troys destruction was part of a series of
destructions in the wider Mycenaean world. All
the highlighted sites on this map were destroyed
by fire within about 100 years of each
other. Greece entered a dark age of less
prominent material culture, and an absence of
Cities destroyed by fire, c.1200 BCE
Prehistoric Greece
Greece was changing. Some poleis (city polis)
lost prominence, others grew larger. Greeks
colonized the coast of Asia Minor and Southern
Italy. By 750 BCE, national sanctuaries at Delphi
and Olympia were formed. Agriculture intensified
and population grew. The first poets whose works
are preserved in writing, Homer and Hesiod, were
composing their epic works.
  • How do you tell a primary source from a secondary

  • Primary Sources works produced within a culture
  • art and architecture
  • literature and written records of other sorts
    (business lists etc.)
  • Secondary Sources Commentary by modern authors
    on the ancient cultures
  • textbooks and other modern writings
  • Internet Resources
  • can be primary sources (if they reproduce texts
    or images from the original culture)
  • or secondary sources (if they are modern

What are some things to consider when reading a
primary source, to understand the author's point
of view?
Mens Social Roles
Social Roles varied from society to society some
widespread phenomena Farming work or overseeing
farming work on ones own land Service in the
military Participation in government to the
extent allowed by the states constitution Partici
pation in rituals of ones state Education of
ones children
Womens Social Roles
To marry and bear citizen children To care for
the household resources To spin and weave To
participate in the states religious rituals
Sexuality was not a matter of the partners
gender (male vs. female) but concerned active vs.
passive roles. Active roles were appropriate for
grown men, whether the partner was male or
female Passive roles were appropriate for women
and teenaged men, but not for adult males How far
did the reality match the ideal? Public vs.
private? Hard to say
Myths usually try to explain matters physical,
emotional, and spiritual not only literally and
realistically but figuratively and metaphorically
as well. Morford and Lenardon 6
Harpy Hellenistic Earring
Facts change in all the sciences . . . Myth in
a sense is the highest reality. Morford and
Lenardon, pp. 4-5
Mircea Eliade . . . lays great emphasis upon
religious aura in his conception of myth as a
tale satisfying the yearning of human beings for
a fundamental orientation rooted in a sacred
timelessness. Morford and Lenardon 5
Master of Animals, Bronze Age Crete
Modern scholars discuss mythology. . .
It is still difficult to identify myth
satisfactorily . . . that a myth is a tale is
indicated by the etymology of the word for the
early Greeks, a mythos was a word or a story,
synonymous with logos and epos, and a mythologos
was a story-teller. (Fritz Graf)
Orpheus fresco from Pylos, R. Basic
A myth makes a valid statement about the origins
of the world, of society, and of the institutions
about the gods and their relationships with
mortals in short, about everything on which
humans existence depends. (Fritz Graf)
Europa and the Bull, courtesy VRoma
A Greek myth is a tale rooted in Greek culture
that recounts a sequence of events chosen by the
maker of the tale to accommodate his own medium
and objectives and to achieve a particular effect
in his audience. (F. Brown and W. Tyrell)
Odysseus and the Sirens, VRoma
People believed in myths for a long time,
according to programs that, to be sure, varied
enormously from one era to another. It is normal
for people to believe in the works of the
imagination. (Paul Veyne)
Hermes presents the infant Dionysus courtesy
Christus Rex
Quotes on myth selected by Staci Holt
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