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Myth

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Folktale, legend, urban myth, epic. Anthropological approaches to myth. Rationalist ... The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends & Their Meanings (1981) ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Myth


1
Myth
  • 24.3.2005

2
Discussion topics
  • Definitions
  • Myth
  • Folktale, legend, urban myth, epic
  • Anthropological approaches to myth
  • Rationalist
  • Functionalist
  • Psychological
  • Structuralist

3
Readings
  • Lévi-Strauss, C. 1955. The Structural Study of
    Myth. In The Journal of American Folklore LXVII
    428-44 (Reprinted in Lessa and Vogt)
  • Dundes, A. 1962. Earth-Diver Creation of the
    Mythopoeic Male. In American Anthropologist LXIV
    1032-51. (Reprinted in Lessa and Vogt)

4
Myth
  • Ambiguity multiple meanings
  • Traditional story
  • Myth legend, folktale
  • Erroneous belief
  • eg. urban myth, urban legend
  • Fabrication, defiance of facts
  • eg."myth" of Aryan supremacy

5
Mythos
  • Mythos Myth
  • Mythos
  • "utterance," "speech," or "story."
  • an ambiguous term
  • Eg. Odyssey
  • Odysseus' son Telemachus
  • tells his mother Penelope to leave mythos to men
  • "public debate and discussion"
  • asks old Nestor to tell him whatever mythos he
    may have heard of his missing father
  • "story," "tale"

6
Mythos
  • Eg. Iliad
  • Phoenix
  • teaches Achilles to be both a speaker of mythos
    and a doer of deeds
  • mythos "word"
  • Eg. Electra
  • Electra
  • promises to tell her husband the whole mythos
  • Mythos true story
  • Eg. Herodotus (Histories)
  • recounts a story (mythos) about Heracles which
    has "no basis in fact
  • Mythos false story

7
Definitions
  • Webster's dictionary
  • Myth
  • usually a traditional story of ostensible
    historical events
  • an ill-founded belief held uncritically
    especially by an interested group.
  • Mythical
  • based on or described in a myth, especially as
    contrasted with factual history
  • Imaginary, fabricated, invented, or imagined in
    an arbitrary way or in defiance of facts

8
Myth anthropological understanding
  • No unified understanding
  • ? legend, folktale
  • Basis for a particular worldview
  • Mythical thought vs rational, scientific
    thought
  • Myth vs history
  • cyclical vs linear worldiew

9
Myth history
  • Non-religious approach to myth
  • myths poor versions of history
  • Originally
  • depictions of historical events
  • With time
  • imbued with symbolic meaning
  • transformed, shifted in time or place, reversed
  • Event
  • 'dispassionate account' 'legendary occurrence'
    'mythical status'
  • account takes on a life of its own
  • the facts of the original event have become
    irrelevant

10
Definitions
  • Frazer
  • "By myths I understand mistaken explanations of
    phenomena, whether of human life or of external
    nature."
  • Rose
  • "We may then define myth proper as the result of
    the working of naïve imagination upon the facts
    of experience."

11
Definitions
  • Eliade
  • Myths narrate a sacred history they relate
    an event that took place in primordial Time, the
    fabled time of beginnings
  • Keesing
  • "Myths are accounts about how the world came to
    be the way it is, about a super-ordinary realm of
    events before or behind the experienced natural
    world they are accounts that are believed to be
    true and in some sense sacred."
  • Needham
  • "Myths are timeless stories that describe the
    origin of something - the world, a natural
    phenomenon or some aspect of culture and confront
    us with at least one event or situation which is
    physically or humanly impossible"

12
Definitions
  • Eslinger
  • "Myth is a representation of reality in narrative
    form which expresses a particular worldview."
  • Malinowski
  • Myths are pragmatic charters of primitive
    faith and moral wisdom.
  • Burkert
  • Myths are traditional tales with secondary,
    partial reference to something of collective
    importance.
  • Lincoln
  • Mythology is ideology in narrative form.

13
Myth vs folktale and legend
  • William Bascom
  • The Forms of Folklore  Prose Narratives (1975)
  • Donna Rosenberg
  • Folklore, Myth, and Legends A World Perspective
    (1996)
  • Distinction between folktale, myth and legend
  • fictionality
  • time period
  • setting
  • religious importance
  • main characters

14
Myth vs folktale and legend
  • Myths
  • sacred stories
  • occurred in the remote past
  • non-humans (gods, monsters) as the principal
    characters.
  • Subjects of myth
  • Creation of world and humans
  • Cosmic catastrophes
  • Origins of institutions
  • Phenomena of birth and death
  • Relations of the gods with each other and mortals

15
Myth vs folktale and legend
  • Folktales
  • non-sacred fictional stories
  • occur "once upon a time"
  • feature both human and non-human characters
  • Examples
  • Fairy tales
  • Fables

16
Myth vs folktale and legend
  • Legends
  • Regarded as true stories
  • primarily about human heroes
  • occurred in the recent past
  • may feature some religious references
  • Example Legends of Odysseus

17
 
18
Urban legend/myth
  • A type of modern folklore
  • supposedly-true stories
  • may not have the narrative elements of
    traditional legend
  • circulate by word of mouth
  • FOAF
  • Jan Harold Brunvand
  • The Vanishing Hitchhiker American Urban Legends
    Their Meanings (1981)
  • legends, myths, and folklore also in modern
    societies
  • Tracking and analyzing urban legends
  • eg alt.folklore.urban, snopes.com
  • eg. MythBusters

19
Papal Tiara
  • classic urban legend
  • Papal Tiara the pope's crown
  • Vicarius Filii Dei
  • Vicar of the Son of God
  • If numerised 666,
  • Proof"
  • photograph of a papal funeral
  • nobody has ever seen

20
Epic
  • Epic
  • compilation of myths, legends, and folk stories
  • Goody (1978 1977)
  • Epic
  • transition from oral to written culture.
  • "the domestication of the savage mind"
  • cyclical linear thinking
  • myth history
  • J.G. Linsén (chairman of the SKS) after the
    publication of Kalevala
  • Finland could now say I too have history!"

21
Kalevipoeg
  • Kalevipoeg (The Son of Kalev)
  • Compiled by F.R. Kreutzwald in 1857-61
  • Kreutzwald
  • Germanized Estonian
  • never identified himself with Estonian peasant
    culture
  • never believed in an independent Estonian nation

22
Kalevipoeg
  • Kalevipoeg as an epic
  • invented collection of stories
  • nearly half of them created by Kreutzwald
  • various well-known stories omitted
  • Invented content of epics
  • Kalevala (1835)
  • Elias Lönnrot
  • Lacplesis ("The Bear Slayer") (1888)
  • Andrejs Pumpurs

23
Kalevipoeg
  • Power of epic
  • anonymity and the co-authorship of the past
    generations
  • moral value of its mythical content
  • Millenarian message
  • Kalevipoeg
  • a tragic hero
  • cuts his legs with his own sword
  • chained to the gate of hell
  • serfdom of Estonian peasants under German
    landowners
  • Soviet occupation

24
Kalevipoeg
  • Millenarian message
  • The last lines of Kalevipoeg
  • But one day an age will dawn
  • when all spills, at both their ends,
  • will burst forth into flame
  • and this stark fire will sever
  • The vise of stone from Kalevipoeg's hand.
  • Then the son of Kalev will come home
  • to bring his children happiness
  • and build Estonia's life anew.

25
Recurring themes in myths
  • Creation myths cosmogonic myths
  • creation of universe, life and/or humanity
  • creation of order from primordial chaos
  • creation ex nihilo
  • Big Bang theory as a creation myth?
  • Trickster myths
  • tricks played by gods or heroes
  • sometimes maliciously
  • usually with ultimately positive intentions

26
Recurring themes in myths
  • Cataclysmic / destruction myths
  • floods
  • seasonal death and rebirth
  • other
  • origin of fire
  • coming millennium
  • relations between the living and the dead
  • two approaches
  • Diffusion/ Existence of an original myth
    (Ur-Myth)
  • Common experience of humankind

27
Study of myths
  • First critical studies of myth Ancient Greeks
  • Plato (ca. 400 B.C.)
  • first to use the word mythologia
  • Euhemerus
  • gods renowned historical figures
  • became deified in time
  • Allegorical interpretations
  • Greek gods moral principles (Stoics)
  • allegorical truths taken literally
  • Eg. myth of Kronos, who devoured his children,
  • kronos "time, destroys everything
  • later philological studies of myth
  • eg. Max Müller myths corruptions of language

28
Study of myths
  • 19th c
  • Widening of mythological references
  • comparative mythology
  • establishing origin of myth by comparative
    methods
  • early anthropological studies

29
Antropological approaches to myth
  • Rationalist
  • Eg. Evolutionists
  • Functionalist
  • Eg. Malinowski
  • Psychoanalytical
  • Eg. Dundes
  • Structuralist
  • Eg. Lévi-Strauss

30
Rationalist approach
  • Myth as primitive scietific theory
  • rationalizations of the fundamental mysteries of
    life
  • explanations of natural events and forces
  • Eg. creation myths
  • Evolutionists
  • Eg. Müller
  • Myths explain origins of natural phenomena
    (naturism)
  • Eg. Tylor and Andrew Lang
  • Myth-producing certain stage of savage
    mentality
  • Eg. Frazer
  • means by which people make sense of the world
  • all myths originally concerned with fertility
    (birth, death, and resurrection)

31
Functionalist approach
  • sociological approach
  • emphasis on normative and social aspects
  • Myths
  • a type of social control
  • teach morality and social behavior
  • ensure stability in a society
  • validate present social relations

32
Functionalist approach
  • Malinowski Myth in Primitive Psychology (1926)
  • To understand myth
  • one has to observe it in its total social
    context,
  • myths
  • assert fundamental moral and social rules
  • confirm and maintain the social state of affairs
  • myth a social charter

33
Functionalist approach
  • E.g. Trobriand origin myths
  • explain and validate incest taboos
  • legitimate food taboos
  • justify ranks in society
  • E.g. myth of the flying canoe
  • making a canoe fly with improper magic utter
    failure
  • assertion of proper values, norms and ritual
    behaviour

34
Functionalist approach
  • Malinowski
  • The myth comes into play when rite, ceremony, or
    a social or moral rule demands justification,
    warrant of antiquity, reality, and sanctity
  • myths have an political function
  • means to justify the existing social order
  • By presenting it as sacred or natural
  • "disguised propoganda in the service of those
    in power"

35
Psychoanalytical approach
  • Freud
  • Myths are symbolic reflections
  • of unconscious and repressed fears and anxieties
  • Jung
  • myths are products of the collective unconscious
  • Contain archetypes
  • Dundes
  • Earth-Diver Creation of the Mythopoeic Male
    (1962)

36
Psychoanalytical approach
  • Earth-diver myth
  • The creation of earth from dirt or mud
  • Waters cover earth
  • Various animals dive to bring up sand and mud
  • One manimal succeeds
  • mud put on surface of water becomes land
  • widely spread theme especially among Amerindians

37
Psychoanalytical approach
  • Dundes
  • relies on orthodox Freudian theory
  • Two theoretical assumptions
  • (universal) male pregnancy envy
  • desire to give anal/cloakal birth

38
Psychoanalytical approach
  • Numeorus cross-cultural examples
  • Genesis
  • Woman born from a man
  • Noah builds a womb-ark
  • Hinduism
  • Ganesh formed from the excrement of his mother
  • Chukchee creation myth
  • Raven defecates and creates the world

39
Psychoanalytical approach
  • Numeorus cross-cultural examples
  • Clinical data of male fantasies
  • Freud, Jung, Lombroso, etc
  • Nahuatl
  • gold as the excrement of gods
  • teocuitlatl gold
  • teotl god
  • cuitlatl excrement

40
Structuralist approach
  • Vladimir Propp
  • breaking down myths into components
  • Lévi-Strauss
  • application of structural linguistics (Saussure)
  • emphasis on universal binary opposites
  • myths are culturally specific transformations of
    these universal structures
  • Structural approach to myth
  • Two seminal essays
  • The Structural Study of Myth (1955)
  • The Story of Asdiwal (1961)
  • The Savage Mind (1962)
  • Mythologiques (1968, 1969, 1971, 1973)

41
Structuralist approach
  • Myth
  • cultural code
  • direct insight into the ways the human mind
    operates
  • underlying structure
  • not evident at the empirical level
  • Meaning of the myth
  • not in their manifest content
  • but in the underlying structure

42
Structuralist approach
  • mythemes
  • Minimal meaningful units of the myth
  • Arrangable into thematic columns (bundles of
    relations)
  • Eg.
  • 1 2 4 7 8
  • 2 3 4 6 8
  • 1 4 5 7 8
  • 3 4 5
  • 6 8

43
Structuralist approach
  • Reading of the myth
  • Chronological / diachronic reading
  • Rows (top to bottom)
  • Understanding the myth
  • de-chronologized / synchronic
  • columns (left to right like an orchestral score )
  • Reveals a historical structure
  • Retained in additions, translations
  • Correlation of columns
  • reveal contradictions on an ideological level
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