Ways of Interpreting Myths
about Hercules
Modern Theories
Modern Interpretations of
Myth
Two modern meanings of “mythology”:
• a system or set of myths
• the methodological analysis of myths
A monolithic theory of myth vs. the multifunctionalism of myth
The autonomy of myth
See: Some Theories of Myth
Externalist Theories: Myths as Products of the Environment
Internalist Theories: Myths as Products of the Mind
Externalist Theories:
Myths as Products of the Environment
Myths as Aetiology
Comparative Mythology
Nature Myths
Myths as Rituals
Charter Myths
Myths as Aetiology
myth as explanation of the origin of
things
myth as primitive science
myth as primitive science
"The Origin of the Milky Way” (c.1575)
Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-94)
National Gallery, London
F. Max Müller
Nature Myths
Founder of the social scientific study of religion
Comparative approach:
Study of Vedic peoples of ancient India applied
to myths of other cultures (Greece and Rome)
Max Müller
1823-1900)
For Müller, the culture of the Vedic
peoples represented a form of nature
worship, an idea clearly influenced by
Romanticism
Zeus as the Sky
• Dyaus pitr
Sanskrit
– Dyaus = “he who shines”
– pitr = father
• Zeus pater
• Jupiter
• Tiu Vater
(German)
Indo-European
Greek
Latin
Teutonic
Herakles (Heracles)
Hercle
Hercules
American
Greek
Etruscan
Italian
Renaissance
Roman
Hercules
and
Nature
Myths
http://www.constellationsofwords.com/Constellations/Hercules.html
Myths as Ritual
Sir James Frazer’ The Golden Bough
(1890-1915)
Comparative mythology
myths as by products of ritual enactments
stories to explain religious ceremonies
The Golden Bough On-Line:
http://www.bartleby.com/196/
Turner’s “Golden Bough”
Joseph M. W. Turner (1775-1851) The Golden Bough 1834
Tate Gallery, London
http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999996&workid=14718
Hercules and Ritual
Coin from Cyrene showing Zeus Ammon
(Kunsthistorisches Museum,Vienna)
Diodorus Siculus
book 2.42 - To reluctantly meet with Herakles, Zeus killed a ram
and used the ram’s head as a mask when he spoke to his son; for
that reason, the Egyptians portray Zeus with the head of a ram
Frazer. The Golden Bough. Chapter 52. Killing the Divine Animal
Jupiter (as Ammon with Horns) Seducing Olympias (mother of
Alexander)
by Giulio Romano (Orbetto; 1499-1546)
Charter Myths
belief-systems set up to authorize
and validate current social customs
and institutions.
Bronsilaw
Malinowski
(1884-1942)
Selected Bibliography:
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/Anthro/
Anth206/malinowski.htm
Does the myth of Hercules validate
social customs and institutions?
Hercules, Admetus and Alcestis
Xenia (Guestfriendship)
Hercules Fighting Death to Save Alcestis by
Frederic Lord Leighton (1869-71).
Hercules Restoring
Alcestis. Pietro Benvenuti
(1769 - 1844)
Structuralism
Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-)
Jean-Paul Vernant
Pierre Vidal-Naquet
Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-)
• myth reflect the mind's binary organization
• diachronic vs. synchronic reading of myth
• humans tend to see world as reflection of their own physical and
cerebral structure ( two hands, eyes, legs, etc.)
• Left/right, raw,/cooked, pleasure/pain
• Myth deals with the perception and reconciliation of these opposites
• mediation of contradictions
How does Hercules mediate contradictions?
For more on Levi-Strauss see
http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/klmno/levi
-strauss_claude.html
Hercules Mediating
Contradictions
Human
Human
Virtue
Animal (Lion Skin)
Divine
Vice
The Drunken Hercules c. 1611
Peter Paul Rubens
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Germany
Hercules and
Centaurs
Nessus
Pholus
Chiron
Narratology
Vlaimir Propp (1895-1970)
Propp argued that all fairy tales were constructed of
certain plot elements, which he called functions, and that
these elements consistently occurred in a uniform
sequence. Based on a study of one hundred folk tales,
Propp devised a list of thirty-one generic functions,
proposing that they encompassed all of the plot
components from which fairy tales were constructed.
What narrative functions are in the myth of
Hercules?
Johann Jakob Bachofen
(1815 – 1887)
Feminist Approaches to Myth
Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994)
Marija Gimbutas was an archaeologist with a scholarly background in
folklore and linguistics, making her uniquely qualified to synthesize
information from science and myth into a controversial theory of a
Goddess-based culture in prehistoric Europe. Joseph Campbell said
that, if her work had been available to him, he would have held very
different views about the archetypes of the female Divine in world
mythology.
Primacy of Matriarchy
What about Hercules? (Glory of Hera)
Myths as Products of the Mind
Individual Mind
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
id / ego / superego
dream world of the individual
Does Hercules appeal to our individual
dream world?
Myths as Products of the Mind
Collective Mind
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
dream world of society
collective unconscious
archetypes: recurring myths characters, situations and
events
archetype as primal form or pattern from which all other
versions are derived
Does Hercules appeal to our collective unconscious?
Students of Jung
Ernst Cassirer (1874-1975)
Mircea Eliade (1907-1986)
Victor Turner (1920-1983)
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)
Mircea Eliade
(1907-1986)
Eliade's analysis of religion assumes the existence of "the
sacred" as the object of worship of religious humanity.
Myths reflect a creative era, a sacred time, a vanished epoch of
unique holiness. Is Hercules living in a vanished epoch?
More on Eliade: http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/bodhidharma/mircea.html
Joseph Campbell
1904-1987
Hero's rite of passage
journey of maturation
Growth into true selfhood (Jung's individuation)
More on Campbell: http://www.jcf.org/about_jc.php
Myth and Dream
Myths as Products of the MIND
The Monomyth (James Joyce’s Finnegan’s
Wake)
Hercules’ Rite of Passage
separation—initiation--return
(See Hero Pg. 30)
Tragedy and Comedy in the
Monomyth
– “The universal tragedy of man”
– “The happy ending of the fairy tale, the
myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is
to be read , not as a contradiction, but as a
transcendence of the universal tragedy of
man.” (pg. 28)
– It is the business of mythology proper, and
of the fairy tale, to reveal the specific
dangers and techniques of the dark interior
way from tragedy to comedy.
– Is Hercules part of the Monomyth?