Theories and Sources of Myths R. Efpatridis – ETS 4U1 For at least 2000 years, scholars have speculated about how myths began. Some believe myths began as historical events that became distorted with the passage of time. Others think myths resulted from man’s attempt to explain natural occurrences that he could not understand. Scholars have also developed other theories of how myths began. None of these theories answers all the questions about myths, but each contributes to an understanding of the subject. The most important theories about the origins of myths were developed by the ancient Greek scholar and 4 modern scholars outlined below. Euhemerus Greek Time Period Late 300s and early 200s B.C. Theory Suggested that all myths are based on historical facts. Scholars need to strip away the supernatural elements to reach these facts. Friedrich Max Muller Sir Edward Burnett Taylor Bronislaw Malinowski Sir James George Frazer German born British language scholar Late 1800s English anthropologist Polish born British anthropologist Scottish anthropologist 1800s Early 1900s Late 1800s and early 1900s Suggested that all gods and mythical heroes were really representations of nature divinities. Heroes were originally a symbol for the sun in one of its phases. Believed that myths began through man’s efforts to account for explainable occurrences in dreams. Suggested that all things in nature had a soul (animism): souls wandered freely in sleep to have many adventures. Pre scientific attempt to explain dreams and natural events. Emphasized the psychological conditions that led man to create myths. Man creates myths when he reaches a frontier – what cannot be explained logically. Relieved the tension brought on by the unknown and not having an explanation. Believed that myths began in the great cycle of nature – birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth. This theory evolved from his attempt to explain ancient rituals. Zeus probably modeled on early king of Crete who has such great power that he inspired supernatural tales. Birth of the hero stood for dawn; the hero’s triumph over obstacles represented the sun at noon at its highest point. The hero’s decline and death expressed the sunset. The adventures the soul had would appear to man through dreams. He explained that the eruption of a volcano was caused by its soul. Weaknesses In most cases, He and his followers influence later theories about the origins of myths. Ex. The sun god Helios drove his flaming chariot, the sun, across the sky every day. Symbolically explained how the sun rose in the east and set in the west. Not everyone had dreams: so some occurrences could not be explained. Religious beliefs contradicted Tylor’s theory about a soul existing in all nature Example scholars lack enough historical evidence to determine whether a mythical figure ever existed. Contributions to Classical Mythology Homer Ovid Virgil Hesiod Early man lacked science and wisdom to explain thunder logically: so he decided it was caused by a god using a hammer. Not every event in a society could be explained away. Priests were sacrificed every year in an attempt to restore power to the god Jupiter. Ancient Italians believed that when a priest lost his vigor, so did the god. As the God lost power, so did the world reflected through long winters, the cold and less fertile lands. Frazer believed societies sacrificed symbols of their gods: in this case to keep it from decaying and dying. While the idea may be far fetched, he had the most accurate belief that rituals formed the basis for stories of birth, growth, maturation, decay, death and most importantly rebirth. This could explain why that in almost every ancient mythology these stories exist. Influences on Mythology While many myths are similar in nature and share many of the same features (see first handout on Osiris) due to the themes, characters, and archetypes that connect stories from culture to culture, there are some definite elements that have contributed for the variances that occur in myths. Climate - influence materials used in myths to create land, people, etc. Geographical Location – people living in agricultural areas would have attributed fertility of the earth to deities that were females – usually worshiping goddesses, Mother Earth, etc. In fact, women were found commonly working in the fields in these primitive societies. In areas that focused more on raising sheep or goats or tending herds – male worship would predominate – because men took on this responsibility in their communities. Customs/rituals – see chart above about rituals that may have influenced the creation of myths Government and Social systems – areas where males were predominate and in control (almost everywhere) there was more worship of the gods or male figures Other societal aspects – there can be a switch in power within a community or culture Ex. Certain tribes in Ghana were led by women – reflected in their myths about huntresses and a moon goddess Eventually, this matriarchal society was conquered by men and the patriarchal nomads led to the evolution of stories about a male creator: the society was forced to conform to changes in its social system Later Theories Since the initial theorists tried to explain where myths came from, several social scientists and psychologists have explained what we can learn about people from the myths that have been passed on: myths are relevant in understanding society as a whole, and help to explain why an individual acts the way he/she does. Emile Durkheim – late 1800s and early 1900s She believed that every society establishes certain social institutions and values, which are reflected in a society’s religion Most of a society’s gods, heroes and myths are really collective representations of the institutions and values of that society or of important parts within in. These representations determine how the individual in the society think and act. By examining a society’s myths, Durkheim believed we can discover a lot about its social institutions and values. Georges Dumezil – modern French scholar Believed that Indo-European gods were collective representations of the caste system common to many of the societies at the time Ex. Certain divinities represent the upper class (Brahman – highest caste in Hindu society); others the warrior caste, farmers, herdsmen, etc. The relationships depicted between these gods revealed what was considered proper conduct among the castes. Carl Jung – early 1900s – Swiss psychoanalyst Developed an original and controversial theory the myths reflect the attitudes and behaviour of individuals. Myths are a reflection of a personal and a collective unconscious formed by an individual’s personal experiences in the world as filtered through his/her senses. He believed an individual’s collective unconscious is inherited and shared by all members of his/her race. Collective unconscious is organized into basic patterns and symbols – archetypes – myths are one kind of archetype. (fairy tales, art, folk tales, etc. represent other archetypes) He asserted that all mythologies have certain features in common and date back to the earliest days of mankind. He believed that studying myths revealed the psychological development of races and mankind.