Mythology: Theories and Sources How Myths Began Some believe that myths began as historical events that became distorted with the passage of time. Others think myths resulted from man’s attempt to explain natural occurences that he could not understand. The most important theories about the origins of myths were developed by Euhermerus, an ancient Greek, and four modern scholars— Friedrich Max Miller, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, Bronislaw Malinowski, and Sir James George Frazer. Euhermerus’ Theory Believed that all myths were based on historical facts. He believed that scholars had to strip away the supernatural elements in a myth to reach these facts. His theory has one basic weakness. In most cases, modern scholars lack enough historical evidence to determine whether a mythical figure ever existed. Muller’s Theory Suggested that all gods and mythical heroes were really representations of nature divinities, and heroes were originally a symbol for the sun in one of its phases. Today few scholars take his main theories seriously. However, he and his followers did influence most later theories about the origins of myths. Malinowski’s Theory Malinowski emphasized the psychological conditions that lead man to create myths. According to him, all people recognize that a frontier exists between what man can and cannot explain logically. Malinowski said man creates myths when he reaches this frontier. He believed that man had to create such myths to relieve the tension brought on by his not knowing why something happened. Frazer’s Theory Believed that myths began in the great cycle of nature—birth, growth, decay, death, rebirth Developed from his attempt to explain an ancient Italian ritual named Nemi. This developed into the series of books called The Golden Bough. He wrote that societies throughout the world sacrificed symbols of their gods to keep these gods-and thus the world-from decaying and dying. According to Frazer, this theme of the dying and reborn god appears in almost every ancient mythology. What Mythology Tells Us about People Some theories stress the role of myths in understanding society as a whole. Other theories emphasize the place of mythology in understanding why an individual acts the way he does. Mythology and Society According to Durkheim, 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 it. By examining a society’s myths, he believed a sociologist can discover its social institutions and values. Mythology and the Individual Carl Jung developed an original and controversial theory about how myths reflect the attitudes and behavior of individuals. He suggested that everyone has a personal and a collective unconscious. He believed that the collective unconscious is organized into basic patterns and symbols, which he called archetypes. He believed that all myths have certain characteristics in common: gods and heroes and themes, such as love or revenge. Other features include places, such as the home of the gods or the underworld, and plots, such as a battle between generations for control of a throne. Assignment Anthropo/morphism (human/shape) is a representation or conception of a god with human attributes. Therio/morphism (wild beast/shape) is a representation or conception of god with the form of an animal. Read pages 13-21 in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Answer questions on Handout 3.