The Meaning of Myth
It is a well known fact that philosophy and religion are based on mythology. The myths inspired sculptors, writers and artists, as well as many other figures. In contrast, the modern society underestimates mythology mistakenly equating it to childish fairy tales. However, it is full of wisdom that had been acquired over centuries, and there is no other genre of literature that can enrich the human soul with such symbolic imagery. Therefore, it can be said without prejudice that this topic is relevant for the modern society. Perhaps, this paper will be able to evoke in the reader a keen interest in mythology and encourage the study of myths from the very beginning. This work is devoted to the investigation of the role of mythology for mankind as a whole.
In order to objectively assess the role and impact of mythology on a person, it is important to define the task of myth and mythology in general. Thus, the main task of the myth is to give samples, models for every important act committed by man. Mythology differs in the majority of ethnic groups, but it almost always allows people how to draw parallels in stories and images.
Due to the fact that mythology masters the reality in the forms of figurative narrative, it is close in meaning to literature; historically, it anticipated many of the features of the literature and had a great all-round development of its influence. Naturally, literature does not have a mythological foundation that can be applied not only to the works of mythological basis of the plot but also realistic and naturalistic description of the everyday life of man in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (for example, The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens).
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Importance of Religious Mythology
One of the religious myths is the myth of Charon’s greed. Charon is the grim ferryman on the river Styx who once coveted awards for his work. However, Hades refused to reward his cheeky servant. Then, Charon said he would demand gratitude from those he carries. Therefore, since that time, the ferryman took one coin from everybody he carried, and the one who did not pay was forced to wander forever near the kingdom beyond the grave as a shadow. Due to this myth, there is the tradition to put a coin in the mouth of a dead person before burial to pay the grim boatman Charon. Such myths determined the implementation of all religious activities, as well as their order and timing. Most importantly, they made it clear for what specific purpose it is necessary to perform the rituals.
As it can be seen from the above, the way of life of ancient men was regulated by mythology. Literally, everything in the world had its own myths that gave a person an idea of what to do in a given situation and how it should respond to the surrounding. Therefore, it will not be a mistake to claim that mythology plaid a crucial role in ancient times because it was a sense of everything, a kind of control comparable to modern legislation.
The Role of Mythology in Ancient Times
During the early Classical period, mythology was the basis of all pagan cults. With the help of the myths, people tried to explain why they could not understand the nature and deified everything. There were myths about the origin of the Earth and the human (anthropogenic and cosmogonic myths); the myths explaining the nature of natural phenomena; myths shaping public opinion about the norms of morality (edifying and heroic myths); myths forming social thinking and explaining the nature of power, and myths explaining the religious rituals (religious myths).
The Importance of Mythology in Understanding the Origin of Mankind
A striking example of the Greek myth is the anthropogenic legend about Zeus who one day decided to create servants. He commissioned this work to the only invincible titan Prometheus. Prometheus took the clay at the foot of Mount Olympus and began to sculpt. However, Zeus did not like all he did as beasts were the result of his work. Then, Prometheus decided to sculpt figures similar to Gods. Zeus was satisfied when he had finished sculpting. He put into each human figure one of the four elements, and breathed life to them. In such a way, he got people with different personalities and looks (this myth is almost identical to the Egyptian myth of the god Khnum).
Such myths are no less important than those that explain the origin of the Earth. They illustrate not only the origin of man and the meaning of the existence, but why people are different. In addition, the origin of animals is often described in anthropogenic myths.
In regard to the myths about natural phenomena, the most vivid example is the ancient Greek idea of changing seasons (Moore, 1994, p. 220). It was believed that when the lord of the underworld Hades fell in love with the beautiful goddess Persephone, he stole her. The mother of Persephone was Demeter, the goddess of wildlife, and she started to yearn for her daughter and had forgotten about her responsibilities. Nature began to fade, and there was a long winter, due to which people began to die. Then, Zeus persuaded Hades to let his wife to her mother for six months. Therefore, in the spring, when Persephone returned to her mother, everything blooms with the joy of the goddess. However, when it comes to parting, autumn comes and everything fades.
The analysis of this myth allows judging how an explanation of any phenomenon was important for people. As scientific knowledge of the time was simply not able to give answers to such complex questions, people resorted to imagination again and composed new myths. Thus, as in other myths, gods were the causes of everything.
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Importance of Instructive Myths
The myth of Narcissus can be considered to be a good example of an instructive myth. The young man was so beautiful that any girl could not resist him. Narcissus was heartbreaker for every woman considering them unworthy of his beauty. Aphrodite decided to punish the mortal for his selfishness. Once, when Narcissus went to the stream, he saw his reflection, and due to the cunning of the goddess, he could no longer look away from his own reflection. Thus, Narcissus sat beside the stream until he became a yellow flower.
In such myths, people described all sorts of vices. To make it clear whether they are harmful, people have described as terrible punishments that were inevitable for someone who succumbed to these vices. According to Moore (1994), people tried to adjust the level of the spiritual culture of society (p. 212).
Mythology and Understanding of the Nature of Power
In Egypt, there was a widespread myth, according to which all pharaohs anyway were the descendants of the sun god Ra, which meant that the right of power over people was granted to the country’s rulers originating from the god-ruler, and consequently, the power of Pharaoh was firm. With such a cunning stroke, rulers ensured their full and unconditional submission of their people. Those who tried to oppose doomed themselves to the eternal reputation of the atheist and became a social outcast. This practice took place not only in Egypt; such myths were widespread in Mesopotamia and island nations of an antiquity. However, Roman emperors were the main proponents of this idea claiming that they were chosen by the gods to become gods (Campbell, 2011, p. 9).
Impact of Mythology on the Ancient Drama and Poetry
It is important to highlight the influence of mythology on the ancient playwrights, such as Homer, Phryne, Aristophanes and others. All of their works (other than the chronicle) contain the description of the artistic scene of myths, or they described the characters that were taken from myths. Examples of such works may be the Troy and Homer’s Iliad.
In addition, the whole ancient poetry literally abounds in mythological motives. Virgil related the myths and philosophical comprehension of history. Ovid separated mythology from religious motivations in search of life revealing the meaning of images as symbols.
It can be said that mythology formed the basis for the creation of literature. After all, the first literary works are myths or were based on their stories. It is this dramatic mythology processing that will then be equal to the writers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The Importance of Mythology in the Ancient Fine Arts
The images of mythical heroes gave inspiration to sculptors, painters and architects of the antiquity. All the monuments and cultural values of that time were connected with the subjects of special common myths, for example, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
The most famous example of how myths inspired human to create masterpieces is the story of the brilliant architect and sculptor Phidias. This man was so inspired by the myth of “On the dispute of Athena and Poseidon” that decided to develop a plan to finish the Parthenon just to make sketches of Athens’ main asset – the statue of Athena Parthenon. Based on the above fact, it is possible to judge that mythology gave the development vector of Art and Fine Arts that existed at the time.
The Importance of Mythology in the Legends of the Middle Ages
In the early Middle Ages, mythology was rather bizarre, but it was also an integral part of the lives of ordinary people although it did not regulate everyday life as it used to in Ancient Times. It was directed to give people hope even in the most hopeless times. An example of such hopes of suggestion can be considered a myth about Arthur, a just king and valiant warrior who united the Albion. However, in the same way, there is a tradition of universal evil – Mordred (Arthur’s bastard). In order to instill the hope in the common men, Mordred was struck by a spear of Arthur at the end of the myth. However, Arthur was mortally wounded, and he asked Sir Bedivere to return the sword Excalibur to Lady of the Lake. Then, he was taken to the island of Avalon.
If gallant knights were symbols of good, law, order and peace inspiring faith in a brighter future, the image of a dragon in the stories was used to represent chaos and lawlessness, the inevitable for a wicked person. Thus, the common men were easier to match concepts such as good and evil.
The Importance of Mythology in the Promotion of a Righteous Life
In the late Middle Ages, mythology was declared heresy. However, some mythological subjects were reinterpreted in Christian dowries. In a more detailed analysis, it is possible to find similarities in Christian and pagan traditional myths. Vatican simply changed the names of the characters involved and distorted sense in order to satify the demands of the Catholic Church. This can be seen by considering the myth of Tartarus and the biblical description of hell. By means of such myths that were processed by their religion, the Western Christian Church regulated people’s thinking at the time and explained the need to maintain the life in compliance with church morality. Medieval poets continued a Vergil relationship to myth as a structure with a rich symbolic meaning, as well as lyrical penetration. From this point, such concepts as allegory and symbolism appeared in literature.
The most significant work that was written in such mythological symbolism and the use of recycled church mythology can be considered “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri. It describes human vices through the characters in all sorts of mythical manifestation.
The Importance of Mythology in the Renaissance
In the days of the Renaissance, mythology flourished again and became a pantry of subjects for all manifestations of culture. It became the core of most cultural areas, such as architecture, sculpture, painting, philosophy and literature course. However, now, the main role of mythology has become the manifestation of the ideals of the image of man as a physical (which is clearly seen in sculpture and painting), and spiritual (which is manifested in philosophical treatises with images of ancient heroes in fiction) creature.
All the heroes of the myths were portrayed as perfect people; painters tried to portray them in compliance with all standard proportions of the time. In painting, an example of these mythical representations may be the works of Sandro Botticelli, “Birth of Venus” and “Spring”. These paintings depict the gods in the form of standards of the physical body. In sculpture, the standards are considered in the works by Michelangelo, such as the “Battle of the Centaurs.” Thus, it is possible to conclude that mythology of the Renaissance was one of the vectors of culture.
A bright example of processing of the myths in the Renaissance is the greatest poem of the late Renaissance written by William Shakespeare “Venus and Adonis”.
“Venus and Adonis” is an erotic poem processing “Metamorphoses” of Ovid. Ovid described the story of how Venus found her first lover among mortals. Their relationship lasted for a long time; goddess often warned her beloved of the dangers of hunting. However, Adonis was keen on hunting and did not listen to her advice, and one day, while hunting, Adonis was killed by a wild boar.
Shakespeare wrote almost the same, with only minor changes. His poem is an example of classical literature (one place, at one time, just two main characters): Adonis preparing for the hunt and Venus trying to seduce him. The passion inflamed between them, but Adonis believed that he is too young for romance novels, and he was interested in hunting. As a result, Adonis died soon because of an accident while hunting.
“Venus and Adonis” is the most outspoken poem throughout the Shakespearean creative work. The poem has a presence in a complex structure with varying tones, as well as perspectives to reflect differing views on the essence of love. This work has become a representation of ideal sensual relations and lovemaking. Mythological foundation of this work contributed more vivid senses and transmission of images, as well as allowed to beat what is happening as something more sublime (the ratio of the goddess and a mortal).
In addition, another excellent use of myths in a play is the work of “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which uses elements of Celtic and Scandinavian mythology. This piece is a three story lines that intersect each other in the course of the narrative and interconnected impending the wedding of the Duke of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta the queen.
In this case, mythology allowed the author to realize his plan. Using mythical characters, Shakespeare was able to explain the existence of the supernatural powers in the play. Therefore, the role of myth in this situation is not more than auxiliary.
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The Importance of Mythology in the XVII -XIX Century
At this time, the mythology was gradually forgotten and ceased to inspire painters and writers. There were no references to mythology in the literature of that time. However, myths were an interesting topic for composers. For example, Richard Wagner’s was so inspired by scenes of myths that this inspiration led him to creating such masterpieces of world classics as “Ring des Nibelungen”, “Tristan and Isolde” and the most famous play – “Valkyrie.” Norse and Celtic mythology was used in the creating of these works.
Nevertheless, from that time, it can be said that mythology lost its importance. From this period, mythology started to being perceived as something frivolous, a kind of entertainment and nothing more.
The New Importance of Mythology in the XX Century to the Present Day
The emergence of the genre of fantasy, the ancestor of which is John Ronald Tolkien, revitalized the importance of mythology. However, due to the huge popularity and great influence of the genre, many believe that Tolkien is the “father” of modern fantasy literature. A prime example is a magnificent fantasy novel of Tolkien “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again,” as well as the trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.” When writing these works, the author was guided by Norse mythology, and Arthurian myths.
All character names and descriptions of mythological races were taken from the Scandinavian and Celtic myths. In addition, the novel described, played and repeated the main themes of myths. For example, an episode, in which the wizard Gandalf the White confused the trolls to the dawn and turned them into stone, almost exactly repeats a scene from Edd where so did Thor with Alvis. As in “The Lord of the Rings”, the motif of return that was taken from the Arthurian legends appears again.
This genre attracts the attention of many people to the second consecutive century. Unfortunately, it was not considered sufficiently to be serious genre (Campbell, 2011, p. 19). It serves to entertain the reader by its storyline and depth of conveying the author.
Apart from the high popularity of fantasy in the modern times, there are many second-rate works only vaguely reminiscent of good fiction. If the works of such fantasy authors as Tolkien, Pratchett etc. are able to enrich the inner world of the reader, these “bestsellers” can cause a feeling of frustration in the reader’s mind due to its unprofessional and poor writing.
In regard to classical mythology in its version, it can be said that unfortunately, now, it is almost forgotten and relegated to the level of children’s fairy tales. Modern people are not interested in mythology and consider it to be of no importance.
It must be said that the importance of mythology became insignificant in comparison to the previous eras. It can be noted that myths that were popular in antiquity or the Middle Ages are almost forgotten as a literary genre and are often studied only within the school curriculum. However, mythology is widely used in such fields of modern culture as cinema, game production, animation production, among others.