Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
3Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Greek Mythology - Some New Perspectives

Greek Mythology - Some New Perspectives

Ratings: (0)|Views: 172|Likes:
Published by OmidSalehi

More info:

Published by: OmidSalehi on Nov 13, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

10/07/2014

pdf

text

original

Greek Mythology: Some New Perspectives
Author(s): G. S. Kirk
Source: The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 92 (1972), pp. 74-85
Published by:The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies
Stable URL:http://www.jstor.org/stable/629974
Accessed: 09/11/2010 12:53
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless
you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you
may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.
Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at
http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=hellenic.
Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed
page of such transmission.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend
access to The Journal of Hellenic Studies.
http://www.jstor.org
GREEK MYTHOLOGY: SOME NEWPERSPECTIVES
ANEWapproachto the ancient world isonly too oftena wrong approach,unlessitis
based on some concretediscovery. But I think it fair to talk of newperspectives,
atleast,in
thestudy of Greekmythology.
Certainlythe old and familiar onesare no longeradequate.
Indeedit issurprising, inthelight of freshintuitionsabout society, literacy,thepre-Homeric
world,and relations with theancientNear East,thatmyth--oneof the mostpervasive
aspectsofGreekculture-has beenleft in its old andrathercobwebby pigeon-hole.
Rose's
simple paraphrasesareaccepted as adequateforstudents;Nilsson's sparse pagesinhis
historyofreligionare rightly respected, thoughsomeof them are too simple;the Murray-
Cook-Harrison-Cornfordreconstruction ofreligion,ritual andmythisregarded as alittle
excessive,butperhaps nottoo farout;Kerenyiand Eliade areroughlytolerated, if not
widelyreadbyClassicists,and their books are ordered inprofusionforthe library;the
psychologicalsideisadequatelytaken careof, or so it issupposed, by what is leftfromFreud
andJung,with Cassirer assufficientauthorityfor the sources ofmythicalimagination.
Manyof these critics hadtheirmoments ofbrilliantinsight, but mostweremisleading
intheirtheoriestaken as a whole. Wecan nowaccept that many myths haveritual
counterparts,and some haveritualorigins, withouthaving toadopt Cornford'sbelief,
developedafterHarrison,Frazer and RobertsonSmith,that all mythsaresuch.' Jane
Harrison's Eniautos-Daimon is now known to be anaberration,and inspiteofthe brilliant
texture ofherThemis littlethat isoriginal in it can also be said to becorrect.Malinowski's
divisionofmythsbased onTrobriandcategoriesis usefulup toapoint,but itconcealstoo
manyrealdistinctionsandwrongly deniesthepossibility of a reflective undertone.Eliade's
catch-phraseinillotempore
summarises oneaspectof many myths, not the centralaspectof
all.Kerenyi'sworks,whenthey arenot simply re-tellings oftales, arerepletewithJungian
archetypes,aquestionabledogma;andCassirer's theoryofmyth asasymbolicform effectively
reduces itto ameresegmentofreligion.2
This is indeed one of the crucialproblems: the relation ofmyths toreligion.Needless
tosay, therelationis acomplex one. Thatmythsare either identical withorapart of
religionwaswidelyassumedin the last century, mainlybecausemanyGreek mythsare
concernedwith thebirth anddevelopment of deities. Greekmyths,asweshallsee, arenot
typical.Yetthereis animportantoverlapbetweenmythsandreligion,and determining
its extent is one ofthehardestparts of understanding mythsin general.Oneis nothelped
bythe anthropological practiceofenvisaging all mythsas sacredtales-adefinitionthat has
becomeespeciallyconfusingbecauseofambiguities inthemeaning of 'sacred'. The
movementknown as'functionalism',associated with Malinowski andRadcliffe-Brown,
treatedanymachineryformaintainingthe socialstructure assacred.3Mythswere obviously
partof thatmachinery,incertainof theiruses, and thereforewere sacred even whenthey
didnotfocusongodsorspirits.A differentapplicationof the term is seen inEliade;myths
areconcernedwiththecreativepast and revive someof itspower,and sothey aresacred.4
Butawordthatcombinesthecomplexitiesof 'sacer' with the sentiments ofVictorian
Christianityis unsuitable for either of thesefunctions,even whenthey arenotexaggerated.
1Cornford'sviewsare mostclearlyexemplifiedin
'AritualbasisforHesiod'sTheogony' inTheUn-
writtenPhilosophy(Cambridge,1950) 95ff.
2B.Malinowski:seeespeciallyMythinPrimitive
Psychology(1926),
reprintedinR.Redfield(ed.),
Magic,ScienceandReligion (Boston, 1948,paperback
ed.Doubleday-Anchor
no.A23);M.Eliade:see
e.g.TheMythofthe Eternal Return(London,I954);
E. Cassirer: see ThePhilosophy of SymbolicForms
vol.ii(NewHaven,1957).
3 A. R.Radcliffe-Brown,e.g.StructureandFunction
in PrimitiveSociety(London,I952) 178ff.,andcf.
The AndamanIslanders(Cambridge,
1922)
ch.6,
esp.397ff.
4Cf.e.g.Patternsin ComparativeReligion(London,
1958)ch.I.
GREEKMYTHOLOGY: SOMENEWPERSPECTIVES
75
'Supernatural'isanotherterm thathasbeencomplicatedby Christianityandis stillwidely
employedby anthropologists.
Not allthatissupernaturalis causedbygods. Mythscan
be bothsacredandsupernatural,butoneneedstosaypreciselywhat
thisimpliesinrelation
toreligiousbelief andpractice.Many,probablymost, mythsare 'about'gods in one way
oranother,sincethey tend toemanatefrom societiesdeeply involvedwithpolytheism;but
itis nolesstrue that many myths arenotessentially concerned withgods, but ratherwith
humantypesactingina world thatmaybesupernaturalbutis not religious.Itis
unreasonable toexcludeall non-sacredtales, in the obvioussense, fromthestudyofmyths;
andthe old idea(perpetuatedbyC.Robert, Kerenyiand manyothers)thatGreek
mythologyconsistsonlyof talesaboutthegods-the restbeing heroicsaga orPanhellenic
legend-should
beabandoned.
It should beabandonednotleastbecause itdisguisesafundamental part ofany
reasonable definition ofmyths:thatthey arestories, and traditional ones atthat.Heroic
talesin Greece were traditional no lessthandivineones,andthey can tell ussomething
about thegenreas awhole.5
It takesspecialqualitiestomakea talesurvivefromgeneration togeneration-to
make
ittraditional,in fact.Suchqualitiesarevarious.They may bemainlynarrativeand
dramatic,and inthat case wehave thekind ofmyththat isoften called folktale.Sometimes
theyaremoreobviouslypracticalintheireffect,forexamplein
remindingpeopleofsocial
rulesandtribal traditions or insupportinginstitutionslike marriageorkingship. These
arewhatMalinowskicalledchartermyths.Sometimesa tale is rememberedbecause itis
connectedwithagod orcultand isreinforcedbyreligion.Often its traditionalquality
dependsrather onaetiologyinitsdeepersense,ontheability toexplainsomething, tooffer
anacceptable context forarealitythatisworryingor puzzling-the
fact ofdeath, for
instance,orirritatingrestrictionsonthedesirefor womenorproperty.And at other times
ataleseemstohavepermanentappeal because of amore indefinableeffect, because it
embodies somepowerful,mysteriousand liberating subject orsymbol.These are themain
waysinwhichatalemay establish a hold on agrouporcommunity.
Buttheanalysisis
obviouslyschematic,and inpracticea tale will tend topossess more than one ofthesespecial
qualities,whicharenotmutuallyexclusive.A chartermythoften turns out to be aetio-
logicalinsomedegree;whatisprimarilyseen as afolktalemayalso have charter
aspects;a
mythcloselyassociatedwithreligionoftentendsto bespeculative orexplanatoryas well.
Moreover atale'semphasiscanalterfromgenerationtogenerationinresponse
tochanging
socialpressuresandpreoccupations.
BoasandBenedictused tostress themovement from
folktaletosacredmythandviceversa; thatistrue,butonlypart
ofthetruth.6Any
traditionaltale,sacred ornot,can take ondifferentemphases,and it doesso because the
tellingoftalesis, inmanynon-literate societies,aprimary mode ofcommunication and
discourse and animportantfactorforstabilityor,ifnecessary,forchange.
Onerequest,therefore,to bemadeofanthropologistsis thatthey should devotespecial
attentiontomythsastales;thattheyshouldstudy all tales, notjustsacredones, in aneffort
tounderstandthecriteriaandchanging tendencies of different kindsof oraltradition.
Someanthropologists-and
especiallythosewhohaveworkedinAfrica, likeGoody,
LienhardtandEvans-Pritchard--areawareofthis.Toothers,Classical studies canoffer
5Itmaybe that'traditionaltale'is as farasone
canreasonablygoindefiningthecommonqualityof
everythingthattendsto beclassifiedas amyth
(excludingspecialisedapplicationslike'falsehood').
Notalltraditionaltales,ofcourse,aremyths,evenin
thisbroadsense;forexampletalesthatareclearly
historicalinessencemaybecometraditionalandyet
have none oftheotherqualitiesthatbelongtooneor
anothertypeofmyths.
Theproblemofdefinition
(whichalso includesthequestionof the relationof
mythstofolktales)is an awkwardone; it isnecessary
toremainawareofit,yet it is alsolegitimateto
by-passit to someextent,atleast until thespecial
propertiesofcommonlyacceptedinstanceshave been
furtherexplored.
6F.Boas,TsimshianMythology(Washington,D.C.,
1916)879ff.;R. Benedict,EncyclopaediaoftheSocial
Sciencesxi(1933)179-

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->