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However, the Greek dramatists were not expected to faithfully reproduce traditional myths when adapting them for the stage.

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They were instead recreating the myths and producing new versions. In one of his works, Merope attempts to kill her son's murderer with an axe, unaware that the man in question is actually her son. According to an ancient description of audience reactions to this work, the audience members were genuinely unsure of whether she would commit filicide or she will be stopped in time. They rose to their feet in terror and caused an uproar. David Wiles points that the traditional mythos of Ancient Greece, was primarily a part of its oral tradition.

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The Greeks of this era were a literate culture, but produced no sacred texts. There were no definitive or authoritative versions of myths recorded in texts and preserved forever in an unchanging form. These variants were adapted into songs, dances, poetry, and visual art. Performers of myths could freely reshape their source material for a new work, adapting it to the needs of a new audience or in response to a new situation. Children in Ancient Greece were familiar with traditional myths from an early age.

According to the philosopher Plato c. Bruce Lincoln has called attention to the apparent meaning of the terms mythos and logos in the works of Hesiod. In Theogony , Hesiod attributes to the Muses the ability to both proclaim truths and narrate plausible falsehoods falsehoods which seem like real things. There are two variants in the manuscript tradition for the verb used to proclaim truths. One variant uses gerusasthai , the other mythesasthai.

The latter is a form of the verb mytheomai to speak, to tell , which is etymologically associated with mythos. He also announces to his readers his intention to tell true things to his brother.

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The verb he uses for telling the truth is mythesaimen , another form of mytheomai. Lincoln draws the conclusion that Hesiod associated the "speech of mythos " as Lincoln calls it with telling the truth. While he associated the "speech of logos " with telling lies , and hiding one's true thoughts dissimulation. Three times the term is associated with the term " seductive " and three times with the term "falsehoods". Eris' children are ominous figures, which personify various physical and verbal forms of conflict.

Comparative mythology is the systematic comparison of myths from different cultures. It seeks to discover underlying themes that are common to the myths of multiple cultures. In some cases, comparative mythologists use the similarities between separate mythologies to argue that those mythologies have a common source. This source may inspire myths or provide a common "protomythology" that diverged into the mythologies of each culture.

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A number of commentators have argued that myths function to form and shape society and social behaviour. Eliade argued that one of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior [64] [65] and that myths may provide a religious experience. By telling or reenacting myths, members of traditional societies detach themselves from the present, returning to the mythical age, thereby coming closer to the divine. Honko asserted that, in some cases, a society reenacts a myth in an attempt to reproduce the conditions of the mythical age. For example, it might reenact the healing performed by a god at the beginning of time in order to heal someone in the present.

Since it is not the job of science to define human morality, a religious experience is an attempt to connect with a perceived moral past, which is in contrast with the technological present. Pattanaik defines mythology as "a subjective truth of people that is communicated through stories, symbols and rituals".

One theory claims that myths are distorted accounts of historical events.

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Some theories propose that myths began as allegories for natural phenomena: Apollo represents the sun, Poseidon represents water, and so on. He believed myths began as allegorical descriptions of nature and gradually came to be interpreted literally. For example, a poetic description of the sea as "raging" was eventually taken literally and the sea was then thought of as a raging god. Some thinkers claimed that myths result from the personification of objects and forces. According to these thinkers, the ancients worshiped natural phenomena, such as fire and air, gradually deifying them.

Myth and Reality

According to the myth-ritual theory, myth is tied to ritual. Forgetting the original reason for a ritual, they account for it by inventing a myth and claiming the ritual commemorates the events described in that myth. The critical interpretation of myth began with the Presocratics. He interpreted myths as accounts of actual historical events — distorted over many retellings. Sallustius [83] divided myths into five categories — theological, physical or concerning natural laws , animistic or concerning soul , material, and mixed. Mixed concerns myths that show the interaction between two or more of the previous categories and are particularly used in initiations.

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Plato famously condemned poetic myth when discussing education in the Republic. His critique was primarily on the grounds that the uneducated might take the stories of gods and heroes literally. Nevertheless, he constantly referred to myths throughout his writings. As Platonism developed in the phases commonly called Middle Platonism and neoplatonism , writers such as Plutarch , Porphyry , Proclus , Olympiodorus, and Damascius wrote explicitly about the symbolic interpretation of traditional and Orphic myths.

Mythological themes were consciously employed in literature, beginning with Homer. The resulting work may expressly refer to a mythological background without itself becoming part of a body of myths Cupid and Psyche. Medieval romance in particular plays with this process of turning myth into literature. Euhemerism , as stated earlier, refers to the rationalization of myths, putting themes formerly imbued with mythological qualities into pragmatic contexts.

An example of this would be following a cultural or religious paradigm shift notably the re-interpretation of pagan mythology following Christianization. Interest in polytheistic mythology revived during the Renaissance , with early works of mythography appearing in the sixteenth century, among them the Theologia Mythologica The first modern, Western scholarly theories of myth appeared during the second half of the nineteenth century [82] — at the same time as the word myth was adopted as a scholarly term in European languages.

This movement drew European scholars' attention not only to Classical myths, but also material now associated with Norse mythology , Finnish mythology , and so forth. Western theories were also partly driven by Europeans' efforts to comprehend and control the cultures, stories and religions they were encountering through colonialism. These encounters included both extremely old texts such as the Sanskrit Rigveda and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh , and current oral narratives such as mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas or stories told in traditional African religions.

The intellectual context for nineteenth-century scholars was profoundly shaped by emerging ideas about evolution. These ideas included the recognition that many Eurasian languages—and therefore, conceivably, stories—were all descended from a lost common ancestor the Indo-European language which could rationally be reconstructed through the comparison of its descendant languages.

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They also included the idea that cultures might evolve in ways comparable to species. This theory posited that "primitive man" was primarily concerned with the natural world. It tended to interpret myths that seemed distasteful European Victorians—for example tales about sex, incest, or cannibalism—as being metaphors for natural phenomena like agricultural fertility. According to Tylor, human thought evolved through stages, starting with mythological ideas and gradually progressing to scientific ideas.

He speculated that myths arose due to the lack of abstract nouns and neuter gender in ancient languages. Anthropomorphic figures of speech, necessary in such languages, were eventually taken literally, leading to the idea that natural phenomena were in actuality conscious beings or gods. James George Frazer saw myths as a misinterpretation of magical rituals, which were themselves based on a mistaken idea of natural law: this idea was central to the " myth and ritual " school of thought.

When they realize applications of these laws do not work, they give up their belief in natural law in favor of a belief in personal gods controlling nature, thus giving rise to religious myths. Meanwhile, humans continue practicing formerly magical rituals through force of habit, reinterpreting them as reenactments of mythical events.