Module 1 Introduction - What Mythology Is In the first...

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What Mythology Is In the first place, myths are stories. In every culture and every country, during every period of time from Ancient Egypt to the modern United States, people have told stories. Of these, perhaps the most captivating have been the sacred stories handed down as part of religions, as well as the narratives that explain and define the great acts of nations and peoples: mythology in the strict sense refers to these. Usually these accounts are so old that their origins are shrouded in mystery. For us modern readers, part of their appeal is in their evocation of a long- gone era in which members of communities shared the same values and guided their lives by the stories they told. Rooted as we are in the ever-shifting, diverse, multifaceted world of the twenty-first century, we turn to mythology first for the entertainment value of a good story. Our impulse is sound: in the treasure house of mythological stories, we readily find the entertainment we are seeking. And yet, the term “mythology” is usually applied to a body of stories whose purpose is not limited to entertainment. As Northrop Frye puts it, the stories of mythology are often “charged with a special seriousness and importance.” Some stories are associated with a living religion still be practiced at the time the myth is told; others are more secular in nature, but still include values and perspectives that inform the society and culture of the storytellers. Many people believe that myths are false stories that primitive people used to tell to explain the nature of the universe before a better, more “scientific” explanation for the world was available. This view is related to the popular use of “myth” to mean “false story.” For instance, you may have heard people say that it is a myth that the sun travels around the earth, or that thunder is really the sound of two clouds colliding. In common parlance, a myth is an “old wives’ tale,” a generally accepted belief unsubstantiated by fact. Thus, it is a myth that professors are absent-minded or that women are intuitive rather than rational. We also classify as myths the stories of gods and heroes of cults in which we do not believe, tales that once had religious significance. Collections of the myths of particular cultures are called mythologies. We also use the word “mythology” to refer to the academic field concerned with the study of myths and mythologies. We can also speak of myth as an abstract reality, like religion or science. The English word “myth” is derived from the Greek mythos, meaning word or story. Human beings have traditionally used stories to describe or explain things they could not explain otherwise. Ancient myths were stories by means of which our forebears were able to assimilate the mysteries that occurred around and within them. In this sense, myth is related to metaphor, in which an object or event is compared to an apparently dissimilar object or event in such a way as to make its otherwise inexplicable essence clear.
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