ch2culturalcontext

ch2culturalcontext - Classics 10: Chapter 2: Spring 2010...

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Classics 10: Chapter 2: Spring 2010 The Cultural Context of Classical Myth [Legend and Folktale] I. Greek Geography II. The Six Major Eras of Classical Greek History III. Greek Cultural Attitudes: Males, Females, Sex
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Summary of Lecture 1 A myth is “a traditional story of collective importance.” There are three different types of myth: Divine Myth Legend Folktale The study of myth tries to uncover a myth- complex by compiling the variety of evidence and tries to understand the myth’s significance within the culture and without
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Legend As divine myth is analogous to theoretical science, so legend is analogous to history. “What happened in the human past?” Central characters are great human heroes. The gods play a role, but they are not center stage. Poseidon curses Odysseus for blinding the Cyclops, but Odysseus still has to get home.
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Legend These are not the acts of ordinary human beings, but they are still human. Stronger, faster, braver, sexier Legends take place on earth in the remote past and were thought by the Greeks to be real human events. The Greeks’ main interest was not in historical accuracy but in the human drama of the events (e.g., the Trojan War).
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Legend versus History Hence legends tell us much about what the transmitters of the myths thought was important to understand. The archaeological discovery of the Bronze Age reveals that these legends contain elements of historical accuracy. May have etiological function as well, which suggests historical relevance.
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Folktale More difficult to define and describe Often merely described by what it is not : a traditional story that is not a divine myth or legend. A broad category that can include fables (Aesop) and fairytales (Cinderella) Main characters are not great men and women, but just plain “folk” or ordinary animals (with the power to speak).
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Folktale The characters are not believed to have really existed Often of very low social status, and abused by their social “betters” (e.g., the wicked stepmother) Primary purpose is to entertain May also explain or justify traditional forms of society and beliefs Good eventually wins out Family structures and order Many popular films, TV programs, and novels are analogous to folktales (e.g. Star Wars?)
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Folktale Few pure folktales survive from the Greeks and Romans Myths that were written down and hence survived appealed mostly to the educated, literate elite, who had little or no interest in tales of the common “folk” But divine myths and legends have recognizable elements of folktale A folktale element is called a “type” and features of types are called “motifs”
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Folktale Basic element of folktale is the motif: abused younger sister, spirit helper, marriage to a prince, the wicked mother-in-law, the foundling child and so on. There are thousands of these motifs.
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ch2culturalcontext - Classics 10: Chapter 2: Spring 2010...

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