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 The Power of Myths

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 04 Oct 2012, 16:46



This is a German wooden toy dragon. I'm sure I've read somewhere that Tudor children had toy St. Georges, complete with little dragons. Will try to find the reference.
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Arwe Rheged
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 04 Oct 2012, 17:23

The notion of countries being trapped by myth is a fascinating one. I recall Ben Elton doing a skit about the film Titanic, in which (of course), the Irish in steerage were super, lovely and warm-hearted, whilst the wealthy English pigs in first class were a bunch of supercilious, flint-hearted snobs. "Throw another child on the fire, Lord Bastard" was one quote that stayed with me. Then Elton paused and said something like "mind you - I think I'd be even more offended if I was Irish. All that diddly diddly stuff....."

As Temp rightly says, Nessie feeds the equally cloying, Frae Bonnie Scotland whimsy of the dewy eyed Victorian re-inventors whiich has got about as much in common with real Scottish life as a haggis in a moon rocket. From that perspective, I think I'd disagree with Nordmann that the Nessie phenomena is a myth which is losing power. To be precise, I might have to accept that it has lost power as a myth within the narrow confines of our definition of the word, but it remains a very strong, persistent and ever changing story which has retained a hold on the imagination far wider than anything Adomnan wrote.

Of course, we don't know that Adomnan ever believed the story to be literally true. The hagiographies are full of this sort of unctious nonsense and the tales of monster slaying may well always have been intended to have allegorical meaning and/or straight entertainment value.

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AR
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 05 Oct 2012, 00:26

The cat in the microwave is not necessarily urban legend, or at least similar ones aren't. This week (shame about the closure of the pussy thread) we had news of a cat going through the washing machine without obvious harm.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/7753002/Mums-just-washed-the-cat-Cut-survives-full-cycle

Do any countries not have these sort of mythic trappings though - they must fill a need somewhere. Apart from the modern useful tourism one. There's the Pacific Island's free and easy sex, the USA's log cabin.

And countries seem to constantly fight them as well as embracing them, which is a bit schizophrenic (I can never think of a better word here, though I gather this is offensive). I suppose they are always rather diminishing. NZers quite like being thought of as self-effacing and polite, (and fond of sheep), except that they aren't completely like that. Not a great idea, here, to challenge someone's driving, for instance. People suddenly become rude and aggressive.

And Glaswegians don't seem to fit the national stereotype (but perhaps that's just another stereotype).
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Arwe Rheged
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 05 Oct 2012, 09:06

Quote :
The cat in the microwave is not necessarily urban legend, or at least similar ones aren't.

It's the grain of sand in the oyster thing, is it not? There may well have ben one or more incidents when a cat was genuinely put into a microwave oven, but the power of the story lies in the fact that it is endlessly repeated and rephrased for new audiences. One real cat in one real microwave in Swindon could soon become 1000 cats in 1000 microwaves from Penzance to Thurso.

We see the same thing in screaming skull stories, for example. Each story follows a very similar pattern - person demands that their skull is kept in their house after their death, wish is acceded to for a while, skull is thrown out by new owner, paranormal horrors ensue (with skull often miraculously reappearing every morning) and calm is only restored when skull is restored. Those places which don't actually have a skull to wave at visitors say that it was eventually walled up but remains somemwhere in the house.

Quote :
Do any countries not have these sort of mythic trappings though - they must fill a need somewhere.

A quick and easy way to identify in-groups and out-groups would be my guess.

Quote :
And countries seem to constantly fight them as well as embracing them, which is a bit schizophrenic (I can never think of a better word here, though I gather this is offensive).

It might be different elsewhere, but over here, we tend to like those myths which we create about ourselves (plucky, bulldog Brits with an innate sense of fair play) and dislike those myths which others create for us (snobbish or aggressive drunken Brits with bad teeth and an obsession with the weather).

Quote :
And Glaswegians don't seem to fit the national stereotype (but perhaps that's just another stereotype).

Some Glaswegians - notably comedians like Billy Connolly or Kevin Bridges - actively exploit the stereotype of the gruff Glaswegian hard man. But it seems to me that as Glasgow has dusted itself off a bit, the stereotype is shifting somewhat. Negative stereotypes about violence and squalor are being reinvented as dynamic and vibrant urbanity. Much the same thing has happened to Manchester. Nowadays, I suspect that the most common stereotype about the Glaswegians are that no-one can understand a word they say.

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 05 Oct 2012, 09:22

Quote :
It's the grain of sand in the oyster thing, is it not?

Which apparently is not true. The catalyst for producing nacre in the mollusc is most normally organic material ingested by the creature or even a piece of the mollusc's own mantle epithelium following slight injury to the structure.

But of course I will desist from falsely labelling the fallacy a "myth"! Smile
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 15:07

Using mosaics as a study, a new research into the Roman appropriation of various myths to reinforce the ideas of what Rome represented.

http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/10/2012/mythic-mosaics-conceal-subliminal-messages
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 05 Sep 2013, 20:03

@Islanddawn wrote:
new research into the Roman appropriation of various myths to reinforce the ideas of what Rome represented.
Historian Simon Schama's new BBC television series called The Story of the Jews has started. The first of the 5 episodes entitled In the Beginning, however, seems thin on actual history and jumps about quite a bit:



He makes some interesting points about Hellenism v Judaism though.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 06 Sep 2013, 14:58

Not a History as was expected. All  that Torah talk and ceremony was, I think a substitute for delving too deeply into  origins which he dodged. Assuming there would be a Jewish audience I guess he could not discount the first Book and the seven day deadline to make and populate a self sustaining planet; (oh dear, suppose earth is actually just a relic of The Great Cosmic Make Off show  thereby making Genesis correct?) (And did our God win?)

He is unlikely to debate those written truths too much - so perhaps we are in for a 5 part series about Jewish folk and   their neighbours - whoever, wherever.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 06 Sep 2013, 17:17

Ah but the title is 'The Story of Jews' not the 'History'. Rather clever I thought given that, so far, his thesis seems to be that it's the story rather than the history that has has maintained Jewish identity. At least he acknowledges that the exodus has no evidential base whatsoever but is still seen by many to be the defining event in their self perception. We'll see where he goes now that he's entering attested territory.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sat 07 Sep 2013, 21:30

@Islanddawn wrote:
http://sciencenordic.com/power-myths   An advocation that myths play an important role in the unification of a people, in times of upheaval and in the building of nations.

"Kristiansen points out that it is irrelevant to think of myths as “true” in a scientific or historic context.

However, they are ‘true’ to the extent that they contribute to realize the ideals they advocate,” he says."


What other examples are there of myth being beneficial to a society and do you think they are a good thing or bad?
Islanddawn,

does a myth which is used by a certain group of people to vilify another people counts also as example?
For instance "the Protocols of the Elders of Zion"?
Even today still used against some particular people.
The lie that wouldn't die by Hadassa Ben-Itto
http://historum.com/history/60441-origin-holocaust-25.html
An interview of Hadassa Ben-Itto
http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=2871
I know I did reseaerch for the FrontPage magazine:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Horowitz
But nevertheless! it fits with all what I read from other sources about the book.

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.










[/quote]
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sat 07 Sep 2013, 21:50

Addendum to the previous message.

When I tap on "quote" of a certain message it appears in my reply, but my reply isn't separated from the quote? What happens?
Nordmann?

Kind regards, Paul.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 08 Sep 2013, 02:09

Not sure what happened there, Paul. I've tidied the format up for you though.

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 08 Sep 2013, 16:38

I'm going to be embarrassingly enthusiastic as usual and say that I really enjoyed the Simon Schama programme; I'm looking forward to 2/5 tonight.

I was particularly moved by the Jewess from Ethiopia. Aviva Rahamin - the woman who experienced her own Exodus. Her account of her personal journey to a Promised Land - which came across like poetry (the "Book of Aviva" Schama called it) - was as beautiful as her embroidery.

Those Jews - love them or hate them - you've got to admit the truth of what Schama said: "What stories they delivered to the world". Words, words, words. That's all we have to cling to you know; and that's all, in the final analysis, that this history game is, whatever you clever history boys (and girls) would have us believe. Give me a poet rather than a historian any day.

Do I hear hoots of laughter from a Scottish friend?

PS Aslan - what a great name for Muslim scholar who's upset the American religious right.

At the moment I'm reading the book whose author caused so much fuss when he was interviewed (using the word "interviewed" loosely) by Fox News recently - Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm sure Reza Aslan isn't saying anything new, but I've found his thesis fascinating. I'm a bit drunk at the moment (just come home from our Harvest Festival lunch), but when I've sobered up a bit will post what he says about the early Christians, Paul, our great myth-maker, and the historic Jesus who would probably be, as Aslan says, utterly appalled at what we (St. Paul's fault) have turned him into.

I wish Tim would come back. Did he (Tim, not Jesus) really exit pursued by a bear? I want to know what you think, Tim. Not just a matter of arguing and being clever and scoring points against nordmann, but of being - as Diarmaid MacCulloch says - if not good Christians (whatever that silly word means), at least "candid friends of Christianity." But candid is the key word, Tim. We must be candid - or truthful rather - if we are not, all is lost. I despair (but I am rather very tiddly).

PS My PS has appeared mid-message - sorry.


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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 08 Sep 2013, 18:58

Nae hoots mam from me, I'm on your side. It's always the stories that I'm interested in but I'd just prefer that those stories be rooted in some kind of evidence, they're almost always more interesting even if they don't seem to have the same power. I've just spent a couple of days on an exploratory dig at Abbey Craig in Stirling. That's where some mythbuilding of a very concrete kind took place when in the 1860s the Wallace Monument (or as a friend calls it 'that big stone willy') was plonked down for no historical reason at all on top of a perfectly good 6th c. hillfort messing it up horribly. Now there's a bit of ridiculous, overblown Victorian nonsense complete with demolished Edwardian toilets spoiling a genuine bit of the past. As we scrabbled about, the tourists streamed past to climb the tower and marvel at Wallace's 'mighty broadsword' -ha! - and I doubt that many realised that they were on a real power centre from long before.


But then, we are the story telling species and our attempts to construct a past can be no other than to produce one more of the stories we tell ourselves, historians and/or poets, in trying to place, and comfort, ourselves in this (sorry Temp) uncaring universe.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 08 Sep 2013, 19:28

@ferval wrote:

But then, we are the story telling species and our attempts to construct a past can be no other than to produce one more of the stories we tell ourselves, historians and/or poets, in trying to place, and comfort, ourselves in this (sorry Temp) uncaring universe.
Och, you're not so hard as I thought you were, ferval. It is a bit of a beastly-horrid universe, isn't it?


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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 08 Sep 2013, 20:05

@Temperance wrote:
I was particularly moved by the Jewess from Ethiopia. Aviva Rahamin - the woman who experienced her own Exodus. Her account of her personal journey to a Promised Land
I was trying to think what this reminded me of and then it struck me that it was the story of the late Noel Dyer. He was a Jamaican living in England in 1963 who, one morning, woke up, got on a no.37 bus in Peckham and decided to carry on travelling overland and overseas and overland again all the way to Ethiopia. He lived there for the rest of his life and featured in the 1993 television documentary ‘Ethiopia – The Emperor’s Birthday’ made to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Haile Selassie:



(about 0:26:20 in)

Regardless of one's own opinions on religion and mythology, Dyer’s chuckling enthusiasm (while listing off the countries he travelled thru during his epic journey) is simply infectious.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Mon 09 Sep 2013, 13:05

This is what Aslan says about the writings of the New Testament (which were all so very influenced by Paul's theology, a theology that had caused a terrible rift between the Christian Jews (led by James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter who were based still in Jerusalem) and the converted, largely Gentile, followers of Paul elsewhere. Speaking of the infancy narratives Aslan comments:

Luke himself, writing little more than a generation after the events he describes, knew that what he was writing was technically false. This is an extremely difficult matter for modern readers of the gospels to grasp, but Luke never meant for his story about Jesus's birth at Bethlehem to be understood as historical fact. Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say "history". The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age; it would have been an altogether foreign concept to the gospel writers for whom history was not a matter of uncovering facts, but of revealing truths.

The readers of Luke's gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say they were less interested in what actually happened than it what it meant. It would have been perfectly normal - indeed expected - for a writer in the ancient world to tell tales of gods and heroes whose fundamental facts would have been recognised as false, but whose underlying message would be seen as true...


Aslan is in no way disrespectful in his book - far from it -  and it is worrying that his opinions have provoked such outrage in America (although some have attacked his scholarship - that's different).

PS The word "zealot" used in the title should not be confused with the Zealot Party that arose after the Jewish Revolt of 66 C.E. During Jesus's lifetime, zealotry did not signify a firm sectarian designation or political party. It was "an idea, an aspiration, a model of piety inextricably linked to the widespread sense of apocalyptic expectation that had seized the Jews in the wake of the Roman occupation."
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Mon 09 Sep 2013, 14:19

Quote :
Luke would have had no idea what we in the modern world even mean when we say "history".
This is a rather sweeping claim on Luke's behalf and, if as we are led to believe that Loukas of all the chroniclers was the one most immersed in Hellenic culture, a rather insulting assessment of the man's approach to understanding the concept of history, I would have thought.

I can well understand why certain modern authors wish to portray these writers and their readers as culturally unable to distinguish between myth and reality. The resultant implied obscurity of meaning renders their ancient output amenable to subjective interpretation, and certain modern authors are no slouches at providing same.

However it is worth remembering that Loukas, an academic Hellenic citizen of Antioch, itself a centre of Hellenic culture and education, would not only have been well able to distinguish between factual history and myth in which fact is of secondary importance, but would also have been well able to appreciate the modern concept of history as critical analysis based on hopefully verifiable data. He had several notable contemporaries producing exactly such work as well as ready access to the output from some very good predecessors within his own culture who had cumulatively perfected the approach.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Wed 11 Sep 2013, 09:03

@nordmann wrote:


I can well understand why certain modern authors wish to portray these writers and their readers as culturally unable to distinguish between myth and reality. The resultant implied obscurity of meaning renders their ancient output amenable to subjective interpretation, and certain modern authors are no slouches at providing same.
Mmm, but then seeking and interpreting information in a biased, subjective way so that it fits existing belief, expectation, hope or motivation is all about being human. We can't help it: it's the result of how we reason, and it is unavoidable, even for - if they are honest -  the most dispassionate of historians and scientists, be they myth-makers or myth-breakers.

I note with interest what you say about Luke as historian. Luke actually strikes me as a sort of first century Robert Graves: a brilliant, meticulous historian certainly (I believe others, perhaps more "expert" - whatever that word means - than Aslan have confirmed that), but also a superb story-teller, poet  and artist. It's a rare combination, but that third Gospel - which is such a mighty challenge for those who claim to be biblical literalists - is one of the most moving pieces of literature ever written, especially Luke's infancy narrative, now so much mocked. His account of the birth of Jesus - the Star, the stable, the shepherds, the angels and the rest, which Evelyn Waugh has Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited believing in because "it's a lovely idea" - may or may not have been "history", but it was certainly an idea - or a story - which was "too humble for prouder historians to touch".

But back to subjectivity - such a dirty word around here. I should like to quote John Spong on this. Bishop Spong is a man whose creed - and this for once I can aver without woolliness or evasion - is also mine. The man's clearly read his Derrida as well as his Bible:

...time and place, language and circumstances inevitably colour objective truth. There may well be an eternal objective truth beyond all of our words, but the minute that truth is spoken by a human being who is a subject, it ceases to be either eternal or objective. It then becomes "truth" compromised by time, concept, vocabulary, history and prejudice.

Both the sacred Scriptures and the creeds of the Christian church can point to but they can never finally capture eternal truth. The attempt to make either Bible or tradition "infallible" is an attempt to shore up ecclesiastical power and control. It is never an attempt to preserve truth. Indeed those who would freeze truth in any words, concepts or creed will guarantee a time warp that will finally doom that truth to extinction. Only truth that is freed from its captivity to time and words and allowed to float in the sea of relativity will survive the ravages of subjectivity. Only truth that can constantly call out new words capable of lifting yesterday's experience into today's mind-set will finally survive.

The formulations of today or tomorrow will be no more eternal than the formulations of first-century people. This is not a plea to give up inadequate ancient words for ultimately inadequate modern words. It is to force upon us the realisation that all words are, in the last analysis, inadequate. Truth is never finally found in words. Truth is always beyond words. Yet there can be no truth for human beings unless we use words first to understand it and second to convey it.* So we mortals live with our subjective truth in the constant anxiety of relativity. That is all we can do and that realisation strikes a mortal blow at the traditional excessive claims of all religious systems...

In the attempt to remove imperialism from Christianity, to become humble before the infinite mystery of God, a proper starting point for me is in facing the subjectivity of all religious words, including the words of Holy Scripture. The subjectivity of the Gospel of Luke can serve as a perfect doorway into this understanding...


One of my great long quotes - I got carried away. But that makes so much sense to me and I wanted to share it.

So who was the real Luke? Gentile, Jew, historian, novelist, Paul's accomplice in the deliberate construction of a myth? Or a passionate believer in a new "truth". Why did he write? To whom did he write? How did who he was and who his audience was shape his message?

Answers on a postcard, please.

*That's what I meant when I so clumsily said in an earlier post that words are all we have to cling to.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Wed 11 Sep 2013, 10:27

Quote :
So who was the real Luke? Gentile, Jew, historian, novelist, Paul's accomplice in the deliberate construction of a myth?
Or maybe imprimatur for the collected writings of another (or others)?

All these possibilities exist with regard to an actual man. However what is more relevant in Luke's case is that the body of writing attributed to him, including Acts, displays a cultural background that sets it apart from the other treatments of the same subject matter contained now in the collection. This has proven useful to scholars in the past - both to affirm the likelihood of a single author for all works attributed to him, and to place that author firmly within a Greek rather than Jewish historiographical frame. But that is where the argument becomes circular. If, as you also imply, Luke can be compared to Graves in that he can comfortably flit from actual history to well-composed fantasy based loosely on historical data, then he actually recedes somewhat from his hitherto secure place in Greek historiography (compared for example to Josephus, a near contemporary). And if he does that, then where does that leave us with regard to sorting the expanded narrative from the dry data, or even from data representing hearsay? A good storyteller who can spin a yarn convincingly actually invites more suspicion of having fantasised events than a poor one. Graves had the convenience of forewards, publishers' descriptions and peer review etc to ensure that the fiction and the factual could be recognised each for what they were. Luke did not.

However in keeping with the theme of the thread there is one thing that is very certain. Luke's lack of provenance with regard to his historiography fuels the manufacture of myth, whereas Graves' provenance, even when dealing with the same themes, serves mainly to deconstruct myth. It is a telling difference, especially given two such comparable writers, as you say.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Wed 11 Sep 2013, 10:32

And what I inadequately struggled towards with my story telling species. What he has written in your quotation is, to me, an elegant expression of my view of how we construct all our versions of the past - and just about everything else.

But, although he makes the statement that 'there may well be an external, objective truth beyond all of our words ', an admission of uncertainty surely, he then assumes that such a thing exists when he says that religious systems can never capture it and finally talks of the infinite mystery of God, which I take to refer to the nature of the God, not the mystery of whether or not that God exists.

Are there any external, objective truths? Even in physics it would seem that there may not be. 
Oh dear, time for another cup of 1706 I think and then gird myself up for a dose of a 6 year old's imagination.  Maybe that's where truth lies.

I see there's another post but I'll send this bit of morning musing anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Wed 11 Sep 2013, 12:26

Spong's logic is only logical in a theological sense (ie. not logical in a logical sense). In an historiographical sense it boils down to "Don't bother trying to study history - everything stated as fact is only subjective anyway so is therefore not worth believing."

This of course is just balderdash. In a "discipline" such as theology where the last thing anyone wants to do is to establish a definitive "truth" since it only sets that particular theology up for assault from logic (and contrary theological arguments), then the notion that any pursuit of factual truth might actually be a discipline's whole point is anathema (pardon the pun). History borrows from science the principle that data (including theorised data) deduced from observable and measurable phenomena can primarily be accredited as factual. Historical theories might differ, but the data upon which they are based are as concrete as we can get them to be - and improving in that respect all the time. Even Luke might have agreed with that one!

(Though maybe not Paul)
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Wed 11 Sep 2013, 16:17

@nordmann wrote:
Spong's logic is only logical in a theological sense (ie. not logical in a logical sense). In an historiographical sense it boils down to "Don't bother trying to study history - everything stated as fact is only subjective anyway so is therefore not worth believing."

Message deleted. A more thoughtful (hopefully) reply below.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 12 Sep 2013, 03:26

@nordmann wrote:
Spong's logic is only logical in a theological sense (ie. not logical in a logical sense). In an historiographical sense it boils down to "Don't bother trying to study history - everything stated as fact is only subjective anyway so is therefore not worth believing."
With the greatest respect, nordmann, Bishop Spong is saying nothing of the sort, and your remark suggests that you do not understand the point he is so wisely trying to make. Or rather, not that you do not understand - that suggestion is ridiculous - but that you, like so many historians, including the great Richard Evans, suffer from what Beverley Southgate (History: What and Why - Ancient, Modern and Postmodern Perspectives 2006 edition) calls "pomophobia", an ugly neologism which means fear of "theory", that postmodern thinking which I, like Southgate, interpret - perhaps incorrectly, for I freely admit I am no philosopher, no thinker trained in "logic", like you - as urging us to develop the ability to resist dogmatic pressures to accept any one single truth, or answer, or "reality" -  of past or present.

Spong is not saying history - or the Bible - or anything else -  is not worth "trying to study". Far from it! He is urging us to look at how we study it - how we study anything. History is an extremely powerful subject, and has the potential to be very dangerous. Like religion, it changes people. Surely our aspiration should be not to dismiss history - or religion - as "not worth believing", but to keep always our minds (and hearts) open, realising honestly that there are many truths and answers and descriptions without a "corresponding need to deny the validity of those that fail to fit our own requirements".

I've quoted John Keats before who, when writing of the requisites for poets, advocated the characteristics of what he called "negative capability", by which he meant "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". It is just this quality that (I think) Spong  is all about - that's why I like him so much. It's a quality we all - historians as well as poets - need.

I think Robert Graves and Saint Luke would agree. Not sure about Saint Paul (who is?). But Spong would have John Knox foaming at the mouth. It's no wonder he's had death threats from (right-wing) Christians - Lord only knows what right-wing Christian historians would do to him.

PS All this does make for anxiety though, which is probably why I can't sleep. You know you are in trouble when the Horlicks don't work no more.

PPS Priscilla - thank you for that lovely PM. Cheered me not a little. Proper reply (privately) will be sent tomorrow, hopefully after I've slept.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 12 Sep 2013, 07:57

Quote :
Spong is not saying history - or the Bible - or anything else -  is not worth "trying to study". Far from it! He is urging us to look at how we study it
I am not suggesting that Spong is even thinking about history when he makes his plea to accord the status of subjective opinion to fact. He is thinking theologically - and in fact as a theologian he is one of the few who does indeed make an attempt to ground his theological philosophies in applicable theory.

However this is the difference between theology and philosophy, per se. A philosophical principle is tested primarily by its removal from the context in which justification for its formation has helped develop it, and its application thereafter within various other contexts that were not normally envisaged by the originator. Put simply, if it still makes sense then it is reckoned to have some validity at least as a viewpoint. Theological principles, by their very nature, rarely survive even such a transfer from one religion to another. Overlaps may of course exist, but the major overlaps reside in theory not based on practical observation and testing but on conjectural theory motivated by a desire to establish metaphysical truth.

This is why when Spong's theories (and he is by no means the strongest example of this dichotomy) are removed from the rarified context in which they make sense and applied to another field in which, for example, an emphasis is placed on empirical deduction, then the extrapolated principles he apparently advocates suddenly go from being reasonable to revolutionary, inconsistent, inapplicable and even in some contexts anti-intellectual. To be fair to Spong he is not even thinking about that side of things - he is making theological points, and cogent ones too.

You are right to advise historians to recognise uncertainty and not to fall into the trap of assuming factual truth where it really does not exist. This in fact is a mantra in all scientific endeavour. However this healthy scepticism is meaningless in science if it is not coupled with an equally rigorous determination to arrive at that which is true in a factual sense. In fact "sense" is the operative term in all this - history is an attempt to make sense of the past in a way that does not exclude evidence. Any factual evidence or apparent evidence that is ignored automatically devalues the resultant historical theory to a huge extent. Determining therefore what is evidential is of primary concern, no matter which historiographical principle the historian adopts. In theology, a field in which the necessity of factual evidence for anything is almost non-existent when it comes to establishing philosophical principles then Spong's remarks are completely rational within the parameters of his discipline. My point is that this is about as rational as they will get.

Dawkins' "By all means keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out" is a remark that addresses this, however facetiously phrased it may have been. He is thinking as a scientist and therefore abhors the idea that committment to retaining an open mind would cause one to doubt without foundation or even disregard factual evidence in the effort. This principle however, when applied to history, makes a much better fit historiographically than Spong's theology-based principle concerning the same stance.

Sleep well.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 12 Sep 2013, 14:12

Thank you for the reply, nordmann, especially the

Quote :
Put simply...

bit. Smile 

You must spend most of your life saying that to people. Seriously, I do appreciate the points you are making and find your arguments most interesting.

I do hope I haven't derailed this excellent myth thread. I really will shut up about religion now: I do not want to drive people away with my Godly witterings.

I have just read something really interesting about Edward VI's shoulder, so I shall scuttle back to the PITT thread, where I feel happy and confident, and post the information at once.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 12 Sep 2013, 23:03

@Islanddawn wrote:
http://sciencenordic.com/power-myths   An advocation that myths play an important role in the unification of a people, in times of upheaval and in the building of nations.

"Kristiansen points out that it is irrelevant to think of myths as “true” in a scientific or historic context.

However, they are ‘true’ to the extent that they contribute to realize the ideals they advocate,” he says."


What other examples are there of myth being beneficial to a society and do you think they are a good thing or bad?
@PaulRyckier wrote:
Islanddawn,

does a myth which is used by a certain group of people to vilify another people counts also as example?
For instance "the Protocols of the Elders of Zion"?
Even today still used against some particular people.
The lie that wouldn't die by Hadassa Ben-Itto
http://historum.com/history/60441-origin-holocaust-25.html
An interview of Hadassa Ben-Itto
http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=2871
I know I did reseaerch for the FrontPage magazine:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Horowitz
But nevertheless! it fits with all what I read from other sources about the book.

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
To the honourable readers' public.

I don't give it up that easely.
I sought the sentence where to place my "lamentation":

"What other examples are there of myth being beneficial to a society and do you think they are a good thing or bad?"

Myth forming is in my humble opinion never "beneficial" to a society or it has to be for dishonest "jingoism".

"and do you think they are a good thing or bad?"

Of course they are a bad thing...

Some further examples of which you can read on several fora some 300 messages big threads

"The black pharaos" to lay the egyptian culture in a "black" legacy for the self estimate of some "afrocentric" community...

"Without Islam no Renaissance" All modern science has via the Renaissance its grassroots in the Arabic islam culture of the 10th-13th century for the self estimate of some worldwide moslim community...

Not to say that the 19th century european-centric community wasn't as bad or worser in their myth forming...

Kind regards and with esteem for the potential readers,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 08:10

Paul, I think you are falling into the trap that many others do too in which you limit the definition of "myth" to a body of falsehoods believed by several people. Myth can contain such elements but that is not the be-all-and-end-all of it - what separates myth from false doctrine or belief, amongst other things, is its ability to self-perpetuate without the need for advocation on its behalf. The example you provide of "black Egypt" represents possible germination of a myth, this is true, but as yet at least is not myth itself. When or if it ever does achieve mythical status then one thing we can be sure of is that the nature of the myth produced will not mirror the content or nature of the body of root beliefs as seen now. Black pharaohs may feature in it, but instead of being assertions based on spurious research techniques as they represent now they will become simply integral parts of a myth structure averring much more as true or even factual than the present group of assertions encompasses.

It is this element of self-perpetuation, almost as if myth has a life of its own despite rather than because of human input into its formation, that actually lends it a seductive aura of truth - be it the truth of a principal assertion in the myth or an ascribed truth to other things deduced from those myth's principles. What makes it seductive of course is that some of these truths could in fact be genuine. It is in the ascribing where logic has been bypassed (which makes it offensive to some people, including myself), not the intrinsic rationale of the individual truth in question.

"Without Islam no Renaissance" is even less of a myth. In fact it is not myth at all, however true or false it may seem to be as an assertion to others. It is simply a deduction from evidence, and it becomes contentious only because it rather obviously skips over recorded data rather selectively in order to retain a coherence. The alternative viewpoint "The Renaissance happened with no contribution from Islam at all" would be equally contentious for the same reason.

So I have to conclude that I fundamentally disagree with you when you say that myths are ipso facto a "bad thing". They are not necessarily good or bad. On the one hand they are a reflection of society on what an economist might call a "macro" scale that is often poorly reflected or deductive at the "micro" level of nation states and other political fractions of greater human society at which we normally tend to draw deductions concerning how people think and what they feel. This might not in itself be "good" but you have to admit it is very useful indeed when trying to understand the human condition. Exploitation of myth for political ends (in the broadest sense of "political" as possible) on the other hand is indeed almost always a bad thing - even the more apparently benign examples of such behaviour can be seen to ultimately have a bad ending to them at times historically.

This is also why I feel one has to be very careful when one uses the phrase the "power of myth". That myth is a powerful force in general society is undeniable. That this power is something that can be harnessed or manipulated however is an extremely moot point. Such attempts in the past appear at their most effective simply to mutate the myth, and in fact if one thinks of myth as a metaphysical virus infecting the human mind then one might even conclude that myth invites such interference in order to adapt and survive. It is those who attempt to control myth who in fact are most under its control.

Spooky, eh?



Last edited by nordmann on Fri 13 Sep 2013, 11:25; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Left an all out of be-all-and-end-all, that's all)
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 09:06

Nordmann, you realise (but of course you do!), that in your last paragraph your description of a myth as "... a metaphysical virus infecting the human mind ...." is almost exactly how Richard Dawkins described a meme, when he first introduced the idea of memetics in his book, "The Selfish Gene" (1976). And again, as Dawkins would say, myths/memes are neither good nor evil .... except in that they are inherently nearly always to some extent, dishonest, ... so in that sense alone they are 'bad'. 


Other than that comment I, like Temp, find I'm rather out of my depth here.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 09:38

Dawkins' meme is a scientist's attempt to portray an observable phenomenon that only makes sense if the phenomenon in this case accommodates the principle of a human collective intellect operating as a single sentient entity. Like the pictorial representation of an atom - based also on observable behaviour - it carries the caveat that it must be primarily seen as a tool to aid intelligibility when dealing with an otherwise ephemeral concept, and not be ascribed the same degree or nature of reality that applies to the phenomenon under scrutiny.

Myth rarely issues such a caveat. In a scientific sense myth most often represents a shortcut of another type entirely - presenting itself as an alternative reality to the phenomenon whose existence caused the requirement for the tool to arise in the first place. Instead of being an artifice to aid comprehension of a physically observable reality it bypasses the requirement to scrutinise that reality at all and invites only scrutiny of reality as presented within the myth.

I have no great problem with this. To me it is in the same league as accepting the reality of a television set or a car as a functioning piece of machinery without necessarily having to understand the internal workings of the device completely. We accept such perceptual shortcuts all the time as the alternative would be impractical and rarely if ever acknowledge even that we are doing so. A huge factor in the requirement for myth is simply this. However where myth transcends this root cause is where it often presents the finished shortcut as a desirable alternative to comprehension of its causative factors. It would be as if we were to accept that since televisions now demonstrably exist and have secured an important role in our society then it is no longer necessary to understand the process of developing cathodes, LED technology etc. This in a scientific sense would be absurd. When myth is incorporated into religious belief however it is often exactly this anti-logic that is made to apply. Unlike Dawkins' meme therefore myth can often contain within it the seeds of its own destruction. A meme can be demonstrated to mutate and its survival is totally dependent on this quality. A myth however is often quite happy to self-destruct in order to create space for a new alternative myth. This, I would say, is the essential difference between the two.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 09:54

@nordmann wrote:
Dawkins' meme is a scientist's attempt to portray an observable phenomenon that only makes sense if the phenomenon in this case accommodates the principle of a human collective intellect operating as a single sentient entity. Like the pictorial representation of an atom - based also on observable behaviour - it carries the caveat that it must be primarily seen as a tool to aid intelligibility when dealing with an otherwise ephemeral concept, and not be ascribed the same degree or nature of reality that applies to the phenomenon under scrutiny.

Myth rarely issues such a caveat. In a scientific sense myth most often represents a shortcut of another type entirely - presenting itself as an alternative reality to the phenomenon whose existence caused the requirement for the tool to arise in the first place. Instead of being an artifice to aid comprehension of a physically observable reality it bypasses the requirement to scrutinise that reality at all and invites only scrutiny of reality as presented within the myth.

I have no great problem with this. To me it is in the same league as accepting the reality of a television set or a car as a functioning piece of machinery without necessarily having to understand the internal workings of the device completely. We accept such perceptual shortcuts all the time as the alternative would be impractical and rarely if ever acknowledge even that we are doing so. A huge factor in the requirement for myth is simply this. However where myth transcends this root cause is where it often presents the finished shortcut as a desirable alternative to comprehension of its causative factors. It would be as if we were to accept that since televisions now demonstrably exist and have secured an important role in our society then it is no longer necessary to understand the process of developing cathodes, LED technology etc. This in a scientific sense would be absurd. When myth is incorporated into religious belief however it is often exactly this anti-logic that is made to apply. Unlike Dawkins' meme therefore myth can often contain within it the seeds of its own destruction. A meme can be demonstrated to mutate and its survival is totally dependent on this quality. A myth however is often quite happy to self-destruct in order to create space for a new alternative myth. This, I would say, is the essential difference between the two.

Out of our depth, MM?

Nah!!

But I sometimes want to squash nordmann with that big Monty Python foot.

This is just a joke, nordmann, so please do not be offended.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 10:09

Not offended, but certainly puzzled.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 10:53

I just mean you are too clever by half, nordmann; and it's a bit daunting for many of us. Well, it is for me anyway.

But I suppose you can't help it.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 11:40

On the contrary, I can and will indeed endeavour to help it!

Being too anything by a mere half seems to me to smack somewhat of lack of ambition. I will therefore attempt in future to be too clever to at least the power of two. That should in any event justify any sudden imposition of Cupid's foot. Of course this will depend on deciding and agreeing the boundary beyond which intellect becomes excessive and undesirable on that basis (the "half" suggests this is in fact rather low).



But seriously, shouldn't a discussion about the power of myths not at least attempt to start with an agreed definition of what myth actually is? It appears to me from this thread and others in which the concept is bandied about that there are several misconceptions out there. Which then begs the question, if the majority of people in a discussion share the same misconception does that then justify them excluding the views of the one out of step with the others? God forbid, say I! (with just about the right amount of sardonic inflection)
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 13 Sep 2013, 20:26

@nordmann wrote:
Paul, I think you are falling into the trap that many others do too in which you limit the definition of "myth" to a body of falsehoods believed by several people. Myth can contain such elements but that is not the be-all-and-end-all of it - what separates myth from false doctrine or belief, amongst other things, is its ability to self-perpetuate without the need for advocation on its behalf. The example you provide of "black Egypt" represents possible germination of a myth, this is true, but as yet at least is not myth itself. When or if it ever does achieve mythical status then one thing we can be sure of is that the nature of the myth produced will not mirror the content or nature of the body of root beliefs as seen now. Black pharaohs may feature in it, but instead of being assertions based on spurious research techniques as they represent now they will become simply integral parts of a myth structure averring much more as true or even factual than the present group of assertions encompasses.

It is this element of self-perpetuation, almost as if myth has a life of its own despite rather than because of human input into its formation, that actually lends it a seductive aura of truth - be it the truth of a principal assertion in the myth or an ascribed truth to other things deduced from those myth's principles. What makes it seductive of course is that some of these truths could in fact be genuine. It is in the ascribing where logic has been bypassed (which makes it offensive to some people, including myself), not the intrinsic rationale of the individual truth in question.

"Without Islam no Renaissance" is even less of a myth. In fact it is not myth at all, however true or false it may seem to be as an assertion to others. It is simply a deduction from evidence, and it becomes contentious only because it rather obviously skips over recorded data rather selectively in order to retain a coherence. The alternative viewpoint "The Renaissance happened with no contribution from Islam at all" would be equally contentious for the same reason.

So I have to conclude that I fundamentally disagree with you when you say that myths are ipso facto a "bad thing". They are not necessarily good or bad. On the one hand they are a reflection of society on what an economist might call a "macro" scale that is often poorly reflected or deductive at the "micro" level of nation states and other political fractions of greater human society at which we normally tend to draw deductions concerning how people think and what they feel. This might not in itself be "good" but you have to admit it is very useful indeed when trying to understand the human condition. Exploitation of myth for political ends (in the broadest sense of "political" as possible) on the other hand is indeed almost always a bad thing - even the more apparently benign examples of such behaviour can be seen to ultimately have a bad ending to them at times historically.

This is also why I feel one has to be very careful when one uses the phrase the "power of myth". That myth is a powerful force in general society is undeniable. That this power is something that can be harnessed or manipulated however is an extremely moot point. Such attempts in the past appear at their most effective simply to mutate the myth, and in fact if one thinks of myth as a metaphysical virus infecting the human mind then one might even conclude that myth invites such interference in order to adapt and survive. It is those who attempt to control myth who in fact are most under its control.

Spooky, eh?

Nordmann,

not spooky at all. I can follow completely all what you say and as usual you have explained it in a clear and logical way. And in fact it is a lesson for me as I have to admit that I have fully to subscribe to each paragraph that you mentioned.

I agree with my other friends from these boards that it is not always easy to follow your prose, but in this case Wink  you are completely right. That is not to say that you are infallible and I hope to be able to correct you some day in my lifetime, even if it was only once  Wink (but already over seventy) and that from my humble position of "humaniora" student and afterwards some applied chemistry studies...I add the last sentence to make me more humble and to let "the gap" of the eventual future "correction" of your logic and intelligent prose with my humble utterings that much bigger Wink 

Kind regards and with great esteem,

Paul.

PS: Nordmann, it is also a pleasant relief to read such texts as yours, if you compare with all the drivel that you read on some fora that I attend, be it a French or an English language one. Not to say that I nevertheless know some people overthere, not that many, who are on your "level".
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 28 Jul 2016, 21:08

Can one complain about the re-invention of a myth?  If they are not fact is it wrong to dislike their modernisation (which I sometimes do) as much a somewhat bogus re-jigging of actual history by (mentally insert name of bodice-ripping novelist of your choice)?  I liked (as I said on another thread some time ago) Roger Llancellyn-Green's telling of the King Arthur myth for children which I read when I was even younger than I am now.  The trailer from the as yet unreleased Guy Ritchie's film about King Arthur doesn't appeal to me though https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=king+arthur+guy+ritchie+trailer even though it has Michael McElhatton (Rats from the Flats in "Roads to Freedom", Roose Bolton in "Game of Thrones") in it - not in a lead part though.  Looks like they are advancing Charlie Hunnam as Arfur the lad from the Streets - "Homicide - Life on the Streets" (I believe from the originator of "The Wire" though it preceded "The Wire") I can take - King Arfur - Life on the Streets not so much.  I quite liked "Excalibur" years ago and "Merlin" was a guilty pleasure but it seems there hasn't been a (to me) good King Arthur film since Adam was a lad.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Thu 28 Jul 2016, 21:15

Addendum to the previous message.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=king+arthur+guy+ritchie+trailer

Kind regards from your friend Paul, Lady in retirement.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Fri 29 Jul 2016, 19:12

Thanks Paul R - I don' know where I went wrong because I did click on the YouTube icon.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 31 Jul 2016, 09:50

LiR wrote:
Can one complain about the re-invention of a myth?

Myths cannot be reinvented, though components certainly can, as you describe.

In fact complaining about such component reinventions is an integral part of myth development so the answer to the question you posed as I understand it is most definitely "yes".

Myth, as opposed to legend, is strengthened through such dialogue however. The fact that anyone cares to object to any random mutation in its component form automatically means that it retains a relevance to people, and the expression of umbrage therefore simply breathes life into its further longevity through reinforcing its presence in other people's minds. In fact I would go so far as to say that a myth lacking this dimension is doomed. If it does not lend itself to reinterpretation as time goes on it loses its most important characteristic - assumed relevance.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Mon 22 Aug 2016, 13:29

Temp wrote:
I am not surprised you mention Northrop Frye: he believed that literary criticism should acquire something of the methodological discipline and coherences of the sciences. I struggled with him many years ago, and did not agree with much of what I read. but then I wouldn't, would I? That said, Frye understood the power of myth (see his essay on The Archetypes of Literature). I learnt from this that you do not have to be in any way a "believer" (whatever that means) to understand -and sympathise with - our human need for myth. And myth underpins our literature, the central myth of literature being the quest-myth. The "quest" is always a spiritual one, which is not the same thing as saying it is religious. It is a search for meaning.

Temp posted the above on another thread and in another context, but it certainly deserves inclusion here as it tackles a function of myth which we haven't actually discussed here - its interpolatory function in the absence of scientific method or dependable data, something at which its track record is actually surprisingly good. Many solutions to both existential and physical quandaries have been mooted through myth which stand up rather well when compared to those arrived at through more informed methods later, something which speaks volumes for human intuition when it is employed intelligently in addressing dilemmas requiring urgent answers for which the existing data is insufficient to provide immediate conclusions.

What Temp has highlighted as a "spiritual quest for meaning" is - I would suggest - simply one important part of a greater quest for meaning in general to which we are unavoidably committed as humans and which is often presumed to be spiritual until a better or more refined definition of its nature can be ascertained later. Myth certainly addresses the facet she has picked out, but in fact it addresses all facets of inquiry, I would suggest - not just the "why" or "how" of the metaphysical conundrums our universe throws up to be solved but the "why", "how", "what" and even the "when" of the more physical conundrums that seemed intangible to our ancestors.

And nor does a general improvement in our education and knowledge necessarily remove the role that myth plays in our contemporary existence - as we can see often with rather destructive consequences where even in the 21st century subscription to belief systems which by definition pose questions couched to extract mythical rather than factual answers lead to interpolations on the part of some people (invariably believing themselves to be spiritual) which not only fly in the face of logic and reason but also can pose a very real threat to the rest of us due to the behaviour such conclusions encourage in the subscribers. The power of myth, even today and even when much that it addresses has been tackled more rationally elsewhere to the satisfaction of a majority of us, can still be very great indeed, especially when it's a destructive power.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Tue 23 Aug 2016, 15:16

@nordmann wrote:
And nor does a general improvement in our education and knowledge necessarily remove the role that myth plays in our contemporary existence - as we can see often with rather destructive consequences where even in the 21st century subscription to belief systems which by definition pose questions couched to extract mythical rather than factual answers lead to interpolations on the part of some people (invariably believing themselves to be spiritual) which not only fly in the face of logic and reason but also can pose a very real threat to the rest of us due to the behaviour such conclusions encourage in the subscribers. The power of myth, even today and even when much that it addresses has been tackled more rationally elsewhere to the satisfaction of a majority of us, can still be very great indeed, especially when it's a destructive power.



But the people whom you rightly declare to be destructive are not spiritual at all. They do not use the power of the biblical myths: by their wilful insistence that such myths are scientific and/or historical fact, these people are actually abusing the myths, robbing them of their tremendous and unique power to educate and transform - which they still can do. Myths should be studied with science and history - they complement one another (as I think you are in fact suggesting). In denying this, the so-called "religious right", those whom I presume you mean when you mention "myth-subscribers", are actually myth-breakers or myth-destroyers. In their stupid stubbornness they fail to see that in fact they make a mockery of it all, and in so doing actually shamefully dishonour the method and intent of the great Jewish poets and story-tellers of the Old and New Testaments, those magnificent myth-makers whose insight and understanding of the human condition - and whose literary skill - puts them alongside Homer and Shakespeare and the Greek dramatists.

With all our scientific data and understanding, a myth can still - in a short, fictitious story - deliver a great truth. One of my favourites is still taught in medical school (yes, medical school!) to trainee psychiatrists. You, of course, will know it, but perhaps I may still briefly relate the tale. It is the myth of Orestes, who, in avenging the murder of his father, murdered his mother. For this crime of matricide, he was cursed by the gods and was driven mad by the Furies, those dreadful harpies who pursued him relentlessly. Finally Orestes begged the gods to relieve him of their curse and, at his trial before them, he found that Apollo was willing to defend him. Apollo pointed out that the wretched Orestes really had had no choice in the matter (a Greek boy was always obliged to avenge his father's death); he could not, therefore, be blamed for what he had done. The whole fiasco was the fault of the gods.

Whereupon Orestes stood up before the gods and, turning to his defender, Apollo, he declared: "It was I, great Apollo, not the gods, who murdered my mother. It was I who did this."

The gods were amazed. Never before had they known a mortal be so honest in confronting his own guilt and in assuming responsibility for his own behaviour, especially  when he could so easily have blamed it on the gods themselves - had been given permission in fact so to do. After a short deliberation, the gods decided to lift the curse from Orestes. The Furies were immediately transformed into the Eumenides, the "bearers of grace". Instead of maddening, negative, destructive voices cackling in his ear, they had become for Orestes the voices of wisdom.

This myth represents the transformation of mental illness into extraordinary mental health. The lesson of course is that the price of such health - the transformation - is always the accepting of responsibility for ourselves and for our behaviour. R. D Laing called it the banishing of neurosis which is always a substitute for "legitimate suffering". Confront the legitimate suffering and miracles can happen.

Unhappy, tormented adolescents usually like this story and they enjoy discussing it. That's how myth - biblical or other - should still be used: to help, to educate, to comfort and to transform. But imagine how the Orestes myth would lose its power were the teachers/trainers to insist that "It all really did happen, you know", and that, "Yes, there really are harpies who zoom around us, and you really must believe every detail of this is fact, or else..."
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Wed 24 Aug 2016, 09:11

Temp wrote:
With all our scientific data and understanding, a myth can still - in a short, fictitious story - deliver a great truth.

Indeed it can, though as a vessel for conveying truth it also has its innate vulnerabilities. One only has to do a quick tally of mythical constructs and narratives once considered extremely vital and valid but which now have been reduced to fairy tales in terms of perceived import to see the problem with myth as a truth purveyor. And that is not including of course the many countless mythical constructs now entirely disappeared and forgotten from our common lore but which once served that role.

Even when myth does the job you mention, and your example is a very good one of a job still being well done by one myth component, it is so very often primarily the power of allegory which has sustained it, as indeed in this instance. Powerful messages can be conveyed through well constructed allegory - the biblical parables are well known examples of this with which you would surely agree - and the bottom line is that they do not in fact require to be components of myth to achieve this effect. Whether they highlight morality, common sense educational advice or simply natural paradox worth being aware of (a favorite theme in some cycles) they in fact stand a better chance of retaining relevance and acquiring longevity if they can be easily divorced from their parent myth rather than have to depend on membership in a canon to make sense.

It would help of course if our language made it more obvious that "myth" in the strictest sense refers to an associated canon and not a narrative component. It is one of those words (like "faith") which causes more interpretation problems when used in the vernacular than the associated concept actually merits.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sat 27 Aug 2016, 17:52

One power of myth which we probably haven't explored enough here, given that we are in broad agreement concerning legends as a cultural residue of mythical belief and which still pack a punch in terms of relevance to modern minds, is arguably all the other residues which even long extinct myths have left in their cultural, philosophical and linguistic wake, without which our ability to convey certain thoughts would still be seriously compromised.

I wonder how many people, for example, who both employ and completely agree on the suitability of the euphemism "Achilles' heel" over alternatives in semantic terms to convey an exquisitely exact concept indicating one's potentially fatal flaw, actually are aware of, understand, or even care about the entirety of the myth which once spawned the phrase. In the associated legends, for example, it was to become an integral part of the narrative of the siege of Troy, but in the myth it was more - an example of misplaced hubris and how the children inherit the consequences and, though unfairly, often the blame. In Greek myth the gods often proved their non-mortal status and great influence precisely by behaving unfairly, with very human motives which rarely exceeded our own most reprehensibly capricious traits - lust, petty jealousy and one-upmanship often figuring largely, as in Achilles' case.

Achilles' entry into Greek myth is now believed to have occurred long before Homer composed the Iliad, and the character had already acquired a whole range of often contradictory characteristics by Homer's time ranging from those of a demigod exemplifying heroic virtue and worshipped unconditionally by the inhabitants of Leuce to those of the "over reaching" mortal we know from the Iliad and which would have made sense to an Athenian in Homer's time. The Athenians saw his death at the hands of Paris as a form of exoneration and atonement for his and Thetis's hubris and therefore from around that point recycled the character as a popular boy's name for many centuries. In Sparta however Achilles remained a negative concept - a hero who betrayed his warrior class through exploiting an unfair and undeserved advantage and of course his ignoble defeat despite all this. We do not know how competitive these interpretations may have been in terms of universal belief at the time, or even if any one of them ever gained precedence at the expense of the others. All three seemed to survive up to the point that the contextual myth itself dissolved in terms of relevance.

What we do know is that the whole "Achilles' heel" aspect to the story is very late indeed, post-dating Christianity in fact and ascribed to the first century CE author Statius. This aspect to the legend can indeed be considered therefore an attempted conflation of the whole complex relationship between Thetis and the gods, boiled down into one allegorical attempt to fast-track her son into the pantheon and bestow upon him immortality (Statius borrowed the "arrow in the heel" from Aeschylus's earlier drama and simply ran with the concept - Aeschylus made no reference to being dipped in the Styx as a baby etc). This treatment by Statius coincided with what were then the first stages of the emasculation of Greek myth in terms of relevance, belief and power, a process which had been set in motion by Roman dominion a century or so earlier and accelerated by the Roman penchant for cherry-picking aspects to conquered people's myths. In the Greek case the close affinity worked to the detriment of discarded elements more than in other instances of Roman absorption. It is no surprise therefore to find that the same Romans, who liked their gods and mythical characters as uncomplicated as possible and who anyway had traced their own origins mythically to a Trojan source most definitely on Paris's side, regarded Achilles - a Greek hero who failed but who still commanded respect - as an uncomfortable candidate for their own mythical pantheon of gods, demigods and great heroes. By the process's end Virgil had already described him as " a savage and a merciless butcher of men". Horace had him murdering babies.

But all this invention, reinvention, construction and even deconstruction of the character and the mythical context in which he existed is now of absolutely no interest to anyone outside of classical studies (if even them any more). The legend is partially remembered, the myth probably not at all (much has had to have been pieced together in more recent times from fragmentary clues). Yet we retain a semantically universal residue from that myth, whether we appreciate its development or not, and moreover a residue in the form of an expression which conveys a heavily nuanced meaning we find difficult to explain by any other means.

It may be a Sisyphean task to itemise all these cultural residues, and even a Pyrrhic victory should the task be accomplished (see what I did there?), but in fact these linguistic remnants with their acutely honed semantic payloads are themselves just one example of the residual power of ancient myths long considered extinct.

Another springs to mind. Myth, and in fact the more ancient it is the better, also plays a role as a repository for origins when we attemptedly ascribe origin to any construction outside the purely physical. This is not to say that myth is therefore something in which we have by proxy therefore invested belief, but we are happy to trace metaphysical concepts back to myth-based origins, largely due to the inextricable link the minds in which these concepts first found expression forged between the thought and the mythical beliefs they held. Any serious student of philosophy, even one who addresses the task in the most stringently rational terms, cannot escape a study of mythical belief when tracing the development of philosophical tenets, hypotheses, proposals and even principles, the manufacture of which these have contributed to. Or at least they ignore this aspect at their peril.

This too is a very current and very prevalent power of myth, and one to which as yet I cannot even imagine an alternative.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 28 Aug 2016, 10:56

Excellent, excellent post, nordmann - really. How you tantalise us lesser mortals with your erudition, and how fortunate we are to have you as a free online mentor! Despite your mercurial temperament, most of us are regularly hypnotised by your words which continually echo through our waking hours!



PS  From my script for Cunk on Mythology.

Mythology Man: We know that its mythical heritage meant Argos enjoyed a certain prestige even in Roman times.

Cunk: Was there really an Argos in Ancient Rome then? They must have sold an awful lot of spears and sandals and chariots and stuff. And togas.




















There are so many examples - and we haven't touched on bible mythology yet.

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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 28 Aug 2016, 15:41

Borrowing words and names from mythology for products such as rice cream, or space programs such as that which took men to the moon, is not quite what I was referring to. We do not look upon our dessert bowl of pudding and consider it a semantic continuation of the Greek "ambrosios" (of the immortals), despite the manufacturer's wishes. I would cite these examples as being of myth in its death throes or at the point beyond where it could exercise power, at the point indeed where all pretense to continuation has been abandoned and only the lustre of association with past myth lends the chosen terms any potency at all.

Compare that however to Pandora's Box, or the Gordian Knot, or indeed any one of those many terms which at least pretend to retain a semantic continuity from their point of origin. At one time understanding these terms would have been contingent on familiarity with the myth in question. Nowadays about the only thing most people can deduce about the myth is from what the term's semantic implications are today (something impossible to do with Apollo or Ambrosia Cream pudding). What is striking however is how often those implications have remained in fact rather constant, even when the myth has died. That was my point - and an indication of the power myth has to lead to such intergenerational and intercultural semantic constancy and continuity. In humanistic terms they represent very much the things that bind us, both with our contemporaries and with our ancestors. Rice pudding doesn't quite tick all the boxes however.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 28 Aug 2016, 16:09

@nordmann wrote:
 We do not look upon our dessert bowl of pudding and consider it a semantic continuation of the Greek "ambrosios" (of the immortals),


Speak for yourself. I often have such thoughts while stirring jam into my rice pudding.

But, alas, one feels something of an idiot now.

I did sort of understand your post. I just got a bit carried away, thinking about words folk still use without realising their origin in Greek myth. A regrettable, but understandable, mythtake.


Last edited by Temperance on Sun 28 Aug 2016, 19:23; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 28 Aug 2016, 19:23

Is the use of the word narcissistic a better example?
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Sun 28 Aug 2016, 20:07

Temperance there you "have" me again...

"cunk"
Cunk: Was there really an Argos in Ancient Rome then? They must have sold an awful lot of spears and sandals and chariots and stuff. And togas.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2016/19/cunk ???

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Mon 29 Aug 2016, 11:35

Temp wrote:
Is the use of the word narcissistic a better example?

I believe it is, a very good one in fact as it means much more than self-absorption and self-love but these attributes exaggerated to the point of being fatal. It also includes the notion that this self-absorption results from a failure to distinguish between the self and the image of self perceived through external media. It means all this because of the mythical context in which it arose and has led therefore to a level of nuance in its use as a vernacular term which nothing else verbally can quite match, in any language.

It is worth noting however that again, as with Achilles, our debt to the story is actually to a later manifestation (Ovid, namely, from around 8 CE). When we trace the myth back from this point it gets even uglier and more nuanced than Ovid intimated - Narcissus commits suicide. In other words his demise is not because of being stupidly enamoured of his own reflection to the point that he doesn't even eat but through intelligently realising that this has happened to him and grief-stricken with the realisation that he can never therefore possess that which he loves. It is not for nothing either that the spurned lover who had cast this spell over him in that manifestation was called "Aminias" (or Ameinias or Amynias - which in ancient Greek was used to refer to both outward body appearance and karma).

Both names have no precise etymological root in Greek and must be traced back to Indo-European to deduce any kind of semantic origin. This is rare in Greek legend, and even rarer to have two such in one story, indicating that despite our relatively recent cited sources for its existence it in fact could well be one of the very oldest elements of Greek mythology we know of, predating Hellenism in any of its guises. If so then the nuances implicit in the characters' names, ones that even today are normally fully dissected only by qualified psychologists, were known to our very ancient ancestors too.

A great example, in fact.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Tue 06 Sep 2016, 22:51

@nordmann wrote:
What we do know is that the whole "Achilles' heel" aspect to the story is very late indeed, post-dating Christianity in fact and ascribed to the first century CE author Statius.

I (for one) didn't know that and it's a very good example of how myths can evolve and morph. One wonders just how many other popular myths are actually much more recent in their development than might be believed.

The article linked to in the opening post references Snorri Sturluson and Heimskringla the Norwegian saga and I remember, for instance, being quite surprised when I first discovered that the Norse sagas were only written in the 13th century, having believed them to be considerably older. That said - an oral tradition almost certainly long predated the manuscripts. Sturluson's account of the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 with Orre's storm and Styrkar's flight etc is famous in England, Norway and in Sturluson’s native Iceland and yet that account of the battle has been questioned. It has been suggested that Sturluson was actually influenced by the contemporary events of the Battle of Jaffa 1192 (i.e during Sturluson’s own lifetime) rather than by any military engagements of 1066.

Intriguingly it were the likes of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis who were responsible for bringing the spirit of the Norse sagas to life for a 20th Century readership. Below is a dramatized reconstruction of a conversation between the 2 academics which took place in 1931 on the very issue of myths:



It’s pretty profound stuff but I’m not so sure what Tolkien means when he says in it that the story of Christianity is the ‘true myth’ and ‘the archetype’. That would seem to me to be highly subjective. I’m pretty sure, for example, that the Hindu myths and the Shinto myths etc are equally ‘true’ and ‘archetypal’ to the adherents of those cultures.
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PostSubject: Re: The Power of Myths   Mon 12 Sep 2016, 07:39

@Vizzer wrote:
One wonders just how many other popular myths are actually much more recent in their development than might be believed.

All the good ones, I would say. Or at least all the ones which retain relevance in our minds. Either their content or their interpretation requires constant tweaking to retain that quality, and often both.

The supposed conversation dramatised in the clip above is interesting, and very astutely avoids anachronisms despite the difference of views expressed. Whether it is absolutely accurate or not is another matter, but it makes perfect sense that two men with their background and in their time would have paid deference to Christian myth beyond that which it necessarily merits. Lewis of course would have done so, but Tolkien too - despite being in the business of constructing fantastic and independent alternatives - would have felt obliged to cede superiority to that particular cycle in discourse, whatever he privately thought. When discussing the "power" of myth that is one such power that cannot be ignored - the ability for a currently prevalent myth to supersede private thoughts where it matters, at the point of expression. The same two men, with the same attitudes today, would probably have conducted quite a different conversation. Not because their private views would have changed or evolved, but simply because the power exercised by one particular myth has abated in the interim in their society.
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