What is the purpose of myths
The myth is an anonymous, initially oral tradition, which tells of gods, demons, heroes and events of prehistoric times and primarily the creation of man or the world. Such myths can be proven in all cultures, whereby they are a possibility for humanity to express its world and self-understanding. The myth is thus a form of (religious) world interpretation and provides answers to the prehistory of mankind. The totality of all myths of a people or a culture is their mythology. Myths always have a claim to truth, that is, they claim to be true. The saga and legend are similar.
The term derives from ancient Greek μῦθος which deals with narrative, speech, word, According to or fabulous story (see Mar) translates. The Latin derives from this noun myth which is synonymous. Accordingly, the translation already gives clear indications of what the term is about: namely a (fabulous) story that was passed on orally [with which people and cultures express their understanding of the world]. A uniform definition is difficult, however.
That is because that the term has been used in very different ways in the past centuries and is difficult to grasp due to the different contents in the individual cultures and peoples. If you ask different lexicons, they do not define the myth uniformly and give different, sometimes contradicting, information on this term.
However, there are some features which are identical in most cases and some references that apply to the different myths as well as examples that make the various forms of the term tangible as well as individual generic terms for the various forms of the myth.
Overview: Features of the myth
- The myth is a narrative that has been handed down in different anonymous variants and initially passed on orally. It gives answers on how cultures and people understand themselves and the world. It is therefore a religiously colored representation of processes from natural and world life, whereby these are linked with human activity. The myths can the world around us explain and are therefore as childlike, that is, to evaluate people's initial philosophies. The totality of cultural myths is mythology.
- So myths explain the world in some way and consist largely of sagas of gods and heroes. Most of all, we are familiar with Greek or Roman mythology today. Facts and connections are explained by gods, heroes or mythical creatures, such as the creation of the world or life after death.
- At its core, the myth is always true, as it mostly tries to explain an actual occurrence. It is very similar with the narrative forms of sagas, legends, fables and fairy tales. However, myths are also considered to be meaningful. This means that they are designed in such a way that they (events or things) make sense.
- In the myth, a clear, i.e. pictorial language prevails, which is easily understandable for most, whereby it describes an early event that explains a situation from today or at least provides information on its background.
- Myths can often be understood as practical instructions for getting a view of the world. Since the myth not only picks out individual points, but also conveys a comprehensive view of the world, it can represent a form of holistic understanding of the world.
- Most myths have a strict timing. So there is usually a beginning - i.e. a point that is to be regarded as the origin of the creation and further corner points, whereby the individual stories of the myth can be sorted on a timeline. For example, in Greek mythology there is chaos at the beginning.
- Recurring processes in nature - Seasons, sunrise, sunset, tides - or the human world (e.g. death, birth) are often explained in myth by divine intervention. The same applies to weather phenomena or natural disasters.
- In the early days, myths were closely interwoven with cult and ritual. This means that certain rites, customs and traditions were derived from the myth, which were celebrated through festivals or through offerings and the like. As a result, myths were passed on orally by a select group of people such as priests, singers or elders.
Example: Theseus and the Minotaur
In order to illustrate what has been written using an example, a myth from Greek mythology is presented below: the myth about Theseus and the man-eating Minotaur as well as King Minos, which is closely connected with the ancient place Knossos on Crete.
Knossos was an ancient place on the Greek island of Crete. He is best known for the Palace of Knossos, one of the largest palaces on the island, which has also been declared a cultural heritage. The palace is winding, which probably plays a decisive role in the subsequent myth about the Minotaur.
According to Homer, one of the first great poets of the West, around 1600 B.C. BC King Minos over Knossos. Minos was a son of Zeus, the father of the gods, and of Europa. He was the husband of Pasiphae and father of Ariadne and Androgeos. One day Poseidon gave the king a wonderful white bull, which Zeus was to sacrifice. The king liked the beautiful bull so much that he kept it.
Zeus, who punished Minos for this, put a curse on his wife, Pasiphae, which aroused a longing for the bull in her. Pasiphae then asked her builder Daidalos to make her a wooden cow costume to unite with the bull. The Cretan bull impregnated the wife of King Minos ‘, whereupon she gave birth to a man-eating bull man, the Minotaur.
Minos, furious about his wife's misstep, wanted to kill the Minotaur, but let his daughter Ariadne convince him to let him live. However, he now also went to Daidalus to commission him to construct a labyrinth to banish the bull for all time.
A short time later, the son of Minos ‘, Androgeus, died, which the king took as an opportunity to punish the inhabitants of Athens, whom he held responsible for the son's death. He asked them to pay tribute every nine years to 7 virgins and 7 young men who were sacrificed to the Minotaur. Theseus, a hero of ancient Greece volunteered to fight the Minotaur.
When he met Minos ‘daughter Ariadne after his arrival in Crete, they both fell in love. Theseus confided his intention to her. When he agreed to marry her and take her to Athens, she gave him a magical thread with which he could find his way out of the labyrinth at any time. With the help of the gods, Theseus succeeded in slaying the Minotaur, which he sacrificed to Poseidon.
- This narrative about the labyrinth is only a very small part of the entire Greek mythology and thus only shows a brief excerpt, which can, however, be embedded chronologically in the context of all Greek myths, whereby it is self-contained.
- It does, however, explain part of the Greek world. He gives hints on the history of Crete, whose ancient culture is now known as the Minoan culture and thus refers to the mythical king. He also explains why the palace of Knossos is so winding (labyrinth)
- It also illustrates the special position of the bull in the Minoan religion. On the one hand, this is revered because it is powerful and holy, but on the other hand, due to its unpredictability, it is a dangerous demon that was often sacrificed in ancient rituals.
- The myth also contains another element that is only for a knowing recipient (Reader, listener) is clear. The Minotaur could also stand for the highest priest as a representative of the Cretan bull deity, whereby the victory of Theseus could be interpreted as the victory of the enemies of Crete who came from the mainland.
- Tip: The myth about Theseus and the Minotaur can be read in more detail on fabelwesen.net. Here you can also find subpages on Pasiphae, the magical Ariadne thread and other stories and overviews of Greek mythology.
Types of Myth ‘
There are different types of myth. In general, three types can be identified in the past millennia. There are myths that contain the origin of the world and creation, those that revolved around prehistoric heroes and wars, and myths that arose from a joy of imagination. Below is an overview of these types:
|Creation and Explanatory|
Difference: Legend, fairy tale, saga, fable, myth
One of the greatest difficulties with regard to myths is very often the distinction between similar, related types of text. The myth resembles above all the fairy tale, the legend, the fable and furthermore the saga. In the following we would like to show the differences between the genres.
- Fable: Fables are made up and were written by an author, with no specific information about time and space. In the fable, animals act and to a certain extent represent humans. The fable ends with a punch line and is mostly instructive. The protagonists are usually not clear characters, but stereotypes that embody certain characteristics (see mythical animals).
- Fairy tale: Are also fictitious, differ in Folk tales(continues) and Art fairy tale (by an author). Fairy tales take place outside of space and time, which is why no specific time and place information is given. The staff of the fairy tale is more typical, there are seldom specific people (The princess, the wolf, the wicked witch).
- Legend: The difference between saga and legend is small. In principle, the same characteristics apply. It is essential, however, that legends always tell of saints. Of course, they always relate to a specific person or a clear event, which is why the demand for reality is equally high. So they are mostly based on a person's biography.
- Legend: Is transmitted orally and deals with specific people, times or locations. The legend therefore has a very high claim to reality, which is why the people involved are named very precisely. Mythical creatures do occur, but they can be recognized as such.
- Myth: In a sense, a myth explains the world. Most of all, we are familiar with Greek or Roman mythology today. Facts and connections are explained by gods, heroes or mythical creatures, such as the creation of the world or life after death.
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