Mythos the Greeks called a story, a fabulous story, a narrative linked to the world of the gods and the adventures of the founding heroes of cities in the remote past of civilization. That is why the myths were, for them, the work of both the religious spirit and the cultivation of poetry. It is probable that, with the flourishing of political democracy, the art of debate and persuasion, of the reflective thought we call philosophy, the poetic aspect will end up prevailing over the religious.
Moreover, the philosophers would have saved the myths of a safe extinction between the people of the learned classes of classical and Hellenistic Greece or among the lawyers of the Roman Empire by means of two resources: 1) the introduction of an allegorical reading of the fables and 2 ) the invention of new stories with the purpose of presenting poetically the most difficult notions of ontology and knowledge, when rational arguments and logical chains were impotent to explain them.
Did the Greeks believe in their myths? According to Máximo de Tiro, they used them to express the inexpressible
In a 1983 book, Paul Veyne he asked himself: "Did the Greeks believe in their myths?" The answer had already been given, to a large extent, by the ancients themselves. In the 2nd century AD C., Maximus of Tire wrote: "Indeed, there is a god (…) superior to time, eternity and all flowing nature, which can not be named by the legislator, inexpressible by language and invisible to the eyes, and As we can not grasp its essence, we rely on words and names, animals, figures of gold, ivory and silver, plants, rivers, peaks and fountains. " The Neoplatonist Sallustius of Emesa, friend of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, answered that question with a short phrase, extracted from his treatise About the gods and the world: "These things never happened, but they are always."
Ancient and medieval Christianity spread throughout the Mediterranean world and the East to India the old corpus of stories from the Hebrew Bible and the new stories of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the Church. The events of the lives of the saints were incorporated into the epos Christian since the end of the fourth century and fed their imaginary to reach the summit of Golden Legend, written by Jacopo de la Vorágine in the mid-thirteenth century.
But notice that the word "myth" had disappeared from the vocabulary, because of course those people considered the narrations chapters of a true Sacred history, legible in the texts and in the images displayed in painted manuscripts, icons on panel, stained glass and stone sculptures in the portals of the churches. Because they are readings of different types, the word found and used to designate its mythical contents (we would say today) was "legend" or directly "history". "Poetry" had been discarded.
Now we identify the myth with the past, but the sixteenth century turned in the future and gave rise to utopia
From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the words "fable" and "mythologies" returned by their fueros. Both appear in the great work of cultural rehabilitation of pagan myths, the Genealogy of the Gods, composed by Boccaccio in the mid-fourteenth century, which includes a lit defense of poetry as a superior symbolic form of knowledge of nature and the human soul. At the other end of the parable, during the first half of the eighteenth century, Madame Anne Dacier and Giambattista Vico converged in an exaltation of Homer's mitopoiesis, from the literary point of view the first, from an anthropological-philosophical perspective the second.
The translation of the Odyssey, made by Dacier and edited in 1716 with commentaries, plus the Scienza Nuova, whose last version Vico published in 1744, inaugurated the era of historical analysis and the cultural hermeneutics of mythologies. The mythical fables became privileged signs of the civilizations that had created them, in symbolic objects where the main ideas of an era and of a people were discovered about the fundamental experiences in the life of their individuals, the birth, the development of the body and spirit, the inner life, their passions, their impulses and loving practices, the violence they suffered and those they inflicted on their neighbors, death and the expectations of the beyond.
The dualism of the Apollonian and the Dionysian exposed by Nietzsche; the migrations and the ritual or narrative simultaneities recorded by Frazer in populations of the four parts of the world and of all times; the emotional constellations of deep psychology, associated with ancient mythologies and revealed in the form of complexes of conscious and unconscious phenomena by Freud's psychoanalysis, are all mature results of the study of the "mythical dimension" of humanity whose most comprehensive panorama painted Joseph Campbell in the second half of the 20th century. Campbell also demonstrated the transfigured persistence of archaic mythologies in the allegorical, alluvial, harrowing, and truthful representation of the complexity of the modern world made by Kafka, Joyce, and Thomas Mann during the decades of world wars. Note that until now the mythical creation takes our eyes to the past. But from the origins of the modern world in the sixteenth century, the poietic capacity began to turn towards the future and created the myth of utopia. His most exalting form came in The hope principle, book published in the fifties of the twentieth century by Ernst Bloch, where the modern myths of utopia, revolution and art were superimposed in anticipation of the summum bonum for the humanity. Regarding the myth of the revolution, three thinkers developed it to make it a continuous bass of our lives: Rosa Luxemburg in the plane of praxis and the theory of Marxism, Hannah Arendt in the horizon of history and political reflection, Simone Weil in the territories of an existential philology and philosophy about self-surrender in combat, as reflected in the Homeric myth of Iliad.
The question would be if civilizational fables remain in a present dominated by capitalism
A valid question would be whether there are currently mitopoietic processes in the present, forms of creation of dense civilizational fables in which one is capable of intervening, in the roles of contemplator or constructor. In both volumes of the Structural anthropology, Lévi-Strauss It opened ways to give affirmative answers when explaining the myths that are active today in the center of the experiences of peoples scattered in the great natural spaces and threatened, but not yet completely destroyed, by the capitalist domination of the planet.
I would venture to say that in the recognition of the civilizations erected by the Others from our Western perspectives lies the possibility of a common work around the new myth of the ecological program. So if we pay some attention to one of the oldest reservoirs of the mythical, the Ramayana attributed to Valmiki and dated in the second century AD. C., we will find there a story that could well be superimposed on our ecological myth. In the episode of the exile of Rama and Sita in the Panchavati forest, Sita exhorts her beloved not to exterminate the evil asuras, which would cause so much pain, because they are the natural inhabitants of the forest that until then has protected them. A woman gives the warrior numen a lesson of respect towards all existing life.
José Emilio Burucúa is a historian, member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Argentina and author of The myth of Ulysses in the modern world (Eudeba, 2013).
News for a mythical library
The masks of God
Joseph Campbell. Translation by Isabel Cardona and Belén Urrutia. Atalanta Three thousand pages in four volumes on primitive, oriental, western and creative mythology in the most complete panorama on the subject. A classic.
Madeline Miller. Translation by Jorge Cano and Cecilia Recarey. AdN. The sorceress of the Odyssey, one of the most reviled characters in literature, take the floor.
Daniel Mendelsohn. Translation of Ramón Buenaventura. Seix Barral A retiree joins the seminar on Homer that his son teaches and ends up cruising with him in the Mediterranean.
Dictionary of Myths
Carlos García Gual. Turner. A repertoire that has grown in each new edition. Zeus and Ulises have been adding Superman, Carmen or Tarzan.
Myths in the Prado Museum
Miguel Ángel Elvira and Marta Carrasco. Guillermo Escolar Editor. From the Athena of Mirón to the fates of Goya, 90 works commented between mythology and the history of art.
The power of stories
Martin Puchner Translation by Silvia Furió. Review. An approach to the way in which stories (be the Iliad, Harry Potter or the Popol Vuh) they shape the world.