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Favorite Myth and Why?

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Showing 1-25 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 5, 2012 4:14:26 PM PDT
Stant Litore says:
Just curious.

Mine: The coming of the soul to the weighing of its worth in the Kemetic (Egyptian) afterlife. Is YOUR soul lighter than a feather? And related, the tale of Isis' search for lost Osiris.

Runner-up: Leda and the Swan. It's beautiful, miserable, and outlandish. And feathery. And a reminder that the divine does not fall upon us by our choice, and what comes of it is beautiful but usually that something beautiful originates in a moment of keen, human pain that perhaps can be redeemed by what follows (or sometimes not), but can never be justified by what follows.

What myths, what moments of the marvelous from truly ancient stories, have stuck in your mind, and why?

Stant Litore

Posted on May 5, 2012 8:25:56 PM PDT
Captain says:
The one about the giant who lives in the sky.

Posted on May 6, 2012 1:18:39 AM PDT
Garscadden says:
Flying Spaghetti Monster :)

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 4:29:17 AM PDT
Great idea for a thread, Stant.

I really don't think I have a favourite myth. When I was young I was completely immersed in the Greek and Roman myths, thanks to my father (who was a frustrated Classicist). I would be very hard pressed indeed to select a favourite. Here are a few, however:

(1) The Trojan War.
(2) The wandering of Odysseus.
(3) Theseus - but especially his journey to Athens and his encounters with the various bandits on the way, especially Procrustes and Sinis Pityokamptes.
(4) Perseus.
(5) The Labours of Heracles.

In all of these, it was the inventiveness as much as anything else, I suppose; but also, especially in the case of the Homeric stories, the epic nature of the stories. I would find it very difficult to pinpoint exactly what drew me to them - in some way I sense it was some atavistic empathy ... or maybe it was just the way in which my father told me the stories, where his genuine love of the stories exuded from his narratives.

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 4:30:14 AM PDT
Hi Garscadden - hmm, I thought you'd been kicked out? LOL!

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 5:02:47 AM PDT
Garscadden says:
If you like the greek myths you may enjoy The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break: A Novel. It doesn't hugely tie into the greek myths except, you know, it's about the minotaur working as a chef. It's a not a comedy, but it is tremendously touching and so very much about the human condition. It really is a lovely book in my opinion.

Posted on May 6, 2012 5:14:36 AM PDT
Garscadden says:
My FSM post comes across as not putting thought into the question, I actually did.

I like the FSM idea because it can be used as a foil against the ridiculousness of religious exceptions on cultural grounds. BUT also because it is an interesting view of how traditions and myths could be created. I am a fan of Hobsbawm's book on invented tradition, and also on the Eliade / Knott disagreement on how space comes to be sacred. For me the FSM approach just helps us go through and examine these kinds of issues in a fairly light hearted way - and minimises the amount of offense caused. I can happily and cheerily say 'The idea of a flying spaghetti monster is absurd, and those who really believe in it must have something wrong with them', saying same about some other myths could have a deleterious effect...

Sorry, I didn't mean to branch into religion, it really is the myth making part of it that interests me.

(Being of the age I am - Greek myths are what actually does it for me - at least in part due to the old films including Jason and the Argonauts and the old version of Clash of the Titans)

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 6:04:24 AM PDT
I've heard of this, Garscadden - thanks, I shall look into it. It does sound like rather a nice concept!

Posted on May 6, 2012 9:12:45 AM PDT
Kris says:
Hades and Persephone is my favorite myth. It's hard really explain why I like it so much. I guess it's the whole sexy bad boy falls in love.

Posted on May 6, 2012 12:49:34 PM PDT
Becca Mills says:
"It's turtles all the way down."

Posted on May 6, 2012 7:53:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 6, 2012 7:55:10 PM PDT
I've always liked Hades and Persephone too. The whole idea of the underworld and how Persephone ended up moving back and forth through the veil that separates life from death intrigues me.

I'm in a bird kind of mood today . . . the myth of the phoenix. I love how it is reborn from the ashes of its own pain, that it carries the wisdom it learned from its suffering into the next lifetime and conquers death as a result.

Also, have always loved the myth of the thorn bird for the same reason. From The Thorn Birds: A Novel by Colleen McCullough: "There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its lifetime, more sweetly than any other creature. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it finds one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale . . . for the best is only bought at the cost of great pain."

Posted on May 6, 2012 8:38:58 PM PDT
Favorite? Easy....Myth America...hehehe.

Posted on May 7, 2012 8:57:56 AM PDT
I'm partial to the one where Odin gives up one eye to learn the secret of defeating the Frost Giants at Ragnarok, only to find that the secret is, "Watch with both eyes."

Posted on May 7, 2012 10:08:12 AM PDT
B. Hoover says:
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In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 11:47:02 AM PDT
Stant Litore says:
Haha! A very Scandinavian sense of humor. I'm partial to that one, too.


In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 12:02:59 PM PDT
Stant Litore says:
I'm weary of the kind of hijacking of the conversation that occurs whenever I ask questions about myth, the fantastic, or the marvelous. The more militant strain of atheists will respond to my question with "The Bible" or "Religion" as an example. The more fundamentalist strain of the religious will respond with "You're going to hell for talking about myth and magic." In both cases, the person answering has completely ignored and sidestepped the question, much as they tend to ignore, label, and misunderstand the ways that we use or misuse mythic stories to explain our world.

OK, for the purposes of this thread, let's use the actual definition of 'myth':

A story (with characters and a plot) that advances an explanation of the marvelous or the seemingly unexplainable.

We use "myth" too often as an opposite of "fact" (as in "let's debunk this myth"), when in fact the two have nothing to do with each other. A myth is a simply a story that tries to explain something not otherwise explainable, the way the story of Pandora attempts to explain why hope survives even when life seems entirely hopeless, or the way that the story of Adam and Eve attempts to explain why suffering exists. Similarly, the narrative popular in the 1920s among some paleontologists and anthropologists in which a small ape fought valiantly against his environment to ascend to his grand destiny as homo sapiens is now correctly labeled in anthropology textbooks as "the myth of the heroic ascent." Natural selection is a fact, but because natural selection appears to occur without agency (i.e., our apish ancestors did not embark on a great quest to become us), our ancestors told a mythic story to give some romance to it and to answer what seemed to them a marvelous and unexplainable question (i.e., how did an animal become a sentient being? or, to phrase it as they may have understood the question at the time, "How did something as awesome as us come from something that we don't regard as awesome at all?").

A myth is a narrative that answers a riddle about our world and ourselves.

So, you can mention a religious story as an example of a myth that you find enlightening or enjoyable, but "religion" is not a myth any more than "Greek culture" or "Native American pride" is a myth. The word "religion" refers either to a structured belief system founded on a series of myths, practices, and or a code or creed, or it may be used to refer to an institution that is based either in such a belief system or in a shared set of cultural and spiritual practices.

If you want to criticize religion, you may criticize it as a flawed institution, as a belief system that you have concluded does not provide a sufficient answer to the questions it raises, or you may criticize the actions and convictions of those who espouse a particular religion or of the religious in general.

However, that is not the topic of this thread.

The topic of this thread is: Which myths have stuck in your mind, and why?

Stant Litore

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 12:34:04 PM PDT
Garscadden says:
Stant - I was guilty of bringing up religion, sorry.

Greek myths - stick in my mind because of the films I saw when I was younger.

Norse myths - Odin, Thor and Loki - here because I read up on them when I was young. Odin one eye and Thor - what seven year old could resist. As an older person, Odin one eye on the tree of life. What grown man could resist.

Myth intrigues me for the reason's you mention, but really, honestly, religion appeals in the same way. The deluge myth is a really good example of a myth that crosses cultures and religions (as an example).

(And my comment about FSM still stands - it is a useful tool to examine the growth of myth and religion, and to discuss them)

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 1:01:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 7, 2012 1:05:19 PM PDT
Stant Litore says:
It's all right, G. -- you've added to the conversation since. :) There have been several one-word posts in the thread, and I was more frustrated at their cumulative effect.

The Odin myth is one that continues to haunt me, as well. It does throw some interesting questions at us, too: What is wisdom, actually? What is the cost of attaining it? Is it possible to see some things deeply and be entirely blind to other things? And once attained, is wisdom ultimately futile, or...? Etc.

And it's a really well-told story. :) Those long Icelandic winters make for great storytelling.

Stant Litore

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 1:19:41 PM PDT
Stant Litore says:
Red Firefly, thanks for alerting me to the myth of the thorn bird -- I love that! I have read McCullough's Rome books but have never read that novel.

I personally wonder about "the best is only bought at the cost of great pain." The "only" is what I wonder about. Our culture is in love with the idea of the suffering artist (Sylvia Plath, anyone?), but I think that the best can also originate in great joy, in excess of joy. I think you can see this in some of the painting of Michelangelo, the music of Hildegard von Bingen, and the erotic poetry of the Song of Songs. Past experience of suffering appears to be a prerequisite for stories that touch us deeply, but the story and the song itself is as likely to be born in a moment of impossible joy as a moment of wrenching pain.

Granted, sometimes those two happen in the same moment.

Stant Litore

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 2:02:35 PM PDT
I do think it's interesting to consider the notion that if Odin had relied on himself instead of consulting with mysticism, he would have kept both eyes and theoretically had a chance at defeating the frost giants.

The story of Oedipus also seems to carry a strong message of, "Don't consult mystics."

I have to wonder at the recurrence of this theme within myths that are themselves full of mysticism. Were the original authors being deliberately ironic?

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 2:38:35 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 7, 2012 2:46:39 PM PDT
Stant Litore says:
I think it's less about modern irony and more about a deep-seated distrust of prophets in the ancient world. Prophets were both revered and distrusted, for several reasons:

* While most of the time one would approach the divine through an elaborate priesthood and elaborate rites, prophets said they heard the gods directly, with no intermediaries. Which was both exhilirating and threatening for those around them. Exhilirating because maybe the gods could speak to you directly, maybe you could relate to them more personally. Threatening because one man speaking with the voice of God could undermine or topple the ruling priesthood ... and also because it is difficult to gainsay someone who claims to be speaking the words of God.

* Sometimes, what prophets told you would happen ... didn't.

In a Hebrew analogue, the prophet Zechariah actually prophesies about a time when so many of the prophecies given to the people will have proven false (or by which time so many false prophets will have been exposed), that prophets become not only distrusted but hated:

"And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, `You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord.' And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies.

"On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies.... He will say, `I am no prophet, I am a worker of the soil.'" (Zechariah 13)

So even in prophetic works, there's an underlying distrust of the prophet or the oracle.

For the Greeks, though, I don't think the message was "don't consult mystics." It was more that the world itself was perceived as a riddle, and the gods speak to man only in riddles. And the riddle of the world is both perilous to ignore and equally perilous to attend to TOO closely. Remember Croesus of Lydia? Herodotus tells of how Croesus sent a message to the Oracle at Delphi to ask, "Should I go to war with Persia?" and the Oracle answered, "If Croesus goes to war, he will destroy a great kingdom." Had Croesus been thinking, he might have asked the smart question -- "Is this meant as permission or as a warning?" Not thinking, Croesus went to war and promptly destroyed his own kingdom.

But if Croesus had NOT sent a message to Delphi, he would have followed his own inclination and gone to war anyway.

When confronted with the real riddles of the world, we have to get good at solving riddles. Many of the ancient stories tell of those who aren't good at solving riddles being undone by them.

Stant Litore

P.S. My brain now feels like a pretzel.

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 2:44:00 PM PDT
Hades and persephone.
There is so much information that can b read btween the lines on the story.

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 4:09:10 PM PDT
That seems to be the myth of choice for the last six months or so - there have been a ton of (especially YA) books mining that story.

I am a huge fan of the Arthurian myth. I've read several retellings & have enjoyed them all for different reasons. I have more in my TBR pile, but I burned out for a while.

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2012 4:32:24 PM PDT
R. Wilde says:
I guess my favorite is the myth of Pandora's box.

Sure, women may be the reason we all suffer... but they're also the reason we hold on to hope. ;)

Posted on May 7, 2012 4:58:18 PM PDT
Myth of Leda and the Swan (I teach Yeats' poem to my AP class), the stories around Perseus, Theseus, and Heracles.

I've also become a fan of Celtic myths of late. No one in particular, however.
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Discussion in:  Fantasy forum
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Initial post:  May 5, 2012
Latest post:  May 9, 2012

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