2 Misconceptions about myths:
1. Myth = falsehood. Example: It’s a myth that if you
masturbate too much you’ll go blind.
2. Myths are stories that only very primitive cultures
used for entertainment before TV and radio.
• In actuality, the word myth comes from the Greek
mythos which means word, story, saying. Myths were
not created as falsehoods but instead as ways to
explain truths. Myths are humans’ attempts (both
centuries ago and today) to explain phenomena that
could not easily be explained otherwise
by word of mouth (oral tradition)
Exist in multiple versions
Vary by details
Are/were believed by the originating
Are explanations of things that cannot
be easily explained otherwise
Express the values/belief/fears of the
Folklorists study the motifs in myths and the way the motifs
are woven together as building blocks for all myths.
Vladimir Propp: whom we shall be studying later found
31 elements common to all folklore.
Alan Dundes: contemporary Berkeley professor.
Compiled a study of the Cinderella stories across culture,
which we will see a part of
Max Muller: all myths produced by Indo-Europeans
could be understood as originating from symbolic stories, such
as Persephone, representing seasons.
Claude Levi-Strauss: Believes that myths
explain dualism, conflict between opposing
J.G. Frazer: published a 12 volume
mythological study, The Golden Bough, which
brought together all the mythical kingships of
the world to explain that natural order is for
the old king to make way for the new -- or the
social order within tribes is reflected in its
Sigmund Freud: posited the Oedipus hero, who
unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother,
reflects the inner desire of the son to kill the father
so that he can have the mother all to himself.
Carl Jung: believed the principal characters in
myths embody archetypes, such as the wise old
man, or the nurturing mother
Bruno Bettelheim: believed that myths serve as
models for human behavior and give meaning and
value to life.
Joseph Campbell: is the most well- known. He reads
myths symbolically, sees them as attempts to show
latent sides of personalities. But he believes that myths
work only when they are conscious.
• Most mythologists believe that myths are a collection
of symbols. Symbolism is an important part of the way
all scholars view myths.
Signs: finite, practical, unambiguous representations,
such as the sign for stop
Symbols have more complex, ambiguous meanings.
Graphic lines of shapes, words, or ritual actions
can be symbols.
Creation of the world and the people in it
• Structure of the universe
Elements/ Heavenly Bodies
• Causes of life and death
• Supernatural beings
Destroyers, preservers, divine specialties
• Cosmic disasters
flood, drought, famine
• Heroes and Tricksters
agents of change
• Animals and Plants
Creation and Kinship
• Body and Soul
Spirit and the Afterlife
• Marriage and Kinship
• Social Mores and Taboos
Creation of Titan and the Gods
Emptiness = Chaos > Gaea (Mother Earth) Tartarus (Underworld
ruler) Eros (Love)
and their first children were
the 3 Hundred- handed giants
and the Cyclops.
Gaea was angry and wanted her kids. So after she
had the 13 Titans
Helios (god of the sun)
Selene (goddess of the moon)
Oceanus (god of the river)
Themis (goddess of prophecy at Delphi)
Rhea (parents of the Greek gods)
Prometheus (created man out of clay and
Gaea got Cronus to emasculate
Uranus, who could not die
but suffered great agony.
From his severed pieces
in the ocean and
a white foam
… Aphrodite is born.
kept the giants imprisoned in
Tartarus and had more children. Fearing
the prophecy that his child would
disempower him, he swallowed them when
they were infants.
Rhea was desperate so she asked Gaea,
who told her to hide Zeus, her next child in
a tree so he wouldn’t be on earth, in water
or in the air, and had him swallow a stone,
which he mistook for the baby.
grew up, gave Cronus a drink and he
vomited up all of his fully grown children.
After they fought for ten years with the
Titans, Gaea told Zeus about the Giants
and Cyclops and he freed them. They
gave the presents and the Greek gods
used them, won and imprisoned the titans,
with the Hundred-handed giants to guard
a psychoanalytic standpoint:
Sons unconsciously harbor a desire to kill
fathers and sleep with mothers.
is healthy to provide the opportunity for
the old leaders to make way for the new. If
they will not, it is natural for the son to free
the society from the tyrannical or useless
What else? (Remember, we are
brainstorming here. Come up with an idea
about how this myth shows how humans
interact as groups or individually.
Uranus’s cut off genitals became sea foam from
which was born Aphrodite. Symbol of insemination
of the sea?
Thunder: divine right, chastisement, and
judgment. Sounded word of god. Impregnation.
Lightning: Linked with fire, water, wrath,
weapons, male power, phallus, creation and
Helmet of Invisibility: Invisible power, thought,
ability to escape dangerous situations.
groups, discuss Demeter and Persephone:
the themes that apply (from the pink
And then discuss psychological and
sociological perspectives as well as symbols.
Each group should have several examples.
You may use your phones or computers to
look up symbolism.
to Website under myths heading at
the top, click on The Odyssey, and print
up). Then read the following pages:
Printout: pp. 45 – 47 The Birth of
Paris, The Judgement of Paris, The
Marriage of Helen, The Preparation for
pp. 75 – 85 The Odyssey
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