The definition of mythology is deprived from the word ‘myth’. The word itself comes from the Greek word ‘mythos’, which means fable, legend or sagas. The word “myth” is a story that seeks to rationalize the universe and the world around us, passed down orally from generation to generation explaining religious origin, natural phenomena or supernatural event. Mythology is a collection of myths that concerns with cosmogony and cosmology, shared by a particular society at some particular time in human history. Literature is a body of written works of language, period or culture. Literature can be divided into fiction (e.g. fairty tale, gothic, saga etc) and non-fiction (e.g. essays, journal, science fiction etc).
There are many distinctive natures of mythology and they seek to describe what a particular person or society believe during that period of time. Myths serves as an charter for their institutions, customs and beliefs. The typical mythology is the explanation of the universe and its ethology. Normally, the setting is set in a previous proto-world (simliar to the current world but also different) and they often revolve around non-human or “extroadinary” people such as god, goddess, supernatural beings (e.g. zeus, adam and eve, prometheus etc). These story explains why things are and how they became to be. It ‘rationalised’ our way of thinking, reconcile us to reality and establishes our pattern of life. Apart from the explanation of the creation of the universe, mythologies seek to explain everyday natural phenomena.
Certain myths explains way the sun exist and why there is night and day. Some explains the existance of seasons: Spring,Winter,Summer and Autumn while others shows of mother nature providing us with food and shelter. These myth suggest a way of understanding nature and organizing thoughts. For example, structualism recognizes different contrasting aspect (light and dark, good/evil) as centres to myths which charters for social order or value within a society (functionalism). Myth have been created by human beings for many reasons over thousands of years. They are an intellectual product of humanity and a rich resource for the ideas and belief of past generations. Their extroadinary and unbelievable aspect combined with the constant thought that there might be something ‘out their’ is what keeps mythology functioning and is what keeps literature moving.
There are also many differences between literature and mythology. For instance, they were used for different purposes and existed in different times. Myth several purposes, including to socially/politically control society (e.g. to spread a myth about something to control people, to scare people when facts were not available). Literature on the other hand, is more about persuading and informing people. There are also other benefits to mythology that cannot be achieved in literature, such as there is no boundary to the world, there is no such thing as ‘false’ and there is low risk of anyone challenging your theory. The sets of beliefs also differ and the way they view the world differs. For example, literature’s audience are educated modern people while mythology’s one is from the old generation where there was not much information about the world and how it works. This would mean that the two different texts have different intended audience which would inevitably show why they differ so much. Both are products of humans but during different time frame.
The arrival of the modern era would inevitably mean the death of mythology. The transformation from one to another was the belief that myth was useless, false and outmoded and that it did not ‘work’. Science (regarded as a ‘fictional literature’) was the objective explanation of how the world around us work while the subjective myth was about faith and believing something ‘unfounded’. Scientific rational thought was based on empricial knowledge, a priori (not falsifiable) and our way of thinking is based on facts. Myth is ultimately a different knowledge, an ideology, a set of ‘belief’.
Systems of myths have provided a cosmological and historical framework for societies that have lacked the more sophisticated knowledge provided by modern science. Myth is related to science, however it only provide basis for a theory, not knowledge. For example the myth of how the origin was created would have lacked modern day rational scientific belief because they would prefer a more ‘true’, superior and more authority theory, which is the big bang theory. Our modern rational paradigm thought is based on observation. Scientific rational thinking is based on logic to solve or explain how the world works and as it becomes a part of our everyday thinking, mythology will be inevitable cast aside.
Carl Jung invented modern scientific theory and for him, the world of dream, and myth represented the most fascinating and promising road to deeper understanding. The significance of literature in mythology as said ‘We need the stories of myth to make sense of the confusion of our society and our own psyches. Myth voices the truths of our unconscious selves, and the gods, goddesses, and heroes of myth embody aspects of creativity, cleverness, grief, joy, aggression, and ecstasy. Carl Jung believes that even the most sophisticated and important literature requires some mythological aspect. (E.g. the Lord of the Ring depends on mythical characteristic to drives the ideas; horror movies have a ‘message’ and some urban myth taps into child’s fear of a ‘bogyman under the bed’)
Northrop Frye criticises literature and states the importance of cultural myth underlying literature (E.g. Sea, land and sky, control, creation, decay, regeneration, our ‘fear’). Mythology evokes our sub-conscious mind (e.g. dream) which is employed by reference to mythology in literature. Frye states that mythology provided themes for some of the world’s greatest drama, and similar themes can be traced back to the Renaissance literature, through to Shakespeare (E.g. Hamlet, Midsummer Nights Dream) and finally to modern poetry and thus mythology plays a significance role with literature. One could even say that literature is based on mythology.
Karen Armstrong book “A Short History of Myth” is about how literature and mythology were shaped by the problems of the society people lived in. Armstrong states that the existence of Mythology from an early period: ‘Human beings fall easily into despair, and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting, that revealed an underlying pattern, and gave us a sense that, against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary, life had meaning and value.’
With the coming of the ‘great revolutions in human experience’ science was used to explain ‘facts’ as opposed the theory of myth, which became ‘useless, false and outmoded.’ Literature, which could explain things that was never thought possible, was regarded as the next ‘step’ from mythology (from an uneducated society to a civilized society).
The relationship between literature and mythology is one of similarities as well as differences. They are both important creation by human beings and will continue to play an important role in the intellectual world. Literature will always include some aspect of myth which will continue to shape our modern world like it did in the past.
Courtney from Study Moose
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