Who's Who in Non-Classical Mythology

Who's Who in Non-Classical Mythology

Who's Who in Non-Classical Mythology

Who's Who in Non-Classical Mythology

Excerpt

For centuries, in the Western world, mythology almost always implied Classical mythology, that is, the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, and the fact that the word myth (μῡθος or muthos) is Greek has tended to reinforce this impression. Undoubtedly the legacy of Classical mythology is a rich and prolific one, and it has permeated Western literature deeply for centuries. Small wonder, then, that it has tended to exclude almost all other mythologies to the point where they might not have existed. There is a very good explanation for this, in that mythology has always been intimately and inextricably bound up with the development of a particular culture or civilization, as human beings began to explore their environment and reflect on their origin.

At the outset, therefore, mythology was an individual matter, relevant only to a particular people. Inevitably, however, exploration, conquest and the expansion of trade routes brought awareness of the existence of other mythologies, beliefs and religions, with inevitable comparisons, syncretism, adaptation and adoption. It was the strength of the Classical tradition and the extent to which it became part of Western culture that excluded so much else—what we in fact now term non-Classical mythology—for so long.

Nowadays the words ‘myth’ and ‘mythology’ have regrettably taken on a pejorative connotation, and indeed amongst the ancient Greeks themselves we find that, by the time of the death of the poet Pindar (518-438 BC), muthos had become the equivalent of the Latin fabula, thus denoting something that was essentially fiction, as opposed to λὁγος or logos, a true historical tale. In its primary sense, however, muthos was used of anything that was imparted orally, that is by word of mouth, and therefore at its most basic denoted speech in general. From this we may readily appreciate that far from being a sophisticated literary device, a myth as originally formulated was a response, an answer to a question, whether posed internally by the enquiring mind, or put directly, much as a child might ask, ‘Where did I come from?’. Indeed, it is no coincidence that almost every culture that has a recorded mythology has at the heart of that mythology its creation myth.

If one considers the creation myth by way of example, it soon becomes

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