we may say that every responsible activity in pursuit of a definite end is, for the archaic world, a ritual. But since the majority of these activities have undergone a long process of desacralization and have, in modern societies, become profane, we have thought it proper to group them separately.
Cf. Eliade 1959, 1960, 1974; Roland Barthes speaks of myths as second-order semiotic systems in his essay ‘Myth today’ in Mythologies (London: Paladin, 1973): 109-45. For Greek myth as a protosociology of morals and theodicy see Vickers, 1973, Part 2, esp. chs 4, 5.
Contemporary discussion of ‘myth as a cultural system’ (and, more generally, the social functions of other forms of symbolic narrative) begins with the seminal work of Emile Durkheim, Ferdinand de Saussure, Marcel Mauss, Georges Dumézil, Vladimir Propp, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Arnold van Gennep, G.van der Leeuw, Marcel Granet, and their students—Roland Barthes, Georges Bataille, Emile Benveniste, René Girard, Edmund Leach, Clifford Geertz, Alan Dundes, Dan Sperber, Tzvetan Todorov, Victor Turner, Jean-Pierre Vernant, among the more prominent of these.
The Cambridge school of Jane Harrison, Gilbert Murray, Arthur B. Cook, and Francis M. Cornford also emphasizes the key difference between myth and other modes of storytelling by grounding the legomenon,—the thing-said,—of myth in the thing-performed, the dromenon of ritual praxis; myth’s vocation and power is to animate world-shaping rituals; other genres of fiction are not necessarily incarnated in ritual performances:
The myth and the ritual act both seek to explain the nature of reality, of the processes of the universe and of man’s place among them; but they also have a magical element in that the repetition of the processes by means of word and act gives men a sort of power over them or stabilizes the human role in a dangerous world liable to slip out of control. By word and act men are