Literature and Film as Modern Mythology

By William K. Ferrell | Go to book overview

Chapter I
In the Beginning

Myth comes from the French language, which took the word from the Latin root mythus, derived from the Greek word muthos, and is defined in all three languages as a narrative, a fable, or a myth ( Partridge424). Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines myth as "1: A traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. 2: parable, allegory. 3 a: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence, b: an ill-founded belief held uncritically especially by an interested group. 4: the whole body of myths" (755).

Mythology books, depending on the background, belief system, or approach of the writer, will vary the definition using one or more of the following perspectives: myths are (1) a fanciful and entertaining verbalization of tribal superstition; (2) the literal translation of a ritual or the creative story enabling a ritual; (3) the transcendental creation of a primordial archetype by the subconscious mind; or (4) a poetic/metaphoric explanation of an objective reality. This diversity in application stems from the variety of disciplines that study myth. Anthropologists, paleontologists, mythologists, historians, theologians, archaeologists, psychologists, and literary scholars all have an interest in the study of myths.

One fact upon which all agree on is that ancient Sumerians developed written language around 3000 B.C.E. and left some of their myths, which date from at least 2500 B.C.E. These myths are known as the Enuma Elish, or "The Epic of Gilgamesh." It is also known that long before the time of written language, in dark caves and around tribal fires, primitive people

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