Mythography

Mythography

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A mythographer, or a mythologist is a compiler of myth
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

s. The word derives from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 "μυθογραφία" (mythografia), "writing of fables", from "μῦθος" (mythos), "speech, word, fact, story, narrative" + "γράφω" (graphο), "to write, to inscribe". Mythography is then the rendering of myths in the arts. In the 20th century, the mythographer might also be a scholarly interpreter, sometimes drawing on field work, often with the aim of contributing to the fields of cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

, religious studies
Religious studies
Religious studies is the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. It describes, compares, interprets, and explains religion, emphasizing systematic, historically based, and cross-cultural perspectives.While theology attempts to...

, or a myth theory.

Rationalistic approaches


One of the first Western attempts at rationalization of mythology, and more generally of religious beliefs, can be traced to Euhemerus
Euhemerus
Euhemerus was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Euhemerus' birthplace is disputed, with Messina in Sicily as the most probable location, while others champion Chios, or Tegea.-Life:...

. This Greek mythographer at the court of Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

 in the late 4th century BC held that myths were actually true stories of historical persons, twisted and amplified. This doctrine is called Euhemerism. Even today, the Ancient astronaut theories has been described as "neo-Euhemerism" by French sociologist Jean-Bruno Renard.

The philosophe
Philosophe
The philosophes were the intellectuals of the 18th century Enlightenment. Few were primarily philosophers; rather they were public intellectuals who applied reason to the study of many areas of learning, including philosophy, history, science, politics, economics and social issues...

s
, such as Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

, were interested in dispelling myths, not explaining their existence. While the basic understandings of the Western world were informed by Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 in all areas of study, the term mythographer referred to someone who attempted to explain pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 myths in terms of misremembering the events of the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 or wilfully altering them. Some of the theories of explanation from classical times were also used, such as the apotheosis
Apotheosis
Apotheosis is the glorification of a subject to divine level. The term has meanings in theology, where it refers to a belief, and in art, where it refers to a genre.In theology, the term apotheosis refers to the idea that an individual has been raised to godlike stature...

 of a local hero. This was before the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

, or, speaking more precisely, before the arrival of historicism
Historicism
Historicism is a mode of thinking that assigns a central and basic significance to a specific context, such as historical period, geographical place and local culture. As such it is in contrast to individualist theories of knowledges such as empiricism and rationalism, which neglect the role of...

.

Romanticism


It has been a consistent strand of Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

, to insist on a level of validity of myth, and these arguments have often connected myth with the creative imagination. These notions come together in the concept of mythopoeic
Mythopoeic
The term mythopoeic has several applications:*mythopoeic thought, a hypothetical stage of human thought that produces myths....

 imagination, which has been articulated in the anthropological work of Jadran Mimica, among others. Theories with an academic basis which support this thinking have been popular, in the sense of receiving much attention; without ever being able to support claims of reliability acceptable to more rationalistic perspectives.

Myth theories


Already in the 19th century there was a tendency to produce large-scale myth theories, such as those of Max Müller
Max Müller
Friedrich Max Müller , more regularly known as Max Müller, was a German philologist and Orientalist, one of the founders of the western academic field of Indian studies and the discipline of comparative religion...

 with emphasis on solar myths (shared with Adalbert Kuhn the philologist), Andrew Lang
Andrew Lang
Andrew Lang was a Scots poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology. He is best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales. The Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St Andrews are named after him.- Biography :Lang was born in Selkirk...

, Wilhelm Mannhardt
Wilhelm Mannhardt
Wilhelm Mannhardt was a German scholar and folklorist. He is known for his work on Baltic mythology, as a collector, and for his championing of the solar theory....

, and James Frazer
James Frazer
Sir James George Frazer , was a Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion...

. The work of Müller and Frazer, in particular, was seen by others as a contribution to comparative religion
Comparative religion
Comparative religion is a field of religious studies that analyzes the similarities and differences of themes, myths, rituals and concepts among the world's religions...

, and a myth theory was an implicit commentary on Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. This aspect of mythography was certainly controversial, and those who worked in the area tended to make the inclusion of Christian sacred narratives within the theory only tacitly. The scope of theories also expanded to cover myth from all parts of the world, where the initial field was mainly classical mythology
Classical mythology
Classical mythology or Greco-Roman mythology is the cultural reception of myths from the ancient Greeks and Romans. Along with philosophy and political thought, mythology represents one of the major survivals of classical antiquity throughout later Western culture.Classical mythology has provided...

 and myths from areas adjacent to the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. Mythography reached both into the past, for example with the background of all Indo-European languages, and wherever in the contemporary world anthropologists were working. Cyril Charles Martin, writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia
Catholic Encyclopedia
The Catholic Encyclopedia, also referred to as the Old Catholic Encyclopedia and the Original Catholic Encyclopedia, is an English-language encyclopedia published in the United States. The first volume appeared in March 1907 and the last three volumes appeared in 1912, followed by a master index...

of 1913 on paganism
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

, summed up theories as follows:
Scholars such as Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

, Georges Dumezil
Georges Dumézil
Georges Dumézil was a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society...

, James Hillman
James Hillman
James Hillman was an American psychologist. He studied at, and then guided studies for, the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, founded a movement toward archetypal psychology and retired into private practice, writing and traveling to lecture, until his death at his home in Connecticut on October 27,...

 and Claude Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer, the "father of modern anthropology"....

 continued this tradition in the 20th century. The direction of comparative religion is represented by Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day...

, and also to some extent by the literary critic René Girard
René Girard
René Girard is a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science. His work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy...

. The French sociological school has argued in terms of myths having social function.

There were numerous other mythographic 'schools' in the first half of the 20th century. Ernst Cassirer
Ernst Cassirer
Ernst Cassirer was a German philosopher. He was one of the major figures in the development of philosophical idealism in the first half of the 20th century...

's approach was through philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, specifically the so-called Marburg School of Kantian thought; it had a direct influence on Susanne Langer
Susanne Langer
Susanne Katherina Langer was an American philosopher of mind and of art who was influenced by Ernst Cassirer and Alfred North Whitehead. She was one of the first women to achieve an academic career in philosophy and the first to be popularly and professionally recognized as an American philosopher...

, and has been traced as an influence on Mikhail Bakhtin
Mikhail Bakhtin
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language...

.

Mythography is the study of the study of myths (the study of myths itself being mythology), as well. In examining how mythology has been studied, one can see the differences and similarities readily, as evidenced by William Doty's Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals.

Myth criticism


Besides the anthropologist's reason — better understanding of a particular culture in its own terms, that is, for the purposes of cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

 — there are very varied reasons behind the interest of the mythographer. The origins of Greek drama were the immediate cause of the rise of the myth-ritual school, of Jane Harrison
Jane Harrison
Jane Harrison is an indigenous Australian writer and playwright.A descendant of the Muruwari people of New South Wales, from the area around Bourke and Brewarrina, Harrison grew up in the Victorian Dandenongs with her mother and sister. She began her career as an advertising copywriter, before...

, Gilbert Murray
Gilbert Murray
George Gilbert Aimé Murray, OM was an Australian born British classical scholar and public intellectual, with connections in many spheres. He was an outstanding scholar of the language and culture of Ancient Greece, perhaps the leading authority in the first half of the twentieth century...

 and others. Karl Kerenyi
Karl Kerényi
Károly Kerényi was a Hungarian scholar in classical philology, one of the founders of modern studies in Greek mythology.- Hungary 1897–1943 :...

, also involved in Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, was an associate of Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

, who adopted mythological material in his psychological theories.

In general literary criticism
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

, myth criticism was put forward by Maud Bodkin
Maud Bodkin
Amy Maud Bodkin was a British classical scholar, writer on mythology, and literary critic. She is best known for her 1934 book Archetypal Patterns in Poetry: Psychological Studies of Imagination...

, Philip Wheelwright
Philip Wheelwright
Philip Ellis Wheelwright was an American philosopher, classical scholar and literary theorist.He is best known for two books in the field of literary criticism, The Burning Fountain: a Study in the Language of Symbolism and Metaphor and Reality , and his book on early Greek philosophy, The...

, and others such as Francis Fergusson
Francis Fergusson
Francis Fergusson was an American academic and critic, a theorist of drama and mythology. Fergusson taught for a time on the faculty of the department of English at Rutgers University and is regarded as an influence on poet Robert Pinsky....

, Leslie Fiedler
Leslie Fiedler
Leslie Aaron Fiedler was a Jewish-American literary critic, known for his interest in mythography and his championing of genre fiction. His work also involves application of psychological theories to American literature. He was in practical terms one of the early postmodernist critics working...

, and G. Wilson Knight
G. Wilson Knight
George Richard Wilson Knight was an English literary critic and academic, known particularly for his interpretation of mythic content in literature, and his essays The Wheel of Fire on Shakespeare's drama...

. The critic Northrop Frye
Northrop Frye
Herman Northrop Frye, was a Canadian literary critic and literary theorist, considered one of the most influential of the 20th century....

, working from Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

 and the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 as fundamental, always wished to distinguish himself from the myth-ritual school, but is often seen as in some sense having summed up the whole tendency. Robert Graves
Robert Graves
Robert von Ranke Graves 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985 was an English poet, translator and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works...

 was interested in poetic theory, and supported his celebrated White Goddess with analysis harking back to Müller and Frazer, as well as the myth-ritual tendency.

Universal myth theories


The old idea of a universal myth theory, derided by Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

, is in modern times most famously represented by Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell
Joseph John Campbell was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience...

. There were many books written in the 17th century purporting to explain all myths. But Voltaire was deriding a Christian myth theory, while Campbell proposes a psychological one.

Perhaps the last work which employed this earlier use of the term mythography was George Eliot
George Eliot
Mary Anne Evans , better known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, journalist and translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era...

's novel Middlemarch
Middlemarch
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, later Marian Evans. It is her seventh novel, begun in 1869 and then put aside during the final illness of Thornton Lewes, the son of her companion George Henry Lewes...

. Its character Casaubon was involved in such a project in the mid-19th century. The story tells of a woman who proved unable to finish the project after his death and abandoned it. Casaubon's character is a satire on academic pedantry and hubris.

See also

  • Allegory in the Middle Ages
    Allegory in the Middle Ages
    Allegory in the Middle Ages was a vital element in the synthesis of Biblical and Classical traditions into what would become recognizable as Medieval culture...

  • Comparative mythology
    Comparative mythology
    Comparative mythology is the comparison of myths from different cultures in an attempt to identify shared themes and characteristics. Comparative mythology has served a variety of academic purposes...

  • Folkloristics
    Folkloristics
    Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore. The term derives from a nineteenth century German designation of folkloristik to distinguish between folklore as the content and folkloristics as its study, much as language is distinguished from linguistics...

  • Myth and ritual
    Myth and ritual
    In traditional societies, myth and ritual are two central components of religious practice. Although myth and ritual are commonly united as parts of religion, the exact relationship between them has been a matter of controversy among scholars...

  • Mythology
    Mythology
    The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

  • Mythopoeia
  • Religion and mythology
    Religion and mythology
    Religion and mythology differ, but have overlapping aspects. Both terms refer to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Generally, mythology is considered one component or aspect of religion...


External links