Classical Mythology/Euhemerism

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Classical Mythology Course

Classical Mythology Course
Odysseus among the Sirens

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What is a myth?



The 'Mask of Agamemnon', discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae showed that there was some truth behind Homer's story of bronze-age warriors in Mycenae.

Euhemerus was an ancient Greek who wrote that myths about gods were actually legends about real people from a long forgotten past.

A Euhemerist definition of a myth would be:

A myth is a distorted account of an actual event in the distant past.

This interpretation of myth continued into the Christian world, the Middle Ages, and well into the modern period. It is still used today. The excavations of Troy and Mycenae by Heinrich Schliemann were based on the belief that the myths about the Trojan War had a kernel of historical truth in them.

Today, scholars still use myths as evidence for ancient societies. For many societies, myths are the main source of literary evidence about their cultures, beliefs, and social systems. In a way, these scholars are using myth texts and artistic representations together with other records to illuminate each other, in a form of New Historicism. Scholars such as Marija Gimbutas have interpreted stories of male gods, such as Zeus or Marduk coming to power after a rule by older female deities, such as Gaia or Tiamat as evidence of an earlier matrilineal, matriarchal culture. Interpreting myths in this manner is essentially historicist, because it argues that the structure of the myths preserve relics of a distantly remembered past.


Theories of Myth Interpretation[edit]

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Classical Mythology Course

Classical Mythology Course
Odysseus among the Sirens

Return to
What is a myth?



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