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Exposition Of Mythology Essay, Research Paper

Michael A. Murray

English 385




Since the beginning of time people have found great interest in the study of mythology and its origin. For the past five weeks I have been studying this deep and complex issue and have come to the conclusion that without myths history would not be the same. In this paper I will discuss what myths are and how scholars have broken them down. Scholars such as Joseph Campbell go into great detail to explain mythology and how it effects the human life.

First you must determine what a myth is? Webster’s New Riverside Dictionary defines a myth as, “A traditional story originating in a preliterate society, dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serve as primordial types in a primitive view of the world.” Through class discussions and the viewing of the films I would define a myth as, a sacred story involving gods, kings, and heroes. Myths usually tell some type of story of how the gods created man and all that he knows. It is believed that myths were created to give the people some type of guidelines to live their life by.

Myths have been handed down throughout generations so people would know what gods to worship and praise. It was common for the Egyptians and Greeks to build altars and monuments for their gods. The Athenians built the Parthenon to celebrate their superiority over the Persians and to give praise to their goddess, Athena. Through study and research it has been determined that Athena was the goddess of wisdom and war. The ancient Greeks built the Alter of Zeus as a reminder of his role as a supreme ruler. The Greeks saw Zeus as the ruler of the sky and as the god of lightning.

Mythology can be traced all the way back to prehistoric times during the Paleolithic Era. Some of the first signs of mythological belief as shown in the video can be found in the cave paintings in Lascaux, France. The Hall of Running Bulls is just one example were the artist of the painting is trying to capture the animals’ spirit. Campbell believed that each chamber of the cave was designed and created for different ceremonies and rituals. One example that Campbell talks about is a painting of a strange beast with horns on the beast head. Campbell explains that, “No animal in the world looks like that, and yet these artists painted animals in a way that no one’s been able to paint them since” (Campbell 17). Scholars have found examples of this beast in Australia being portrayed by tribe elders as a ritual dance. Even though the beast cannot be explained it is believed that it had magical charm and would bring the hunters good luck.

Mythology can be broken down into three categories: pure myth, heroic saga, and folklore. Pure myth explains how the heavens were created and how man should behave toward the gods and goddesses. Morford explains that, “Most Greek and Roman stories reflect this universal preoccupation with creation, the nature of god and humankind, the afterlife, and other spiritual concerns” (pg. 03). In almost every myth the gods are showing mankind how not to act by their tireless efforts in love, war, and chaos. To the Greek people gods were seen as the creators of heaven and earth with each god having a certain supernatural power. The gods not only created mankind but they also set laws and standards for the people of Greece to obey. The most common law as the book explains is the influencing of nature by mankind. All Greeks knew that it was forbidden to act as a god; do as the gods say, not as they do. One of best examples of this is the story of King Ixion who raped the goddess Hera and was sent to hell by Zeus to be lashed to a revolving wheel for eternity.

The heroic saga can be explained as the trials and tribulations a hero goes through to conquer chaos. Campbell explains that a hero must go through three stages: Departure, fulfillment and return. In the video Campbell explains how a hero must conquer these stages in order to turn chaos into order. Campbell relates the hero epic to the movie STAR WARS, by using Luke as the hero and his quest for defeating evil. He also explains how George Lucas portrays Ben as the samurai master who trains the hero in conquering chaos. In mythology all heroes must make great sacrifices and take great risks, which in turn may end their life.

Prometheus and his battle for mankind is seen as one of the great heroes. He was the son of Iapetus and the creator of mankind. Prometheus was known as the god who stole fire from Zeus to give to mankind. The most famous Greek hero is Achilles for his heroism during the Trojan War. Achilles fought for personal glory no matter what the cost was. A hero like Achilles has no fear of death and lives to fight. Other heroes such as Beowulf, Heracles, and Gilgamesh all set out to conquer evil and to turn chaos into order.

Folk tales are adventures about heroes that are told for mere pleasure. Folk tales are considered primitive stories that are fictional but provide beauty and mystery when told. Legends such as Perseus the slayer of Medusa have been passed down from generation to generation.

Heroes, regardless if they are from the past or present, are needed for the everyday existence. As Campbell explained a hero does not have to be strong and mighty, they just need to know how to turn chaos into order. Everyone has been a hero at one time or another regardless of how small or large the chaotic situation was. Campbell explains in great detail how everyone must take their own heroic journey to better understand their purpose in life. Campbell speaks of the metaphysical hero Buddha, who conquers the chaos within himself to find nirvana. Buddha believed that if you could conquer the chaos inside of yourself you would find internal peace and happiness.

Myths should not be mistaken for fact since there is no scientific evidence of these events but should be taken as advice. Morford states that, “Myth in a sense is the highest reality; and the thoughtless dismissal of myth as untruth, fiction, or a lie is the most barren and misleading definition of all” (pg.04). Myths are not just stories and tales to entertain us but they are also a part of our past and present culture. Campbell explains that, “The material of myth is the material of our life, the material of our body, and the material of our environment, and a living, vital mythology deals with these in terms that are appropriate to the nature of knowledge of the time” (Campbell 01). It is important to remember that without myths there would be an unexplainable void in history. Mythology is not only an explanation for the unknown but a tool that helps us better understand one another.

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