Myth

Definition of Myth

Myth is a legendary or a traditional story that usually concerns an event, or a hero, with or without using factual or real explanations, particularly one concerning with demigods or deities, and describes some rites, practices and natural phenomenon. Typically, a myth involves historical events and supernatural beings. There are many types of myths such as classic myths, religious myths, and modern myths etc.

Characteristics of Myth

Myth usually features ruling gods, goddesses, deities, and heroes having god-like-qualities, but status lower than gods. Often, the daughter or son of a god (such as Percy Jackson) is fully mortal, and these characters have supernatural abilities and powers that raise them above average human beings. Myths are mostly very old, and happen to rule the world, when science, philosophy and technology were not very precise, as they are today. Therefore, people were unaware of certain questions like why the color of sky is blue, or why night is dark, or what are the causes of earthquakes etc. Thus, it was a myth that explained natural phenomena as well as described rituals and ceremonies to the people.

Examples of Myth from Literature

Example 1

Roman and Greek myths, though originally have not been available in English, have deeply influenced English works. During the times of ancient Greeks, they had a belief that some invisible gods like Zeus had created this world. We read in such Greek’s stories that passions for humans controlled the gods, and hence gods fought for them. Likewise, Romans also had beliefs in deities like Greeks. Due to mythological influences, many literary authors refer to the Greek and Roman myths in order to add meanings to their works such as Shakespeare in his play, “Romeo and Juliet,” uses Greek mythology when Juliet cries saying that, “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds, / Towards Phoebus’ lodging.” In Greek mythology, Phoebus was god of the sun, and here Juliet urges that god to bring him home hurriedly, so that night could come, and she may meet his lover Romeo.

Example 2

In another Greek mythology, Greeks devastated the city of Troy due to outburst of Trojan War, when the wife of the king Menelaus, Helen ran away with the prince of Troy. Apparently, Helen, a very beautiful woman from Greece, who was held responsible for the devastation of Troy. Yeats also tried to use this Greek mythology in his poem, No Second Troy, by creating a similarity between Helen and Maud Gonne. He also brought similarity between Trojan War and revolutionary and anti-British activities of Irishmen. Just like Helen, Yeats blamed and held Maud responsible for creating hatred in the hearts of Irishmen, and consequently they caused destruction and bloodshed.

Example 3

Biblical stories and myths have also played an important role shaping English literary works. John Milton in his poem “Paradise Lost” plays out the Genesis story about the Fall of Man from Garden of Eden and his subsequent eviction from there. In his novel, “East of Eden” John Steinbeck Golding in “Lord of the Flies” also played the same idea in which they have presented Eve as a seducer responsible for bringing sin into this world that we can clearly see in the medieval literature. We also have seen that many feminist literary critics of the twentieth-century have often made use of this myth in their research.

Example 4

T.S. Eliot uses two underlying myths to develop a structure of his long poem “The Waste Land.” These myths are of the Grail Quest and the Fisher King. Both myths originate from Gaelic traditions and come to the Christian civilization. Though Eliot has not taken these myths from Bible, both were significant for Europeans, as they incorporated them into European mythology, and these stories focused on the account of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Functions of Myth

Myths exist in every society, as they are basic elements of human culture. The main function of myths is to teach moral lessons and explain historical records. Authors of great literary works have taken their stories and themes from myths. Myths and their mythical symbols lead to creativity in literary works. We can understand a culture more deeply and in a much better way by knowing and appreciating its stories, dreams and myths. Myths came before religions and all religious stories are, in fact, retellings of global mythical themes. Besides literature, myths also play a great role in science, psychology and philosophy.

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