An overview of the role of myth in western civilization

Few today would accept this literally. In the first book of the Iliad, the son of Zeus and Leto Apolloline 9 is as instantly identifiable to the Greek reader by his patronymic as are the sons of Atreus Agamemnon and Menelausline In both cases, the audience is expected to have knowledge of the myths that preceded their literary rendering. Little is known to suggest that the Greeks treated Homer, or any other source of Greek myths, as mere entertainment, whereas there are prominent Greeks from Pindar to the later Stoa for whom myths, and those from Homer in particular, are so serious as to warrant bowdlerization or allegorization.

An overview of the role of myth in western civilization

The Early Greek World, History and Prehistory [For a more detailed history and cultural overview of ancient Greece, see the Perseus web site click here. Geography and Greek Culture The geography of Greece is a primary factor, if not the pre-eminent feature of the culture and lives of the ancient populations who lived there.

Inhabiting an area that is ninety percent mountains with little arable land forced the Greeks into ways of life which did not center strictly around farming and agriculture. They were, for the most part, driven to go to sea to make ends meet. Indeed, no place in Greece is further than fifty miles from the sea, so the inevitability of fishing and maritime adventure was incumbent on many in antiquity, as it still is.

To this day, many Greeks make a living in shipping, for instance, Aristotle Onassis, the multi-millionaire who acquired a fortune in international trade and married Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of her first husband. Ironically, while the mountainous topography pushed the Greeks to explore lands far beyond their immediate locale, at the same time it also separated the cities of Greece and obstructed intra-Hellenic contact, leading many of them to develop along discrete, sometimes incompatible lines.

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For instance, settlements as close as Athens and Thebes which are less than sixty miles apart not only came to see each other as "foreign" but even evolved a long-lasting rivalry that persisted into the Classical Age.

Ironically, in some ways the ancient Greeks became generally friendlier with peoples across the sea than their own neighbors, because the landscape made foreign nations seem "closer" than many cities on the Greek mainland.

Overall, their geographical situation forced the ancient Greeks from early on to look outward from their immediate locality and internationalize their interests. This broadened their horizons and exposed them like few other civilizations to foreign ideas and ways of living.

The ensuing cosmopolitanism played an important role in their development as a focal group in ancient Western Civilization. For a people living on the edge of nowhere, they found themselves uniquely thrust in medias res "into the middle of things".

The Prehistory of Greece The earliest inhabitants of Greece are a mysterious—and possibly mythological—people called the Pelasgians about whom we know very little.

An overview of the role of myth in western civilization

These natives and their culture were overwhelmed and ultimately utterly annihilated by the invasion of a new people known now as the Indo-Europeans click here to read more about the Indo-Europeans. If it were not for a handful of Pelasgian words like plinth "brick"a term preserved in ancient Greek, along with a few city-names like Corinth and other scattered vestiges of the Pelasgians' language, we would hardly even know these people ever existed.

That's how completely devastating was the Indo-European conquest of this region. So, when people today study the ancient Greeks, they are examining not the earliest known humans in the area but later invaders called the Indo-Europeans. This is clear because of the language the Greeks spoke. All extant forms of ancient Greek clearly derive from a common ancestor called Proto-Indo-European, a language which engendered a large number of daughter languages found across much of the Eurasian continent, all the way from India to Norway.

These closely related tongues show that the Indo-Europeans must have migrated over thousand of miles in different directions, displacing natives and settling themselves in lands across a wide swath of the Eurasian continent. Another thing we know about the Indo-Europeans is that they tended to enter a region in successive waves.

That is, Indo-Europeans rarely migrated into an area just once, and Greece was no exception. As early as BCE one Indo-European contingent had begun infiltrating the Greek peninsula and by the end of that millennium at least three major discrete migrations of these intruders had surged across various parts of Greece.

One racial group of these Indo-Europeans was called the Ionians. They settled along the eastern coast of Greece, in particular the city of Athens, and along the western coast of Asia Minor modern Turkey.

Another group, the Dorians, settled the Peloponnese the southern part of Greece and many inland areas. The result was a "dark age" accompanied by massive disruptions in the Greek economy and civilization, including a total loss of literacy.

This dark age lasted about three centuries, from to BCE and, while it seems from our perspective today like a dismal time, it must have been a dynamic and fascinating period in Greek history, perhaps a wonderful time to have lived.

The lack of written historical records—the inevitable product of the age's illiteracy—leaves the impression of a vast void but, to judge the period from its outcome, it gave shape to much of the rest of Greek history.

Many of the things we associate with Greek culture—for instance, vase-painting, epic poetry, and ship-building—assumed their basic and most familiar forms during this "dark" age. Particularly, many of the Greek myths read and studied today are traceable to this time period.

Quite a few are set in the generations just before the dark age or in its early phases. For example, the famous cycle "collection" of myths about the Trojan War—if, in fact, it is based on any real event in history—must date to some time around BCE.

These myths found their most brilliant expression in the early Greek epic poems attributed to Homer, ancient Greece's greatest early poet. Homer's first epic, The Iliad, tells the tale of the Greeks' sack of Troy and the anger of their great hero, Achilles.

Among other famous characters included there are the beautiful Helen and her hapless Greek husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta.

His brother, Agamemnon, the king of neighboring Mycenae who leads the expedition of Greeks to Troy, is married to Helen's sister Clytemnestra with whom he has several children including Electra and Orestes.

All later became enduring characters in drama as well as epic. The gods also play a large role in The Iliad, in particular, the king of the gods Zeus, the sun god Apollo, and the goddess of wisdom Athena. Homer's other epic, The Odyssey, narrates the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus as he wanders around the Mediterranean Sea trying for ten years to get home to Ithaca, an island on the western coast of Greece.

Along the way he encounters a number of deities and monsters and much mayhem, but ultimately with the help of his patroness, the goddess Athena, he arrives back in his kingdom safe, if not entirely sound.

There encounters his wife Penelope and son Telemachus after an absence of twenty years. These stories convey such a compelling sense of realism about their day and time that more than one scholar has been tempted to see in them history rather than mere myth, but their historicity is questionable at best.

One such investigator was Heinrich Schliemann, a nineteenth-century German millionaire and archaeologist, who excavated what is now known as Troy.The ensuing cosmopolitanism played an important role in their development as a focal group in ancient Western Civilization. For a people living on the edge of nowhere, they found themselves uniquely thrust in medias res ("into the middle of things").

Transcript of Greek Mythology's Influence on Today's Western Culture Introduction Language Discussion Question Branding, Advertising & Media Athletics Greek mythology has had a large influence on modern day sports, especially the Olympic Games, held every four years in Olympus.

The opposite here is a non-western world in Africa, Asia and Latin America – now dubbed “the global south” – though many people in Latin America will claim a western inheritance, too.

Hence, in Western civilization the Greek ideas on the subject of myth do not merely represent a start but form the roots that nourished systems devised by later scholars. In the first place, allegorical explanations served to extract the meaning of myths for many thinkers in classical civilization.

Sep 01,  · Watch video · After deposing the last western emperor, Romulus Augustus, Odovacar’s troops proclaimed him king of Italy, bringing an ignoble end to the long, tumultuous history of ancient Rome. An Overview of Western Civilization The Six Major Periods of Western Civilization (BCE = BC; CE = AD) 1.

Mesopotamia, Egypt, & Hebrews ( BCE) 2. Ancient Greece ( BCE).

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