Debunking a Myth: The Importance of Myths

Painting of Greek gods and Heros.

Perhaps the number one phrase people tell me is that I have to live in the real world. ‘Live in the real world’… that should sound exciting, but we lend it a rather dismal connotation. The real world is what you can see and touch, and this form of existence has everything to do with realizing limitations of reality versus what we all wish would happen. Anything not real is, by default, worthless… but is this really true?

Several years ago, a friend and I had a rather passionate argument over our respective favorite categories in a trivia game we played: he loves history, and I love mythology. He told me that mythology held, essentially, no value; it was just a collection of made-up stories, whereas real things compose history. This claim has stayed with me for a long time and, I have to say, I vehemently disagree.

In my peer’s fervency to prove himself right, he disregarded the impact a legend has on a culture and what it can tell us about said society, and he failed to examine the origin of these myths. If he had taken the time and considered these important factors, perhaps he would have seen the world differently.

Myth originates in fact—the fantastical ideas that compose the stories derive elements from reality. Take a famous tale: the story of Hades and Persephone. Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, steals the goddess Persephone, and she becomes his bride after eating a collection of pomegranate seeds. Persephone’s mother, the goddess of agriculture, abandons the humans to search for her daughter until a bargain for her annual return (spring) can be struck. Although this story may seem absurd to the skeptic, it reflects ancient attempts to explain the coming and going of the seasons, and closer inspections may reveal the culture’s relationships with death, marriage, motherhood and reconciliation, to name a few.

Myths also often draw upon real life events by adding fictional characters, such as how some scholars believe that Homer’s Iliad may have been inspired by an actual war.

With this lense, we can use myths to hypothesize about and study the “real world” history of ancient civilizations, while also grasping the society’s most important values. From this, we can understand how said civilization sustained itself, what led a ruler to make a seemingly rash decision or why a natural disaster so devastated people.

Mythology is not strictly “real;” its secrets may require more than a brief glance to unearth. However, suspending our skepticism to fully immerse in the ideas of those that have come before us grants us unparalleled knowledge, and this field should be treated with the respect it deserves.

Isabella Folio ’22

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