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  • Hey there, I'm Mike Rugnetta

  • This is Crash Course mythology,

  • and in the first episode of this series,

  • we defined what we mean by myth.

  • I also said that we weren't gonna get too theoretical

  • because the theory of mythology gets complicated quickly--

  • but you all have asked for an episode on theories of mythology;

  • ...and if you know me, and the other things that I make,

  • you know how I feel.. about talking theory.

  • So... that's what we're gonna do;

  • and, ok, that ask may have just been some strong-arming from Thoth,

  • but who can say no to that face?!?

  • [intro music]

  • So.. let's look at how people think about mythology

  • and give you some ideas about how to analyze

  • myths yourself.

  • We're gonna start with the definition of

  • MYTH - OLOGY

  • Unlike myths themselves, which as we pointed out

  • are difficult to define, mythology

  • is pretty straightforward--

  • since in english, "ology" means basically the study of--

  • "mythology" is the systematic study of myths...

  • ...a thing you probably already figured out for yourself

  • at this point in the series.

  • The real question is..

  • HOW are myths studied,

  • and for that we're gonna jump in our time-machine

  • --courtesy of Zurvan the zoroastrian god of time--

  • check your divine flux capacitor and buckle up.

  • So, we start in ancient Greece. In the first episode

  • I mentioned that critical analysis of myths has been around for a long time.

  • As early as the mid 500's BCE

  • presocratic philosophers like Xenophanes were criticizing Hesiod and Homer

  • for attributing all of the evil and shameful aspects of humanity to the gods.

  • Plato was among the first to equate myths with 'lying'

  • and, as we discussed in episode 1, that idea has stuck.

  • But Plato further complicated this issue because he claimed that myths about

  • gods, heroes, and fantastic creatures were irrational and therefore, 'false.'

  • Yet philosophical myths like the ones he put forward in "The Republic"

  • served a rational purpose.. and were 'true.'

  • Sorry Thoth, you're gonna have to talk it over with Veritas, Roman goddess of truth.

  • A little bit after Plato came the influential thinker Euhemeros.

  • He assumed that people who lived before him were primitive, with no concept of science,

  • so they created fanciful versions of historical events to explain things they didn't understand.

  • In Euhemeros's opinion, Zeus was an early human king whose deeds became legendary and,

  • as those legends were retold, he transformed into a god.

  • Euhemerism has come to mean interpreting "Myths as primitive explanations of the natural world

  • or as time-distorted accounts of long-past historical events."

  • Although Euhemeros wasn't particularly influential in his own time, his ideas were picked up later by Roman thinkers--

  • --especially Christians.

  • Early church-thinkers, like Tertullian and Clement of Alexanderia, took up the Platonic sense of myth as 'falsehood',

  • and upon it they based a new theory: that the Greek and Roman myths were influenced by demons

  • who wanted the stories to prepare their listeners for the story of Jesus, and to provide a contrast between him

  • and the pagan gods.

  • ..so, I mean, those are some pretty helpful demons.. I guess?

  • These early mythologists set up a dichotomy between 'mythos,' associated with falsehood,

  • and 'logos,' which Christian thinkers associated with transcendant truth.

  • This synthesis of Plato and Christianity was the basis of Western mythology until the Renaissance.

  • For many centuries European artists drew a great deal from classical Greek and Roman myths

  • but, mythology as a study didn't really take off until the 18th and 19th centuries,

  • drawing on the linguistic discovery that the languages of India, SouthWest-Asia and Europe are all related--

  • they're all derived from a single language,

  • now known as "Proto-Indo-Europian".

  • The discovery of Proto-Indo-Europian led some to posit that it was spoken by a group called "Aryans,"

  • whose myths were the basis for all European, Indian, and Southwest-Asian myths--

  • --a purported explanation for their similarities.

  • In addition to the Aryan hypothesis, this discovery also gave way to a broadly comparative mythology

  • that focused much more on origin and content than function.

  • There's no real evidence that these Aryans ever existed,

  • but that didn't stop romantic thinkers like Johann Gottfried Herder

  • who believed that their myths, along with other things, embodied the simplicity and purity of the German 'volk.'

  • That sounds innocuous enough until we learn that the Nazis would later appropriate Herders pro-German ideas

  • to justify their atrocities and legitimize their hateful ideology.

  • The study of myth changes again in the 20th century when it joins forces with the new discipline of anthropology.

  • Anthropologists wouldn't just read about myths in libraries, they would conduct fieldwork

  • to discover how myths functioned in living societies.

  • Although in the early days of anthropology the object of study was still societies considered 'primitive,'

  • ...at least by those anthropologists.

  • Let's go to the thought bubble--

  • One of the towering figures in this new way of studying myths was the Scottish anthropologist Sir James Frazer

  • who could really rock a beard.

  • His twelve volume book, "The Golden Bough,"

  • centers on different versions of a myth in which sacred kings are slaughtered

  • in order to ensure a bountiful harvest.

  • Frazer supported the concepts of myths as primitive science,

  • which attributed to the will of deities, people or animals

  • that which modern science attributes to the impersonal functioning of

  • various physical laws and biological processes.

  • That's another way of saying, "Hey, if you haven't quite mastered physics, blame a god."

  • To be honest, that's what I do.

  • Ooooh! A GOD!

  • One of the mythologists to follow Frazer,

  • Bronisław Malinowski, did fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands

  • and outlined the new anthropological view of myth that grew out of working with living peoples.

  • Studied alive, myth... is not symbolic, but a direct expression of its subject-matter;

  • ... a narrative resurrection of a primeval reality,

  • ... Myth fulfills in primitive culture an indispensable function;

  • it expresses, enhances and codifies belief;

  • it safeguards and enforces morality;

  • it vouches for the efficiency of ritual

  • and contains practical rules for the guidance of man.

  • Yeah, that 'primitive peoples' part is a little hard to take. Early anthropology was pretty judgy.

  • But this new approach had the advantage of

  • focusing on what so-called primitive people know,

  • rather than what they don't.

  • Building on the work of anthropologists, recent mythologists

  • have tried to connect their work to the lived experiences of actual human beings.

  • --Thanks, Thought Bubble!

  • At around the same time that anthropology was gaining prominence,

  • the new field of psychology was also looking to myths

  • for an explanation of human experience.

  • Two of the best known psychologists,

  • Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung,

  • posit that the source of myths is the human unconscious,

  • and that mythical characters are projections of that unconscious.

  • We're gonna return to these thinkers in a later episode,

  • but for now it's helpful to understand the fundamental difference between the two.

  • For Freud, the unconscious is the true psychical reality;

  • but our conscious minds, like Tom Cruise,

  • "CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!"

  • So we make these terrible realities palatable, by creating imaginative works,

  • like myths,

  • which are strategies for managing the internal forces that shape our thoughts, feelings and actions.

  • Jung similarly saw myths as a projection of the unconscious,

  • but for him.. the unconscious was collective and universal

  • --NOT individual.

  • It's like a reservoir, from which we all drink.

  • A reservoir with more dreams... and less flouride

  • They put that in the reservoir itself, right?

  • Jung defined a number of archetypes that he saw as aspects of every person's psyche

  • and, in his estimation, the characters that appear in myths

  • are versions of these archetypes.

  • The collective nature of human consciousness

  • may be one reason we can find similar mythic characters

  • from stories originating in many parts of the world.

  • And of course, we couldn't do an episode on thoeries of mythology

  • without mentioning the best known mythologist of the twentieth century,

  • Lets hear it for: Joseph Campbell.

  • Campbell became famous in the 1980s for a television series,

  • "The Power of Myth," also with Bill Moyers.

  • And George Lucas also credited Campbell with influencing Star Wars.

  • Luke, guess... he's your father.

  • More on that later.

  • Campbell's understanding of myth, and particularly of hero stories,

  • is a reflection of the American valorization of rugged individuals.

  • For Campbell, "Mythology is ultimately and always

  • the vehicle through which the individual

  • finds a sense of identity and place in the world."

  • Campbell synthesized the ideas of psychoanalysts,

  • comparative mythologists, and literary and cultural critics

  • to create his own theory of a single "mono-myth"

  • that underlies all mythical stories.

  • Meanwhile, French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss

  • -- no relationship to the blue-jeans --

  • developed a theory for describing myths by looking at their structure.

  • Structuralism holds that specific instances of culture,

  • like myths, betray a much more complicated underlying structure.

  • What that structure is, and how it works,

  • depends upon which structuralist you're talking to.

  • Levi-Strauss, arguably the first structuralist, was all about...

  • BINARIES.

  • Culture is built a relationship between..

  • male and female,

  • hero and villain,

  • even cooked and raw, among many others.

  • For him, myths, like all units of culture,

  • sit atop these inescapable opposing binaries.

  • And, since many students of mythology will have heard of him and his theories,