The book under review faces these questions directly, and will thus be useful to the instructor as well as to the student. On the question of what is Greek myth, Graf occupies a middle ground between two emerging extremes.
The first of these books showed the formation of the concept of myth in the modern period, beginning in the eighteenth century, and the retrojection of this concept onto Greek antiquity. The Greeks themselves, according to Detienne, had only the incipient concept found in Plato. W hat we thought was Greek myth was only "un poisson soluble dans les eaux de la mythologie.
Like Detienne, Calame puts emphasis on the non-existence of any ancient Greek terminology for "myth," "legend," etc. The lack of terminology is one of the arguments for the non-existence of any ancient Greek "native category" of what we call "myth. The other extreme, which can be called oralist, lacks both foundational tracts and a self-conscious school of exponents.
It is emerging more slowly, but no less certainly, than the first. An early formulation appears in in a paper published by William Hansen in Journal of Folklore Research. Hansen, starting from more or less the same observation that Calame makes concerning the absence of a general concept of myth in Greek antiquity, concludes that it is time for "Hellenists Of the speeches called muthoi , Martin chose a large subset consisting of commands, boast-and-insult contests "flyting" , and recitation of remembered events, and, on the basis of speech-act theory and comparative ethnological evidence, described these muthoi as "performances of self"; further, he argued that they must be imitations of styles of speaking actually practiced by those who listened to the poems.
As the narratives of remembered events are sometimes what we would call "myths," we can say, on the basis of Martin's findings, that for Homer and his audience, myths are oral performances. It is not surprising, if performance is the important thing, that, for a long time, muthos and logos could be used interchangably and that we find various genres of narrative, Aesop's fables, for example, referred to as muthoi. At a certain point, however, the word muthos came to refer to the contents of the narrative, not to the narration itself, and to particular contents, i.
Graf's moderate position is stated in his "Introduction: A Provisional Definition" A myth is a "traditional tale. Further, myth is a "peculiar kind of story" that "does not coincide with a particular text or literary genre" Myths continue to be reused because they have "cultural relevance," making "a valid statement about the origins of the world, of society and its institutions, about the gods and their relationship with mortals, in short, about everything on which human existence depends" 3.
Myths are adaptable and change as historical conditions change. This process continued in ancient Greece down to the time when the claims of truth had to satisfy new requirements of rationalism, though in Plato myth still retains expressive power for areas that are inaccessible to dialectical reasoning A more elaborate form of this same moderate position, directed to specialists, will be found in Walter Burkert's contribution to Mythos in mythenloser Gesellschaft. Graf's notion that myth is a "peculiar kind of story" is diametrically opposed to the post-structuralist denial of myth as a native category of ancient Greek mentality.
Graf glances at Detienne's book  but does not enter into controversy. But this notion makes sense to oralists, as does the kernel of Graf's definition, "traditional tale," and also his sharp distinction between myth and poetry. The oralist would regret that, having made this distinction, Graf proceeds to privilege the poetic forms of myth; cautiously stating, "It is just possible that myths were passed along in nonpoetic forms -- in prosaic, quotidian narratives not bound to set institutions The oralist would maintain that the nonpoetic forms were the normal ones and would invoke Homer as a witness to nonpoetic story-telling.
Homer fairly often represents a hero narrating a story about the past one of Martin's three types of muthos. When he does so, as for example in Achilles' recounting of the Niobe story to Priam, Homer does not represent the hero as a bard; on the contrary, Homer represents the hero as a story-teller Further, contrary to Graf's stress on large-scale diachronic variation in myth, the oralist would call attention to small-scale synchronic variation, as in Achilles' version of the Niobe story, which is tailored to Achilles' immediate purpose, i.
While Graf is undoubtedly correct that historical change and the persistent cultural relevance of myth produce diachronic variation 3 , there is another, more immediate "motor of the tradition" and that is the story-teller's desire to make a point.
All of Martin's three types of muthoi , including the narration of remembered events, are assertions of the self against someone else. The last few pages of Graf's Introduction are concerned with problems of terminology. The greatest one of all is the word "myth" itself. The poststructuralists make much of the fact that muthos never in the archaic and classical periods refers to a category of narrative corresponding to "myth" as in our expression "Greek myth.
The term that Graf especially wants to banish, "folktale" 7 , is one that I want to keep. If from achronological perspective the order might seem unorthodox — it shouldnot. It is just as old as epic, which clearly pre-dates the archaicperiod. And the traditions of lyric, like those of epic, were rooted inoral poetry, which is a matter of performance as well as composition. The same can be said about the epic poetryattributed to Homer: to perform this epic is to activate myth, and suchactivation is fundamentally a matter of ritual. In his chapter on Greek lyric, Nagy writes of theorientalizing of Lesbian traditions under the influence of the Lydiansof Asia Minor.
Hesiod's poeticcompositions, no less bound up with performance than lyric and Homericepic, attest a particular, even unique, saliency and transparency forthe formative history, documentation, and study of Greek myth and forthat reason are examined in close detail. The so-calledkingship-in-heaven tradition of the Theogony is one wellattested among various Near Eastern peoples of Asia Minor andMesopotamia and is reported to have existed in a Phoenician form aswell.
Hesiod's Works and Days is a didactic poem that is itself of a sort commonly encountered in theNear East the Biblical book of Proverbs perhaps being the mostfamiliar example , and Near Eastern influence in this case is alsoundeniable. With Richard Buxton's chapter on tragedy andGreek myth, we move some years beyond Homer and Hesiod, squarelyinto the world of classical Greek literature.
In these reembodiments, as heroes and divinities walkedthe stage, myths were not just narrated as past events: they wereactualised as present happenings. Then and there, but also now andhere; remote enough to allow room for pity, but close enough to inspireawe. Tragedy isa place of edges and margins, an in-between territory where boundaries— literal and metaphorical — are ripe for exploration andcontestation.
Greeks in Italy - XIV: The Sisyphos Painter | Krater side A:… | Flickr
Indeed, Dionysus [celebrated by the CityDionysia] is the most frequent butt of humour in the comedies as far aswe can tell: the god features regularly in his own festival. Thedifficulty here is that it is not always clear whether Aristophanes isproducing a parodic version of a myth or a parody of a particulartragic version of that myth. We have no real equivalentfor the traditional stories and histories that circulated among theGreeks and Romans concerning their origins, the origins of theirworld, their gods and the progeny of their gods, the relation betweenhumans and animals, and the fate awaiting mortals after death.
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