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What is the purpose of mythology? Show more Show less
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From the Greek pantheon to the Roman Dii Consentes to the Nordic gods and goddesses, mythology has played a major role in human culture for centuries. Evidently, the stories these people told shaped their societies, worldviews, and day-to-day lives, but why did they tell them in the first place?

Mythology explains the world Show more Show less

At its core, mythology is meant to help people better understand, relate to, and connect with the world around them, as well as the conflicts inside of themselves.
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Mythology literally explains phenomena in the outside world

Long before the age of reason, people relied on mythology to help them understand seemingly-inexplicable aspects of the world around them.

Context

Many myths are fantastical stories that explain common occurrences, from childbirth to rainfall to the sunrise. The argument that mythology was used to rationalize natural phenomena to peoples who had no scientific basis for understanding them is one of the most commonly-cited interpretations of ancient myths.

The Argument

In ancient times, the world probably felt like a terrifyingly unpredictable place. Humanity had to deal with all of the same natural hazards we see occurring today, from earthquakes to volcanoes to floods to droughts, but with none of the science that we have now to explain or predict their occurrences. On a less catastrophic (but still world-shaking) level, people had to come to terms with universal life events like childbirth, sickness, and death, without being able to truly understand their causes. Because of this, humanity collectively (and likely, subconsciously) turned to mythology as a means of rationalizing the world around them in order to make it more palatable for everyday life. For example, in ancient Egypt, myths explained earthquakes as the laughter of the earth god, Geb. They rationalized flooding as the way Hapi, the Nile god, maintained cosmic balance and they believed the sunrise and sunset to be the work of Khepri, the god of renewal and life. On a more personal level, mythology provided comfort for the vulnerable, with claims that Anubis, the god of mummification, guided the dead to the underworld, and that Sekhmet, the goddess of war, protected the sick. Though these examples are exclusive to ancient Egypt, the same effect can be seen across cultures and throughout history. Again and again, mythology has been created to rationalize the irrational, unpredictable, and frightening world around us.

Counter arguments

This argument is an oversimplification of the significance of mythology throughout history, ignoring the clear metaphorical undertones present in countless myths and the cultural impact that they had. Further, it ignores the myths that do not seek to explain any singular natural event, like many ancient epics, and implies that ancient cultures had no kind of scientific understanding to explain the world around them, when many of them did.

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This page was last edited on Friday, 14 Aug 2020 at 01:48 UTC

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