Page 8 || Encyclopedia Article || Fantasy Arts || Modern Surrealism Art Observation || Mythology
(modern surrealism movement)
Mythology, the body of myths of a particular culture, and the study and interpretation of such myths. A myth may be broadly defined as a narrative that through many retellings has become an accepted tradition in a society. By this definition, the term mythology might include all traditional tales, from the creation stories of ancient Egypt to the sagas of Icelandic literature to the American folktale of Paul Bunyan.
Myths are universal, occurring in almost all cultures. They typically date from a time before the introduction of writing, when they were passed orally from one generation to the next. Myths deal with basic questions about the nature of the world and human experience, and because of their all-encompassing nature, myths can illuminate many aspects of a culture.
II What Are Myths?
(modern surrealism movement)
Although it is difficult to draw rigid distinctions among various types of traditional tales, people who study mythology find it useful to categorize them. The three most common types of tales are sagas, legends, and folktales.
When a tale is based on a great historical (or supposedly historical) event, it is generally known as a saga. Despite a saga's basis in very distant historical events, its dramatic structure and characters are the product of storytellers' imaginations. Famous sagas include the Greek story of the Trojan War and the Germanic epic poem the Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs).
A legend is a fictional story associated with a historical person or place. For example, many early saints of the Christian church are historical figures whose lives have been embellished with legend (see Saint Denis; Saint George). Legends often provide examples of the virtues of honored figures in the history of a group or nation. The traditional American story about young George Washington and the cherry tree-in which he could not lie about chopping it down-is best described as a legend, because George Washington is a historical figure but the story about the cherry tree is recognized today as fictional.
Folktales, a third variety of traditional tale, are usually simple narratives of adventure built around elements of character and plot-for example, the young man who slays a monster and wins the hand of a princess.
The Greek tale of Perseus is a good example of this theme. He saves the Ethiopian princess Andromeda from a sea monster and then marries her. Folktales may contain a moral or observation about life, but their chief purpose is entertainment.
Myths may include features of sagas, legends, and folktales. What makes one of these tales a myth is its serious purpose and its importance to the culture. Experts usually define a myth as a story that has compelling drama and deals with basic elements and assumptions of a culture. Myths explain, for example, how the world began; how humans and animals came into being; how certain customs, gestures, or forms of human activity originated; and how the divine and human worlds interact. Many myths take place at a time before the world as human beings know it came into being. Because myth-making often involves gods, other supernatural beings, and processes beyond human understanding, some scholars have viewed it as a dimension of religion. However, many myths address topics that are not typically considered religious-for example, why features of the landscape take a certain shape.
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