Mythology in the Ancient World

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Myths exist in every part of the world and are an integral part of the culture and identity. Ancient societies relied heavily on mythology to entertain, to answer questions, to explain and to implement social expectations. But most importantly, it allowed these people to explain the creation of the universe, the birth of mankind, the forces of nature, human condition and the purpose of life. As a result, myths can be considered essential for certain groups of peoples to explain the powerful forces that shape and affect their lives. These are evident in the mythology of Rome, Greece, Christian myths, the Norse mythologies and the myths of Mesopotamia. Most ancient myths are often stories of origins, dreams, archetypes, metaphysical aspects, proto-scientific aspects, religion and sometimes just entertaining stories. The most popular myths are ones about gods and goddesses, and ones about heroes. Both these two types of mythology gave these cultures an individual identity unique to themselves. It can be seen that myths connected different aspects of human life and experience. From these myths it is clear that they played a major role in the lives of these people. However “myths are not merely explanations, but also function to assure, encourage, and inspire.” (Internet 4)

Creation myths were the most popular myths and underpinned their understanding of the universe. These divine myths provided explanations, reassured life, encouraged people to live on and inspired great achievements. The creation of the universe and also humans are the same in the myths of the Greeks and the Romans. The gods and goddesses were the same for both these cultures but the Romans gave those gods Roman names. Ultimately, creation myths are popular because they allow questions about the origin of the universe and mankind to be answered. Moreover, these myths explain the very existence of man and life’s purpose. In Greek myths, origins were attributed to the divine myth about the Rise of the Olympians. The Olympians’ supreme reign over the universe came at the expense of their father, the Titan Cronus. Cronus had come “to power at the expense of his father, Uranus” (Internet 1), and thus knew an inevitable revenge by his children. Thus he is told to have swallowed his children immediately after birth trying to prevent this fate. This myth carries significance in terms of both origins and also human condition. It shows that “avoiding fate... doesn't have a happy ending.” (Internet 1) Zeus, one of his children, was spiriting away to grow safely to manhood and later returned to force Cronus into regurgitating his other children. Zeus and his sisters and brothers were re-united and fought in battles called the Titanomachy. Eventually the Olympians won, the Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus, and Zeus was made king. This myth underpins their interpretation of how the universe came to be. Furthermore, this myth explained other aspects of the universe. The gods and goddesses were assigned different roles which “formed the earth and its creatures and the Sun, Moon, and Stars.” (Internet 4) Zeus made himself God of the Sky and all its phenomena, including the clouds as well as the thunderbolts. Hestia became goddess of the Hearth. Zeus gave his brother Poseidon rule of the Sea. Demeter became a goddess of Fertility, Hera was the goddess of Marriage and Childbirth, while Hades, one of Zeus’ other brothers, was made god of the Underworld. The Underworld is a common element in the Norse myths and the Mesopotamian myths. Virgil describes the Roman/ Greek Underworld with the following words in Aeneid VI, “Luctus… cubilia Curae… pallentes Morbi… tristis Senectus… Metus… malesuada Fames… turpis Egestas… Letum… Labos… Discordia…” or “Sorrow… vengeful care… pale sickness… sad old age… illness… ill-advising Hunger… shameful poverty… death… drudgery… discord”. (Virgil, Aeneid VI: 274-280) Also, he says: multaque praeterea variorum monstra ferarum

Centauri in foribus...
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