University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 


It is not an easy task to present the important theories
of myth from the late nineteenth century to the present
day. Most of the authors who dealt with the meaning
and function of myths were investigating problems
considerably broader in implication—for example, the
origin, meaning, and function of religion (Tylor, Lang,
et al.); the origin and structure of society (Durkheim,
Freud, et al.); the meaning and destiny of culture
(Frobenius, Lévi-Strauss, et al.); or the origins of drama
and epic poetry (G. Murray, F. M. Cornford, T. Gaster,
et al.). To discuss conveniently their views on myth,
a summary of their respective theories would have
been indispensable, but the structure of this article did
not always permit it. Furthermore, a number of
theories were proposed by folklorists who usually
insisted on the similarities between myths and folk
tales, and considered them as species of a single family
known as the folk narrative. Understandably, we had
to limit ourselves by alluding only to such folkloristic

Finally, there is another difficulty of presentation,
which becomes more embarrassing as we approach the
second half of the twentieth century—namely, the
varying preconceptions concerning the nature of the
documents which different scholars brought to their
analysis and evaluation of myth. Indeed, until about
1920 (and following the traditions of both Greek phi-
losophy and Judeo-Christianity) myth was understood
as “fable,” “invention,” or “fiction.” As a matter of
fact, the triumph of scientific and historicistic ideolo-
gies in the last quarter of the nineteenth century
restated the problem in almost the same terms as those
given at the end of antiquity when, contrasted with
both logos and later with historia, mythos came to
denote “what cannot really exist.”

But with the deepening of our understanding of the
“primitive,” i.e., archaic societies, a new meaning of
myth became apparent. For the “primitives,” what we
call “myth”—that is, a narrative having as its actors
supernatural or miraculous beings—means a “true
story” and, moreover, a story that is sacred, exemplary,
and significant. This new semantic value given to the
term “myth” makes its use in contemporary parlance
somewhat equivocal. Today the word is employed in
both the older sense of “fiction” or “illusion” and in
the sense of “sacred tradition, primordial revelation,
and exemplary model.” For example, when Bultmann
and other theologians speak of “de-mythologizing” the
Christian religious experience, they understand the
term “myth” in the Greek sense of “fable” or “fiction.”
When, on the other hand, an historian of religions such
as Pettazzoni speaks of the “Truth of Myth,” he is
referring to “primitive” and traditional societies where
myth is “living” and supplies models for human behav-
ior and, by that very fact, gives meaning and value
to life.


The wide interest in Indo-European mythologies,
religions, and folklore which characterizes the second
half of the nineteenth century is in great measure an
outgrowth of Max Müller's literary activity. From the
brilliant essay on “Comparative Mythology,” published
in Oxford Essays (1856) to his two-volume work, Con-
tributions to the Science of Mythology
(1897), the
learned Vedic scholar untiringly explained, defended,
and restated his conception of the origin, meaning, and
function of myths. According to Müller, mythology is
the result of a “disease of language.” The fact that an
object can have many names (polynomy) and, con-
versely, that the same name can be applied to several
objects (homonymy) produced a confusion of names.
This gave rise to the combination of several gods into
one and the separation of one god into many. Nomina-
what was at the beginning a name, nomen,
became a divinity, numen. Moreover, the use of end-
ings denoting grammatical gender led to the personifi-
cation of the gods.

According to Müller, the ancient Aryans constructed
their pantheon around the sun, the dawn, and the sky.
The solar myths played the foremost role. “I look upon
the sunrise and sunset, on the daily return of day and
night, on battle between light and darkness, on the
whole solar drama in all its details that is acted every
day, every month, every year, in heaven and in earth,


as the principle subject of early mythology” (1869, p.
537). Therefore, Cronus swallowing and later disgorg-
ing his children is only the “mythopoeic” expression
of a meterological phenomenon—namely, the sky
devouring and later releasing the clouds. Likewise, the
Baltic tales with the golden boat that sinks in the sea,
or the apple that falls from the tree, actually refer to the
setting sun.

Müller also found that the solar myths among the
non-Aryan races are the result of the “disease of lan-
guage.” The myths of the Polynesian hero Maui reveal
their meaning when we discover that this name signifies
the sun, or fire, of the day; the Hottentot god Tsui-goab,
now understood as “Broken-knee,” originally meant
“the dawn” or “rising sun” (Dorson in Sebeok, p. 26).

In his old age, Max Müller witnessed the collapse
of the solar-mythology. The discrediting of this once
popular method of interpretation was partially due to
the devastating criticism of Andrew Lang, but also was
due to the consequence of the wild exaggerations of
some of Müller's disciples. Thus George William Cox
reduced all Indo-European mythologies and folklores
to the contest between light and darkness. While
Müller endeavored to establish the identity of certain
Greek and Indian gods through etymology, Cox com-
pared the epic elements present in the different myths.
As a result, all the Greek heroes, from Heracles and
Achilles to Odysseus and Paris, and even King Arthur,
the Frog Prince, and Cinderella, revealed themselves
to be impersonators of the same solar deity. “The story
of the sun starting in weakness and ending in victory,
waging a long warfare against darkness, clouds, and
storms, and scattering them all in the end is the story
of all patient self-sacrifice, of all Christian devotion”
(Cox, I, 168).


Edward Burnett Tylor did not directly attack
Müller's theories, but the appearance of his Primitive
(1871) represented a decisive blow to the
nomina-numina doctrine. As an anthropologist, Tylor
observed in Primitive Culture that the primitives are
still living in the myth-making stage of the mind. His
general thesis is that “Myth arose in the savage condi-
tion prevalent in remote ages among the whole race”
and that it remained comparatively unchanged among
the contemporary primitive tribes; and that, moreover,
even higher and later stages of civilization retained
parts of mythical traditions (2nd ed. [1873], I, 284).
Mythical thinking being specific “to the human intel-
lect in its early childlike state,” the study of myth must
begin “at the beginning,” that is, among the less civi-
lized peoples, “the nearest representatives of primeval
culture” (I, 287). This was, of course, directed against
Müller's exaggerated emphasis on the archaism of the
Vedic culture. As a matter of fact, a few years later,
the great French Sanskrit scholar, Abel Bergaigne,
proved that the Vedic hymns, far from being the spon-
taneous and naive expression of a primeval naturalistic
religion, were the rather recent product of a highly
sophisticated class of ritualistic priests.

As could be expected from the originator of the
doctrine of animism, Tylor found the principal cause
of the transfiguration of daily experience into myths
in the belief that all nature is animated and, as such,
susceptible to personification. “To the lower tribes of
man, sun and stars, trees and rivers, winds and clouds,
become personal animate creatures, leading lives con-
formed to human or animal analogies” (I, 285). But,
Tylor hastened to add, again rejecting Müller's doc-
trine, that “the basis on which such ideas are built is
not to be narrowed down to poetic fancy and trans-
formed metaphor.” It is rather a crude philosophy of
nature, “thoughtful, consistent, and quite really and
seriously meant.” Tylor agreed that language has had
a great share in the formation of myth, but he felt that
“the great expansion of verbal metaphor into myth
belongs to more advanced periods of civilization” (I,
299). As for the Müllerian emphasis on solar-myths,
Tylor pointed out that a great number of historical
characters—such as Cortés or Julius Caesar—can be
shown to embody solar episodes in their lives (I, 319).

Compared with the rather monolithic doctrine of
Max Müller, Tylor's understanding of myth is notably
more subtle. He carefully analyzes the various stages
of the mythical process and separates the morpho-
logically distinct mythological creations. He delineates,
for example, the difference between a myth en-
gendered by the animation and personification of Na-
ture, on the one hand, and the formation of legends,
either by the stiffening of metaphor caused by semantic
errors, or by the introduction of fiction into events held
to be traditional. Ultimately Tylor distinguishes what
he calls “two principles of mythologic science.” The
first concerns the universality and the regularity of
mythical creations: whatever may be the individual,
national, or even racial distinctions, myth reveals itself
“as an organic product of mankind at large,” expressing
the “universal qualities of the human mind.” The sec-
ond principle concerns the relation of myth to history.
Tylor argues that, although the traditions of real events
are disfigured through mythopoeic processes, their
historicity is not completely destroyed. Unconsciously,
and as it were in spite of themselves, the authors and
transmitters of sagas have preserved “masses of sound
historical evidence.” They molded into mythological
adventures of gods and heroes their own cultural herit-


age; “they placed on record the arts and manners, the
philosophy and religion of their own times, times of
which formal history has often lost the very memory”
(I, 415-16).

Consequently, for Tylor, the mythopoeic process is
active at all phases of human culture. But, while among
the primitives mythical creations are essentially related
to the understanding of natural phenomena, at later
stages myths reflect historical events and cultural tra-
ditions as well. This second principle of Tylor's—
“mythologic science”—knew a certain popularity at
the beginning of the twentieth century when many
scholars tried to decipher and reconstruct the historical
data supposedly embedded in the sagas and the epic
poetry of ancient medieval peoples.


For more than twenty years, Andrew Lang attacked
Müller's doctrine, mainly with arguments inspired by
Tylor's anthropological interpretation of mythology
and religion. He pointed out that myths reflect actions,
ideas, and institutions which were actual at some time
in the past. For instance, the myth of Cronus dates
from an epoch in which cannibalism was practiced,
and in the mythology of Zeus one can decipher a
primitive medicine man. But after reading Alfred
William Howitt's reports on the “High Beings” of the
Australians and other data on the Andamanese, Lang
rejected Tylor's theory that animism was the first stage
of religion. Tylor held that animism was followed by
polytheism, and finally by monotheism. A belief in
“High Gods” could not, therefore, possibly be original
among the primitive peoples, for, according to Tylor,
the idea of God developed from the belief in nature-
spirits and the cult of ancestor ghosts. But among the
Australians and Andamanese, Andrew Lang found nei-
ther ancestor-worship nor nature cults.

This discovery of the priority of “High Beings”
marks the beginning of a long controversy over the
origins of religion and “primeval monotheism,” in
which Lang's evaluation of myth plays an important
role. Lang was convinced that the mythopoeic proces-
ses can explain the apparently paradoxical fact that
the belief in “High Gods” is found among the most
archaic tribes, while it fades away or disappears com-
pletely in more advanced primitive societies. Lang
thought that mythical creativity was somehow a sign
of degeneration. Because he had discovered very few
myths associated with the Australian “High Beings,”
he thought that myth was secondary and ultimately
disruptive of the highly ethical religious values.
“Among the lowest known tribes we usually find, just
as in Ancient Greece, the belief in a deathless 'Father',
'Master', 'Maker', and also the crowd of humorous,
obscene, fanciful myths which are in flagrant contra-
diction with the religious character of that belief. That
belief is what we call rational, and even elevated. The
myths, on the other hand, are what we call irrational
and debasing.” And he adds: “the religious conception
rises up from the human intellect, in one mood, that
of earnest contemplation and submission; while the
mythical ideas rise up from another mood, that of
playful and erratic fancy” (I, 4-5).

Basically myth is irrational and, as such, is a product
of animism, while the belief in High Gods or Supreme
Beings, which is the real substance of religion, is ra-
tional. Lang argues, however, that the “pure” religion
of the beginnings degenerates because of the growing
influence of animism; for man is more attracted to
ghosts and fetishes, which he can invoke for help or
use for his egoistic interests, than to the noble and
moral Creator who is indifferent to gifts and opposed
to lust and mischief (The Making of Religion, pp.

Lang's theory of the radical difference between myth
and religion, and its corollary of the priority of the
idea of God with regard to mythological creation, was
taken over, corrected, and systematized by Wilhelm
Schmidt in his massive twelve-volume work, Der
Ursprung der Gottesidee
(1912-55). One of Schmidt's
main theses was that the idea of a Supreme Being,
without mythology and devoid of any anthropomor-
phic traits, belongs to a religious stage preceding any
mythological formulation. We must add that such an
assumption is in contradiction to everything that we
know of homo religiosus in general and of primitive
man in particular. A Supreme Being is always a
primordial and creative Being, and “primordiality” and
“creativity” are mythical thought structures par excel-
If, almost everywhere in the world, the
mythologies of the Supreme Beings are not as rich as
the mythologies of the other types of divine figures,
it is not because such Supreme Beings belong to a
premythological epoch, but simply because their
activity is somehow exhausted in the works that they
do in the beginning, i.e., cosmogony, the creation of
man, and the foundation of the principal religious and
social institutions.

Lang and Schmidt slighted the mythical creations
because they considered them irrational and immoral.
Beginning with the early twentieth century, a number
of scholars insisted upon the irrational character of
myth, but not all of them necessarily considered irra-
tionality in negative terms. They related mythical cre-
ations to the very processes of life, the unconscious
or social structures. Directly or indirectly, most of these
authors are influenced by Bergson, Freud, or Durk-


heim. But a few years before the ascendancy of such
interpretations, a new naturistic-rationalistic evalua-
tion of mythology came suddenly into prominence.


At the beginning of this century the so-called astral-
mythological and Pan-Babylonian schools became
popular in Germany. Although originally representing
two independent approaches, their basic presupposi-
tions were similar, and in 1906 the partisans of both
schools founded the Gesellschaft für vergleichende
(Society for the Study of Compara-
tive Mythology) in Berlin. The first volume published
by the society was E. Siecke's Drachenkämpfe: Unter-
suchungen zur indogermanischen Sagenkunde
This passionate and prolific author can be considered
the founder and the leader of the new school of
thought. For Siecke, myths must be understood literally
because their contents always refer to some specific
celestial phenomena, namely, the forms and move-
ments of the planets and stars. Consequently, for Siecke
myths do not reflect animistic experiences and concep-
tions; they have nothing to do with belief in souls, or
with dreams and nightmares. The most important
mythical figures are the sun and especially the moon.
As a matter of fact, Siecke, Böcklen, and Hüsing
emphasized so strongly the role of the moon in the
mythical process that their doctrine could be called
“pan-lunarism” (Schmidt, Origin..., p. 94).

One of the most distinguished followers of the astral-
mythology school, P. Ehrenreich, reacted against these
excesses. In his book Die allgemeine Mythologie und
ihre ethnologischen Grundlagen
(1910), he pointed out
the importance of the sun and other heavenly bodies
in the mythologies of a considerable number of primi-
tive and archaic peoples. In the last analysis the study
of moon-myths revealed that early man was relating
astral phenomena to the mystery of death and resur-
rection. The dying moon became an image of the
mythical ancestor, and the lunar rhythms were con-
sidered as somehow being the paradigm of human
existence (birth, growth, death, resurrection).

Pan-Babylonianism was represented principally by
H. Winckler, A. Jeremias, and E. Stucken. Despite their
copious productivity, very little of their work has
retained any lasting significance. In his three-volume
work Astralmythen (1901-07), Stucken tried to prove
the direct or indirect Mesopotamian origin of all the
mythologies of the world. For the Pan-Babylonianists,
all myths are concerned with the movements of the
sun, the moon, and the planet Venus. Celestial revolu-
tions were regarded by the Mesopotamians as the
expression of the power, will, and intelligence of the
deities. As early as 3000 B.C. this system was completely
developed in Mesopotamia, whence it was then
diffused over the whole earth, being found even today
in the myths of the “primitives.” The Pan-Babylonian-
ists saw evidence of this diffusion in the astronomical
knowledge implied in mythological systems. Such
scientific observations, they argued, were certainly
impossible for the archaic peoples. Thus the Pan-
Babylonianists link the naturistic origin of myths with
their historical diffusion. Against the supporters of
animism and of the theory of “elementary ideas” of
Bastian who explained the similarity of myths by the
basic unity of the human mind, the Pan-Babylonianists
emphasized the highly elevated, “scientific” origin of
mythology, and its diffusion even among the most
primitive tribes.

The Pan-Babylonian school declined as a conse-
quence of its own extravagant generalizations and
excesses. It was easy to prove, for example, that the
primitive myths concerning the Pleiades have nothing
to do with the passage of the sun through the zodiac
(Schmidt, Origin..., pp. 101ff.). But some of the
Pan-Babylonianists' presuppositions were reasserted by
other schools—although in different contexts. For in-
stance, a quarter of a century later, “diffusionism”
became extremely popular in England under the influ-
ence of G. Elliot Smith's Pan-Egyptianism. This Pan-
Egyptianist school tried to explain the totality of
myths, rituals, and social institutions (with the excep-
tions of those of the hunters and food-gatherers) as
ultimately deriving from Egypt. The British Myth and
Ritual School also conceded an exceptional place to
the Babylonian documents.


Already by the end of the nineteenth century, W.
Robertson-Smith considered myth the explanation of
ritual, and, as such, altogether secondary. “The myth
was derived from the ritual, and not the ritual from
the myth; for the ritual was fixed and the myth was
variable, the ritual was obligatory and faith in the myth
was at the discretion of the worshipper” (Lectures on
the Religion of the Semites
[1894], p. 18). He goes on
to say that since myth is the explanation of a religious
usage, in many cases it could not have arisen until the
original meaning of the usage had fallen into oblivion.

For the following half-century, similar ideas were
expressed by a great number of scholars and specialists
in different areas of study. One may distinguish at least
three important groups: the classical scholars, the
anthropologists, and the Old Testament specialists. The
most articulate among the classicists was Jane Harrison.
She argued that mythos was, for the ancient Greeks,
primarily “just a thing spoken, uttered by the mouth.


Its correlative is “the thing done, enacted, the ergon
or work” (Themis, Cambridge [1912], p. 328). But
while Robertson-Smith considered mythology inessen-
tial “for it had no sacred sanction and no binding force
on the worshippers” (op. cit., p. 17), Jane Harrison
aptly pointed out the religious value of myth. Indeed,
a myth is not merely a word spoken; it is a re-utterance,
recited collectively—or at least with collective sanc-
tion. When it is related to the ritual, myth becomes
a narrative charged with magical intent and potency
(op. cit., p. 330).

A number of outstanding classical scholars from
Cambridge applied Jane Harrison's “ritualist” model
to other Greek creations. F. M. Cornford traced the
ritual origins of Attic comedy and of some philo-
sophical ideas, and Gilbert Murray reconstructed the
ritual pattern of Greek tragedy. This new approach
opened the way to further study of the ritual origins
and implications of other literatures (S. E. Hyman in
Sebeok [1955], pp. 87ff.; Wayne Shumaker [1960], pp.
157ff.). The Danish scholar W. Grønbech applied, in
The Culture of the Teutons, a similar method in the
study of old-Germanic myths; he understood them as
organically interrelated to festivals. And for Grønbech,
the festivals represented a “creation or new birth out-
side time” (1931, II, 222ff.).

The British anthropologists A. M. Hocart and Lord
Raglan generalized the ritualist approach and pro-
claimed the priority of ritual as the most important
element in the understanding of human culture. “If we
turn to the living myth, that is, the myth that is be-
lieved in, we find that it has no existence apart from
the ritual” (Hocart [1933], p. 223). Hocart claimed that
myth is only the verbal explanation and justification
of ritual: the actors impersonate the supposed inventors
of the ritual, and this impersonation has to be expressed
verbally. Thus for Hocart all myths must have had a
ritual origin; to prove this principle, he was compelled
to explain the cosmogonic myths as the verbal com-
mentary of a ritual renewal of the world, and he derives
the myths of flying through the air from some climbing
rituals, neglecting the fact that the myths of flying are
archaic and universally distributed, whereas the rites
are rare and limited to certain areas. In 1936 in his
The Hero, Lord Raglan insisted on the nonhistoricity
of the heroic myths and sagas. He explained the simi-
larity of the myths by the similar rites with which they
are related.

In the preface of Themis Jane Harrison acknowl-
edged her debt to Durkheim's sociological inter-
pretation of religious experience. As a matter of fact,
Durkheim, in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life,
did not elaborate on the structure and function of myth,
partly because he considered it a “work of art” and,
as such, beyond the “jurisdiction of the simple science
of religion” (Durkheim, pp. 121-22). As to the origin
of myth, Durkheim was somewhat hesitant to offer an
explanation: in principle, he writes, the cult is derived
from religious beliefs and their mythological expres-
sions, but it also reacts upon them. The myth is there-
fore modelled after the ritual in order to account for
it, especially when its meaning is no longer apparent
(ibid., p. 121). But in a later chapter he limits the
function of myth to the interpretation of rites (p. 152).


Two famous Old Testament scholars, H. Gunkel and
H. Gressmann, explicated the cultic background of the
Psalms. In his Psalmenstudien (Vols. I-III, 1921-29)
S. Mowinckel went even further: he deciphered the
structure of the ancient Israelite New Year Festival.
One of the principal themes of the festival was the
symbolic reenactment of Jahweh's victory against his
enemies and his enthronement as king of the world.
The myth—Jahweh's combat and victory—was thus
the expression of existential experiences acted out in
the cult. The mythological aura of the king, in Israel
as well as elsewhere in the ancient Near East, was
closely connected with the cult.

Independently of Mowinckel's investigations, a
group of English Orientalists and biblical scholars
launched, with their contributions to the two volumes
edited by S. H. Hooke, Myth and Ritual (1933) and
The Labyrinth (1935), the movement known as the
“Myth and Ritual School” or “Patternism.” Taking for
granted the precedence of ritual over myth, the authors
emphasized the cultic role of the king and especially
the basic pattern of all the religions of the Ancient
Near East, including Israel. A few years later, the
Swedish scholars Ivan Engnell, in Studies in Divine
Kingship in the Ancient Near East
(1943)—and G.
Widengren, King and Savior (Vols. I-VI, 1945-55)—
developed in greater detail and, at times, overstated
the main thesis of the British School.

In his Frazer Lecture for 1951, The Problem of
Similarity in Ancient Near Eastern Religions,
Frankfort attacked the presuppositions of the “Myth
and Ritual” school, pointing out that differences are
more important than similarities and that, conse-
quently, the myths and rituals of the Egyptians,
Babylonians, and of neighboring countries cannot be
described as a “pattern.” Frankfort's criticism was
answered by Hooke (1958, pp. 1-25) and by G.
Widengren (inter alia, ibid., pp. 149-203).

The impassioned debate which took place around
the “Myth and Ritual” School reveals a confusion of
methodological issues. We do not refer here to the


exaggerations of some Scandinavian authors, nor to
their philological imprudences and historical distor-
tions. What is at stake is the legitimacy of comparing
the historically related and structurally analogous reli-
gious phenomena of the Ancient Near East. It is true
that if there is one area in which comparisons can be
rightfully applied, it is the Ancient Near East. We
know that agriculture, Neolithic village culture, and
finally urban civilization start from a Near Eastern
center with many radii.

Working with the same documents as the “Myth and
Ritual” School, Theodor H. Gaster proposed a rather
different theory. For him myth is not, as for Robertson-
Smith and Jane Harrison, a mere outgrowth of ritual
or the spoken correlative of “things done.” It is the
expression of a parallel aspect of real and ideal inherent
in ritual from the beginning. Its function “is to translate
the real into the terms of the ideal, the functional into
terms of the durative and transcendental” (Thespis,
2nd ed. rev. [1961], p. 24).

There is something common to all those authors who
considered myth secondary, i.e., only a verbalization,
interpretation, or validation of ritual. All of them
tacitly take for granted that the primary and funda-
mental element of religion, and hence of human cul-
ture, is the act done by man, not the story of divine
activity. Freud accepted these presuppositions, but he
tended to push them much further. He identified the
primordial, unique act which established the human
condition, and consequently opened the way to mythi-
cal and religious creations.


Freud's interpretation of myth was a part of a more
ambitious endeavor which sought the origins of human
culture, i.e., the origins of religious and ethical ideas
and social institutions. Briefly stated, Freud's theory
was that the mythopoeic process emerged, together
with the first religious ideas and social institutions, as
a result of a primordial parricide. Freud accepted
Atkinson's view that the earliest communities consisted
of older and stronger males, together with a number
of females and children; the head of the horde kept
the females for himself and drove out his sons as they
became adults. The expelled sons finally killed their
father, ate him, and appropriated the females. In Totem
and Taboo
Freud writes:

The violent primal father had doubtless been the feared
and envied model of each one of the company of brothers:
and in the act of devouring him they accomplished their
identification with him, and each one of them acquired a
portion of his strength. The totem meal, which is perhaps
mankind's earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and
a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed,
which was the beginning of so many things—of social orga-
nization, of moral restrictions, and of religion

(1950, pp.

This primordial parricide was either a unique event,
perpetually (though unconsciously) remembered, or
was repeated many times, as a result of the conflict
between sons and fathers in the primeval horde.

We shall not discuss this interpretation of the origins
of religion, culture, and society, since it has been re-
jected by most anthropologists. Suffice it to add that
Freud interprets myths as substitutive gratifications
through fantasy, comparable to dreams and other fan-
tasy creations. He insists that the beginnings of religion,
morals, society, and art converge in the Oedipus com-
plex (ibid., p. 156). Understandably, myths are for him
the reveries of the race, the imaginary realization of
repressed desire, i.e., of the Oedipal impulse. As in
dreams, the hero of the myth undergoes a division into
several figures. These mythological duplicates can be
traced to the relationship between child and parents.
In sum, myth is, for Freud, a fantasy repetition of a
real act, the primordial parricide.

A number of psychoanalysts have attempted to in-
terpret mythological and folkloristic personages using
the Freudian pan-sexual symbolism. Ferenczi, for in-
stance, sees in Oedipus the phallus, and in his blinding
himself, an act of castration brought about by his horror
of mother-incest. In The Myth of the Birth of the Hero
(1909), Otto Rank found in the repudiation of the father
the desire to replace the real father by a more distin-
guished one, which is only the child's longing for the
happy time when the father appeared to be the strong-
est and greatest man, and the mother seemed the most
beautiful woman. But, says Rank, this is a delusion
specific to paranoia; thus, he concludes that the myth
of the hero reveals a paranoid structure.


C. G. Jung's interpretation of myth is interdependent
with his theory of the collective unconscious. Indeed,
it was mainly the striking similarities between the
myths, symbols, and mythological figures of widely
separated peoples and civilizations that led Jung to
postulate the existence of a collective unconscious. He
noticed that the images and structures of this collective
unconscious manifest themselves through what he
called “archetypes,” and he regarded them as somehow
similar to Bastian's Elementargedanken or Burckhardt's
“primordial images.” The archetypes appear not only
in myths and fairy tales, but also in dreams and the
products of fantasy. Like Freud, Jung considers myths,
dreams, and fantasies to be the indifferent products of


the unconscious. But departing from Freud, Jung does
not consider the unconscious as a reservoir of repressed
personal libido. Consequently, the fantasy images and
mythical figures are not the “wish-fulfillment” of the
repressed libido, for they were never conscious and thus
could never have been repressed. These mythical
images belong to the structures of the collective un-
conscious and are an impersonal possession. “The
primitive mentality,” writes Jung, “does not invent
myths, it experiences them” (Jung and Kerényi [1949],
p. 101). In other words, myths precede any type of
culture, even the most primitive, though of course their
verbal expressions are molded according to the differ-
ent cultural styles.

For Jung, religious life is essentially a vital link with
those deep psychic processes which are independent
of and beyond consciousness. Since the archetypes do
not refer to anything that is or has been conscious,
but to something fundamentally unconscious, it is, in
the last analysis, impossible to say what they refer to.
Consequently, it is useless to specify that a myth refers
to the sun or the moon, the father or mother, sexuality,
fire, or water; “all we can do is to circumscribe and
give an approximate description of an unconscious core
of meaning.
The ultimate meaning of this nucleus was
never conscious, and never will be” (ibid., p. 104). In
contrast to Freud's insistence on the primacy of the
deed (the first parricide), myths are for Jung the ex-
pressions of a primordial psychic process that may even
precede the advent of the human race. Together with
symbols, myths are the most archaic structures of the
psychic life. They did not need rituals, “things done,”
to emerge from the deep layers of the collective un-

Though he published a book in collaboration with
Jung, the classical scholar Kerényi has more of a per-
sonal understanding of myth, nearer to the ideas of
Frobenius and Walter Otto. For Kerényi, mythology
lays the foundation for a meaningful world. Myths are
always unfolded in a primordial time. “The teller of
myths steps back into primordiality in order to tell us
what 'originally was'” (ibid., p. 10). Joseph Campbell
also began with a psychological interpretation of myths
which utilized the Jungian approach, as in The Hero
With a Thousand Faces
(1949); but in his later work,
The Masks of Gods (4 vols., 1959-68), he tried to
elucidate the meaning and function of mythology,
utilizing the findings both of depth psychology and the
history of early cultures.


Jung, Kerényi, and Campbell were familiar with the
works of Bachofen and Frobenius; and Kerényi and
Campbell were directly influenced by them. Bachofen,
almost ignored during his life, became quite popular
after World War I, especially for his theory of the
antecedence of matriarchy. But it was also his inter-
pretation of myths and symbols that struck a singular
note in the middle of the nineteenth century. Bachofen
emphasized the spiritual and historical values of myths
and symbols. For him, as for Frobenius and Kerényi,
myths were not only psychological and sociological
documents; they also had a spiritual meaning and hence
a perennial value.

Bachofen considered myth as the exegesis of symbol.
A myth unfolds in a series of actions what the symbol
embodies in a unity (Gräbersymbolik, 1855). Later on,
in Die Sage von Tanaquil (1870), Bachofen emphasized
the value of myth for understanding the specific genius
of an ancient people. “Myth is nothing other than a
picture of the national experience in the light of reli-
gious faith” (The Myth of Tanaquil, in Myth, Religions,
and Mother Right,
p. 213). Therefore, he would see the
presence of similarities of ideas and forms in mytholo-
gies of countries far removed from one another as a
proof of migration. Studying the myth of Tanaquil,
Bachofen noticed that the “Letaeric King-woman of
Asiatic dynasties” was transformed in Rome from a
religious to a historical figure. The historicization of
myths, argues Bachofen, is a characteristic of Roman
genius (ibid., pp. 236ff.)—an idea which was to be
developed by Georges Dumézil in the 1940's.

If Bachofen's manner of interpreting the archaic
symbols, myths, and institutions of the Eastern
Mediterranean was highly significant in the German-
speaking world between the wars, no less important
was the influence of Frobenius. Analyzing the genius
of African cultures, Frobenius strongly emphasized the
irrational character of spiritual creativity—coining the
term Ergriffenheit (literally, “seizure”) to describe the
mystery of cultural creation. In any creation, argued
Frobenius, man is seized by the very essence of things;
he receives from the realities that surround him a
deeper knowledge, a kind of revelation of the inner
order and meaning of nature. Ultimately man is
“seized” by that which is divine in things, and this
experience is the source of all creations—religious and
mythological, as well as artistic and social.

Frobenius' disciple, Adolf E. Jensen, worked in the
same direction, especially in his Myth and Cult Among
Primitive Peoples
(1951; Eng. trans., 1963). For Jensen
the recitation of a myth represents an act of a cultic
nature, and the basis for any cult is the activity of a
Supernatural Being in primordial times. But Jensen
distinguishes “real” myths from the etiological, i.e.,
explanatory ones, which are seen as only degenerate
forms of genuine myths. In the authentic, solemn, and


majestic myths we witness a true expression of mythic
experience, because the nature of the world is brought
to life, made vivid, clarified (ibid., p. 65).

In the same year that Frobenius published his most
important work, Kulturgeschichte Afrikas, the noted
Greek scholar, Walter Otto, brought out Dionysus
(1933) in which he set forth at length his views on
myth and cult. For Otto any cult presupposes a myth,
even if the myth is not evident. Otto's originality con-
sists in his highly personal understanding of Greek
religion, and of the non-Christian religions in general.
He emphatically denies in Dionysus that myths and
rituals arose as idle tales and as actions with a utili-
tarian purpose; they are cultural creations of a monu-
mental nature, like buildings and sculptures (trans.
1965, p. 24). To become creative, however, the human
mind has to be “touched and inspired by a wonderful
otherness.” At the beginning, that is, at the center of
all religions, stands the appearance of a God. It is only
such a divine epiphany that gives meaning and life to
all primordial forms of religion. Rejecting all the mod-
ern explanations of the origin of ritual and myth, Otto
writes: “Let us finally be convinced that it is foolish
to trace what is most productive back to the un-
productive: to wishes, to anxieties, to yearnings; that
it is foolish to trace living ideas, which first made
rational thought possible, back to rational processes;
or the understanding of the essential, which first gives
purposeful aspirations their scope and direction, to a
concept of utility” (ibid., pp. 29-30).

What characterizes the interpretations of Jung,
Frobenius, Otto, and Jensen is their tacit admiration
and nostalgia for mythical thought. For this reason
their theories were criticized as encouraging the dark
tendencies of German irrationalism. Despite this criti-
cism, their contributions are of lasting value; indeed,
they opened new worlds of meaning for modern West-
ern culture. Otto, followed to a certain extent by
Kerényi, tried to recapture the value of Greek mythos
as it was before its demythicization. Frobenius and
Jensen endeavored to make accessible to Western man
the archaic type of creativity, illustrated mainly by the
myths and cults of Africa and Melanesia. All three of
them emphasized the permanent spiritual value of the
cultures they studied and, without overtly admitting
such a goal, they nevertheless presented other worlds
of meaning that were comparable to those of the
Western tradition of Judeo-Christianity and the more
recent secular, scientific spirit of the Enlightenment.


Such a sympathetic understanding of the meaning
and function of myth, although without the implicit
nostalgia which can be seen in the work of Frobenius
and Walter Otto, was not exceptional during the inter-
bellum period. After living some years among the
Trobriand Islanders, Bronislaw Malinowski was con-
vinced of the fundamental importance of myth for
primitive and traditional societies. “Myth,” wrote
Malinowski in 1926, “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 practi-
cal rules for the guidance of man” (repr. in Magic,
Science and Religion
[1955], p. 101). Myth is not an
idle tale; nor is it an intellectual explanation or an
artistic imagery, “but a pragmatic charter of primitive
faith and moral wisdom.” The myth reveals a primeval,
greater, and more relevant reality, which determines
the present life and the activities of men; the knowl-
edge of myth not only discloses the motive for ritual
and moral actions, but also supplies indications as to
how to perform them (ibid., p. 108).

Especially after World War II a number of historians
and phenomenologists of religion insisted on the posi-
tive aspects of mythical thought. Gerardus van der
Leeuw emphasized the relation of myth to sacred
power and sacred time. Raffaele Pettazzoni pointed
out the distinction made by many tribal societies be-
tween “true stories”—i.e., real myths—and “false
stories” or folktales. The first cannot be recited except
within the cult and with the exclusion of noninitiates,
while the “false stories” are recited any time and can
be heard by everyone. According to Pettazzoni, the
“true story” is sacred because it recounts the begin-
nings of things (cosmogony, etc.). Through their
reactualization in the ritual, myths assure the preser-
vation and increase of life (1954, pp. 11-24).

For M. Eliade as well, myth represents the most
important element in archaic or traditional cultures.
Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that
took place in primordial time, the fabulous time of
the “beginnings.” But myth is always an account of
a “creation”; it tells how something came into being.
The actors are supernatural Beings; and myths disclose
their creative activity and reveal the sacredness (or
simply the “supernaturalness”) of their work. Thus, the
history of this activity is considered to be absolutely
true (because it is concerned with realities) and sacred
(because it is the work of supernatural Beings). Since
the myth is always related to a “creation” (the world,
man, an institution, etc.), it constitutes the paradigm
for all significant human acts. By knowing it, one knows
the “origin” of things, and hence can control and
manipulate them at will; it is a knowledge that one
“experiences” ritually, either by ceremonially re-
counting the myth or by performing the ritual for


which it is both a model and a justification. In the
traditional societies, one “lives” the myth in the sense
that one is seized by the sacred, exalting power of the
events which are recollected or reenacted (Eliade,

Although he did not elaborate a general theory of
myth, Georges Dumézil made important contributions
through his studies on the Indo-European tripartite
ideology (Littleton, 1966). The originality of Dumézil's
approach is that he conveniently utilizes a historical
and structural analysis. Victor W. Turner has recently
proposed a new interpretation of myths as “liminal
phenomena.” According to him, the various types of
myth refer to critical situations, the paradoxical inter-
val between two modalities of being—“death” and
“rebirth,” chaos and cosmos, “nature” and “culture.”


For more than half a century philosophers ignored
the problems raised by mythical thought. In his three-
volume work Mythus und Religion (1905-09), Wilhelm
Wundt still followed Tylor's theory of animism, al-
though he criticized some minor points. Wundt's am-
bition was to relate the different species of mythologies
to the cultural evolution of mankind. But he em-
phatically asserted that the mythical mentality was
transcended in the age of reason.

Of the modern philosophers, it was Ernst Cassirer
who rediscovered the significance for philosophy of the
mythical processes. For Cassirer, “in mythical imagi-
nation is always implied an act of belief. Without the
belief in the reality of its objects, myth would lose its
ground” (An Essay on Man [trans. 1956], p. 101). Myth
has a double face: it has both a conceptual and a
perceptual structure. Myth and religion have their
origin in feeling, and they promote a feeling of solidar-
ity and unity of all forms of life. “To mythical and
religious feeling nature becomes one great society, the
society of life” (ibid., p. 110). Cassirer follows both
Robertson-Smith and Durkheim in asserting that soci-
ety is the true model of myth and that one cannot
understand myth without studying ritual. While ritual
is the dramatic element in religious life, myth repre-
sents the epic element. Since myth rationalizes and
validates the ritual, religion remains indissolubly con-
nected and infused with mythical elements throughout
its history.

Although a disciple of Cassirer, Susanne K. Langer
takes another view toward the origin and function of
myths. For Langer myth is a product of fantasy, as
are dreams; but through the process of recounting, the
dream-narratives become stories (the animal fable, the
trickster story, the ghost story), and these develop
ultimately into the fairy tale. But myths do not repre
sent a new modification of folktales. They are, rather,
the result of a mutation: instead of the wishful thinking
reflected in fairy tales, myths reflect the quest for an
understanding of nature and the meaning of life. Thus,
although both folktales and myths originate in fantasy,
myths are related to the tragic awareness of the human
condition and, as such, may be considered as a primi-
tive philosophy. (A similar distinction between folktale
and saga was elaborated by the Dutch folklorist Jan
de Vries; cf. Eliade [1963], pp. 195-202).

In the mid-twentieth century, the investigation of
mythical thought has attracted a great number of con-
tinental philosophers, especially in France, Italy, and
Germany. But the majority of these authors approached
the problem of myth in a larger perspective: that of
the study of language, or of symbol, or that of the
analysis of imagination. For Georges Gusdorf, instinct
and mythical thinking represent two successive stages
before the “age of philosophy.” In both cases, we are
confronted with “ritual behavior,” i.e., with definitive
adaptations to a series of given situations. Myth consti-
tutes, in fact, the first “culture,” but one which has
still retained the consistency of Nature. The world
revealed by myth is a global determination of reality,
the same for every member of the respective ethnic
group. The human life ruled by myth looks like an
immense liturgy of repetitions. Mythical consciousness,
wrote Gusdorf, is not astonished at anything. The myth
justifies the present by throwing it back to an ontologi-
cal precedent. The birth of philosophy depicts the
awakening from the sleep of mythical immobility.
Escaping from the “captivity of participation,” the
individual becomes aware of a truth for which he feels
himself responsible. And thus begins the adventure of
human freedom (Gusdorf, 1952).

Paul Ricoeur discusses the problem of myth in rela-
tion to his studies on the symbolism of evil. Conse-
quently he does not undertake an analysis of the living
myth in archaic societies, but limits his investigation
to the religions of the Ancient Near East. He begins
his analysis with the symbolism of defilement and
sin—symbols which precede, in his opinion, the myths
of the fall and of exile. From symbol to myth, writes
Ricoeur in The Symbolism of Evil (1967), one passes
from a “hidden time” to an “exhausted time.” Gilbert
Durand holds the contrary view that mythical thought
is primordial, and precedes any other type of thinking.
For this reason, Durand rejects Ronald Barthes' opinion
that myth is a “secondary semiological system” with
regard to language (cf. Les structures anthropologiques
de l'imaginaire,
1960). A similar justification of the
priority and the irreducibility of myth was brilliantly
elaborated by Gillo Dorfles in Nuovi riti, nuovi miti
(1965, pp. 49ff.).



For some time, a number of anthropologists and
folklorists have considered myth as a special form of
the folktale, i.e., as a traditional, dramatic, oral narra-
tive. For these authors, folktale “includes serious myths
dealing with the supernatural, as well as tales told
primarily for entertainment: purportedly factual ac-
counts of historical events; moralistic fables; and other
varieties of narrative which may be distinguished on
varying grounds of classification” (Fischer [1963], p.
236). The investigations followed mainly two orienta-
tions: historical, and morphological or structural. Ac-
cording to W. E. Peuckert, the folktale originated in
the eastern Mediterranean during the Neolithic period.
C. W. von Sydow proposed, at first, an Indo-European
origin of the folktale, and later, an origin in the pre-
Indo-European megalithic culture. In a book on the
“historical roots of the folktale” (Istoričéskie korni
volšebnoj skazki,
1946), the Russian folklorist Vladimir
Propp, developed P. Saintyves' ritualistic hypothesis:
he argued that the folktale conserved the memory of
totemic initiation rites. The extensive and meticulous
work of the “Finnish School” can equally be considered
to follow a historical orientation. Through an exhaus-
tive study of the variants, these scholars thought that
they could arrive at a “primordial form” (Urform) of
a tale (Eliade [1963], pp. 196ff.).

This historical orientation, popular also in the United
States, thanks primarily to Franz Boas and his disciples,
has recently lost prominence. In the 1950's and 1960's,
a number of important contributions exemplified in
various ways nonhistorical, morphological, or struc-
turalist approaches. The reasons for this new orienta-
tion are multiple, but the most important seem to be
the following: the prodigious development of Saus-
surean linguistics and of phonology; the prominence
of “formalism”; the discovery by Western scholars of
Propp's morphological study of folktales; and espe-
cially the general vogue of structuralism in anthropol-
ogy and philosophy, particularly the brilliant use of
the structuralist method by Claude Lévi-Strauss (see
Sebeok). It must be added that a quarter of a century
before his “historical” work, Propp elaborated a
morphological analysis of folktales, which became
accessible rather late in English and Italian translations
(Propp, 1928; 1958; 1966). Propp's method was applied
by Alan Dundes, The Morphology of North-American
Indian Folktales
(1964), and it was sympathetically
received by Lévi-Strauss, who saw in it an anticipation
of his own structural analysis of myth and tales
(L'analyse..., 1960; Italian trans. in Propp [1966],
pp. 165-99). However, Lévi-Strauss finally rejected
Propp's approach as being “formalistic.”

In his reply to Lévi-Strauss' article, Propp defended
his method, insisting especially on the following points:
it is not “formalistic” but empirical, being inspired by
Goethe's morphological researches; his “historical”
researches, far from indicating a surrender of morphol-
ogy, represent an effort toward a total understanding
of the folkloristic creations; Lévi-Strauss is not inter-
ested in the folktale and does not try to know folktales,
but is satisfied with logical operations and abstractions
(Propp [1946], pp. 203-37). In short, Propp defends
the organic character of his morphology, and the pos-
sibility of reconstructing the history of folkloristic cre-
ations, against the logico-mathematical structuralism
of Lévi-Strauss. He also points out that many struc-
turalists have followed his method and criticized
Lévi-Strauss' approach, and he quotes Dundes' book
(cited above) as an example.

The controversy between Propp and Lévi-Strauss is
only one example of the disagreements which exist
among the scholars following a morphological or
structuralist interpretation of myths and folktales. In
spite of their differences, all these authors do have
common elements. First, they all consider the myths
as narratives, i.e., as an oral literary genre. Moreover,
they concentrate on studying the forms or structures
of the documents, and are less interested in deciphering
their religious meaning. For that reason, as we have
already remarked, most of these authors (with some
exceptions, e.g., Propp), ignore the differences between
myths, saga, fairy tales, and other folkloristic narra-
tives. The models of their investigations are borrowed
from structural linguistics, and there is a tendency to
apply mathematical devices and to utilize electronic
computers in order to classify and analyze the docu-


By far the most important contribution to the struc-
turalist interpretation of myths is that of Claude Lévi-
Strauss. In linguistics and ethnology, a structure is a
combinatory game independent of consciousness.
Consequently, Lévi-Strauss does not look for the
“meaning” of myth on the level of consciousness. Fol-
lowing the example of the phonologists, he analyzes
the infrastructures of primitive thought, identifying the
basic logical process in “binary opposition” (in Sebeok
[1955], p. 62). Myth being an expression par excellence
of primitive thought, its purpose is “to provide a logical
model capable of overcoming a contradiction” (ibid.,
p. 65). One of the most striking results of Lévi-Strauss'
first attempt to analyze myth is the awareness that the
“kind of logic which is used in mythical thought is
as rigorous as that of modern science, and that the
difference lies not in the quality of the intellectual


process, but in the nature of the things to which it
is applied” (p. 66).

Lévi-Strauss concluded his 1955 essay by asserting
that “man has always been thinking equally well.” His
La pensée sauvage (1962; The Savage Mind, 1966),
abundantly illustrates and enlarges this thesis. Neolithic
man, writes Lévi-Strauss, was the heir of a long scien-
tific tradition. Mythical thought and modern scientific
thought represent “two strategic levels at which nature
is accessible to scientific enquiry” (The Savage Mind,
p. 15). The basic characteristic of mythical thought
consists in its concreteness: it works with signs, which
have the peculiar character of lying between images
and concepts. That is, signs resemble images in that
they are concrete, as concepts are not; however, their
power of reference also likens them to concepts.
Mythical thought is a kind of intellectual bricolage in
the sense that it works with all sorts of heterogeneous
material which is available. While science, thanks to
its structures (its hypotheses and theories), creates its
means and results in the form of events, mythical
thought “builds up structures by fitting together
events” (p. 22). For that reason, mythical thought “is
imprisoned in the events and experiences which it
never tires of ordering and re-ordering in its search
to find a meaning” (p. 22).

Lévi-Strauss returns to the problem of mythical
thought in a projected four-volume series on South and
North American mythologies, of which the first two
have been published thus far, Le cru et le cuit (1964)
and Du miel aux cendres (1966). This considerable work
is difficult reading, because of the technicalities and
the intricate analysis of a great number of myths, but
at the same time it represents a new and more personal
evaluation of mythical thought. Here Lévi-Strauss goes
beyond the linguistic models and recognizes that the
structure of myths is closer to music than to language.
This fresh approach permits him a series of brilliant
observations on time and suppression of time, on the
ability of music and mythology to achieve a “hyper-
mediation” between nature and culture, operating
simultaneously on the mind and on the senses, stimu-
lating both ideas and emotion.

Lévi-Strauss' method and interpretation have made
a notable impact on the cultivated public in Europe.
Nevertheless, the majority of anthropologists, in spite
of their admiration for his brilliance, maintain a more
or less polite reserve. But the significance of Lévi-
Strauss' contribution is only partially dependent upon
its acceptance or rejection by his colleagues. Thanks
to the depth and originality of his writings, mythical
thought and the primitive mind have become a subject
of interest to a growing number of philosophers, as
well as literary critics and artists. In other words,
primitive thought and the primitive mode of existing
in the world are coming to be considered part and
parcel of the history of the human mind, which history
has been assumed by so many Western authors to have
begun only with the pre-Socratics.

Thus after being declared a disease of language, a
naïve animistic creation, a playful and debasing fancy,
a projection of astral phenomena, a verbalization of
ritual, or a fantasy related to a primordial parricide
or to the collective unconscious—myth has begun to
be understood in a more positive way. That is, myth
has been seen either as a sacred story, model, and
justification of a meaningful and creative human life;
or as the expression of “primitive” but no less valid
logical processes. The first group, in this more recent
and positive form of interpretation, insists on the reli-
gious values
of myth; the second group, and particu-
larly Lévi-Strauss' interpretation, emphasizes the logi-
cal structures
of mythical thought.


J. J. Bachofen, Versuch über die Gräbersymbolik der Alten
(Basel, 1859); idem, Die Sage von Tanaquil (Heidelberg,
1870), trans. R. Manheim as The Myth of Tanaquil, in Myth,
Religion, and Mother Right
... (Princeton, 1967). S. G. F.
Brandon, “The Myth and Ritual Position Critically Con-
sidered,” in Myth, Ritual and Kingship, ed. S. H. Hooke
(Oxford, 1958), pp. 261-91. E. Buess, Geschichte des
mythischen Erkenntnis
(Munich, 1953). Joseph Campbell,
The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Princeton, 1949; 1968;
reprint New York); idem, The Masks of God, 4 vols. (New
York, 1959-68). Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New
Haven, 1944; New York, 1953). Giuseppe Cocchiara, Storia
del Folklore in Europa
(Turin, 1952). G. W. Cox, The Mythol-
ogy of the Aryan Nations,
2 vols. (1870; reprint Port Wash-
ington, N.Y.). Jan de Vries, Forschungsgeschichte der Mythol-
(Freiburg and Munich, 1961), contains a critical review
of interpretations of myth from antiquity to the present.
Gilbert Dorfles, Nuovi riti, nuovi miti (Turin, 1965). Richard
M. Dorson, “The Eclipse of Solar Mythology,” in Myth. A
ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (Bloomington, Ind.,
1955), pp. 15-38; idem, “Current Folklore Theories,” Cur-
rent Anthropology,
4 (1963), 93-112. Gilbert Durand, Les
structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire
(Paris, 1960). É.
Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life,
trans. Joseph Ward Swain (New York, 1961). P. Ehrenreich,
Die allgemeine Mythologie und ihre ethnologischen
(Berlin, 1910). M. Eliade, Myth and Reality
(New York, 1963). Ivan Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship
in the Ancient Near East
(Uppsala, 1943). J. L. Fischer, “The
Sociopsychological Analysis of Folk Tales,” Current An-
4 (1963). S. Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. James
Strachey (London, 1950). Theodore H. Gaster, Thespis, 2nd
ed. rev. (New York, 1961). W. Grønbech The Culture of
the Teutons,
2 vols. (London and Copenhagen, 1931). G.
Gusdorf, Mythe et métaphysique (Paris, 1952). A. M. Hocart,
The Progress of Man (London, 1933). S. H. Hooke, The


Labyrinth (London, 1935); idem, ed., Myth and Ritual
(1933); idem, ed., Myth, Ritual and Kingship (Oxford, 1958),
esp. pp. 1-21. Stanley Edgar Hyman, “The Ritual View of
Myth and the Mythic,” in Myth. A Symposium, op. cit.,
pp. 84-94. Adolf E. Jensen, Mythos und Kult bei Natur-
(Wiesbaden, 1951), trans. Marianna Choldin and
Wolfgang Wiessleder as Myth and Cult Among Primitive
(Chicago, 1963). C. G. Jung and C. Kerényi, Essays
on a Science of Mythology,
trans. R. F. C. Hull (New York,
1949). Clyde Kluckhohn, “Myths and Rituals: A General
Theory,” Harvard Theological Review, 35 (1942), 45-79.
Andrew Lang, The Making of Religion (1898), 3rd ed.
(London, 1909); idem, Myth, Ritual and Religion, 3rd ed.
(London, 1901). Claude Lévi-Strauss, “L'analyse morpholo-
gique des contes russes,” in Journal of Slavic Linguistics
and Poetics,
3 (1960); idem, La pensée sauvage (1962), trans.
as The Savage Mind (Chicago, 1966); idem, Du miel aux
(Paris, 1966); idem, Le cru et le cuit (1964), trans.
John and Doreen Wightman as The Raw and the Cooked
(New York, 1969); idem, “The Structural Study of Myth,”
in Myth. A Symposium, op. cit., pp. 50-66, presents a
structuralist interpretation. C. Scott Littleton, The New
Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of
the Theories of Georges Dumézil
(Berkeley and Los Angeles,
1966). Bronislaw Malinowski, “Myth in Primitive Psychol-
ogy” (1926), reprinted in Magic, Science and Religion (New
York, 1954). J. Melville and Frances S. Herskowitz, “A
Cross-Cultural Approach to Myth,” in Dahomean Narrative
(Evanston, 1958), pp. 81-122, presents current theories of
myth. F. M. Müller, Contributions to the Science of Mythol-
(London, 1897); idem, Lectures on the Science of Lan-
guage, Second Series
(London and New York, 1869). Wilhelm
Wundt, Mythus und Religion, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1905-09).
Walter Otto, Dionysus (1933), trans. R. B. Palmer (Bloom-
ington, Ind., 1965). R. Pettazzoni, Essays on the History of
(Leyden, 1954), pp. 11-36. Vladimir Propp,
Istoričeskie korni volšebnoj skazki (Leningrad, 1946); idem,
Morfologija skazi (Leningrad, 1928), trans. Laurence Scott
as Morphology of the Folktale (Bloomington, Ind., 1958), and
as Morfologia della Fiabba (Turin, 1966). Otto Rank, The
Myth of the Birth of the Hero
(Leipzig, 1909). Paul Ricoeur,
The Symbolism of Evil (New York, 1967). W. Robertson-
Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, new ed.
(London, 1894). Wilhelm Schmidt, The Origin and Growth
of Religion,
trans. H. J. Rose (New York, 1931), presents
different methodological approaches. T. A. Sebeok, ed.,
Myth. A Symposium (Bloomington, Ind., 1955). Josef L.
Seifert, Sinndeutung des Mythos (Munich, 1954). Wayne
Shumaker, Literature and the Irrational (New York, 1960).
E. Siecke, Drachenkämpfe: Untersuchungen zur indoger-
manischen Sagenkunde
(Leipzig, 1907). E. Stucken,
Astralmythen (Leipzig, 1901-07). Edward B. Taylor, Primi-
tive Culture,
2nd ed. (1873; reprint New York, 1958). George
Widengren, King and Savior, 6 vols. (Uppsala, 1945-55).


[See also Astrology; Creation; Death; God; Nature; Primi-
tivism; Structuralism.]