In the course of seminars we always at some point came to the question: What is “Mythos” and why do have intellectuals and thinkers have dealt with that topic?
Martin Scharfe is a very learned man and as a kind of sum he published 2002 his book “Menschenwerk. Erkundungen über Kultur” (roughly: “Man’s deed: Reconnaissance of Culture”, an English edition is desirable) where he dedicates a chapter to the question “Was ist Mythos?” (What is Myth?). He leans on the work of Hans Blumenberg, whom I already mentioned on this site, “Arbeit am Mythos”, a fine, useful and learned book.
After all “Mythos” is a story that never gets old and never ends – the “Moderne” and the modern science did not make the myth obsolete. Mythos is the effort to explain the origin – obviously other kind of explanations do not work, are insufficient. The Mythos stands at the beginning of all. Scharfe, following Blumenberg, gives four points, describes four functions of Mythos.
(1) It helps man to stand against the impact of hostile forces as forces of nature and unpredictability of man himself. As Blumenberg puts it, Mythos is un-frightening man (“entängstigen”), bans angst, reduces the absolutism of reality, helps man to win distance; Mythos enables man to leave back the old terror as monstrosity – in one sentence: The world looses monsters. (“Die Welt verliert an Ungeheuern.”)
(2) Mythos does this by giving names (“benennen”). The terror is nameless, the highest grade of fright has no name and no face. The Mythos is a story and there are beings or entities with names: The Mythos transforms the nameless numinous (“numinos”) vagueness into nominal definiteness, he makes the “Unheimliche” approachable, speakable.
(3) It is not the case that Mythos and ratio (“Vernunft”, reason) are opposite and excluding each other. Blumenberg calls that a “late and bad invention”. They are not only no contradictions – Mythos has and is a kind of ratio of his own: It is ratio. So it does NOT vanish when the modern science “takes over” – the question is whether the latter really does. Science is not total, Mythos is.
(4) If one sees Mythos not only and always as a regression in barbarity the idea and the dialectics of enlightenment can be seen in a new light. Blumenberg speaks of the “tortous connection of myth and enlightenment”, and his word of “myth as enlightenment and enlightenment as myth” is not just a joke or play with words.

Adam and Eva eat the apple. They do against the divine command, follow their own idea. The beginning is marked not with a crime, but a sacrilege, a “Frevel”. As Kant and Schiller pointed out, they leave the old order of the instinct, in which the animals remain.
Eva’s first son is Kain, a man of the field, a farmer and founder of the first settlement (Gen 4,17); her second son is Abel, a shepherd. No human knows why Abel’s offering of an animal was pleasant to God and Kain’s grain not. They were on a field and Kain beat Abel to death. The text reveals nowhere what GOd meant about the sacrifices. Kain thought his sacrifice to be lessened – he was offended, he was jealous, he could not control his impulse. He is no criminal, he is man in full when he does his deed. The mark protects him from being killed, but he has to wander. The mark of Kain is the mark of man: He has the possibility to decide, he knows right from wrong, he has moral. He fails.
For the cultural theory it is important to note the power of the impulse and the knowledge of man about good and bad, that stand at the beginning.
Prometheus is a Titan, a mortal. He not only doubts the total knowledge of the Gods – he laughs about them. In the end he creates humans of his own and steals the fire. He gets punished.
His sacrilege – as the others – is culture-causing. He is – among other things – the founder of medicine. Aischylos lets the chorus say in his drama “Prometheus bound”: I made men cease from contemplating death. Dass Sterbliche auf ihren Tod hinstarren, schaffte ich ab. (That the mortals stare upon their death – I abandoned that.”

On the beginning is the sacrilege, die Untat, der Frevel, outrage. Man gets the highest and best what mankind can get – itself, the way of life, technology – by committing a monstrosity, bound to and by the results, the consequences of the ruthless deeds, the flood of pain and “Kümmernis” the offended celestial beings let descend on humanity – have to let descend.


7 thoughts on “Mythos

  1. I used to read a lot of mythology as a child. The other stories were nice enough but only myths could reach out to that primordial part of myself.The desire of humanity to overextend itself is fraught with consequences. Und das ist gut so.

  2. I love reading mythology. It comes to play a lot in my book. But for me the term “mythos” always conjures up thoughts of the Cthulhu Mythos or Lovecraftian Mythos. For an irreverent take on this, < HREF="" REL="nofollow">see here.<>

  3. LilyCaramba, doht’s some! “Mythos” as I use it here is just the Greek word in its original form. It is given as “word”, “public speech”, “telling, news”, “Conversation”, “kind of plan”, kind of order”, “something told”; it can also mean the subject of the speech, the telling – that what happened, history. What all these German words – naturally I have to use Greek-German books here at my desk, my translations are incorrect! – connects is, that they describe different acts of speaking: In the center of mythos is “telling” or “speaking”.I looked at various articles about it and looked at all the different words and translation ; I finally choose “Mythos”, I should have written it in Greek letters.It is the bare fundamental act of telling. The first explanation.

  4. A whittling down, to a scale or context that man can have a sense of comfort with, given his familiarity with the context at that point in time? That’s how I see it. What defines sacrilege? A sacrilege one hundred years ago may not be one today. If you look at Taj or Ajanta- Ellora,or recent Gurudev Tagore’s work, which for their period were path breaking,did they defy norms as one thinks they stood then? I don’t know.

  5. AustereTo whittle down” my dictionary (leo online) gives as schnibbeln oder stutzen, “to cut down”, to make a large thing small. I guess that is a function of the myth by naming things, giving ideas and images of otherwise un-speakable scenes.A sacrilege is more than a contravention or transgression – yes it is that too, but against what law? It is not a agreement of how and what to write, a kind of contract in a given society at a given time, that is broken by individuals; it is something deep fundamental and basic not committed by individuals but mankind impersonated in the acting single individual. The Latin word contains “sacrum” and “leg(i)um” what means the holy or sacred and the laws (lex, legis: das Recht, the law). It is irreversible – from this point onwards human is human. Maybe traces of animality can be found, sometimes I look at the news …

  6. Hamha ha, I was discussing “Fionn mac Cumhaill” last night! There is a comment posted for you on the Echotree. This is the best I can do for now.Be well!P

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