ALS  Vol.2 No.1 , January 2014
Myth and Epic
Abstract: Anthrologists and literary critics tend to read even sacred ancient literature in the manner of Homer’s and Virgil’s epics, that is, as fiction with historical elements. They don’t, however, always follow up with the implications of that. Mesopotamian myths and epics are similar to Greek and Roman ones in that regard. The pertinent questions are who believed what and what effect literal belief in myths hadon given social orders. One answer in the Hebraic tradition is typical of other traditions, namely that calls for reform at home and for campaigns against enemies abroad rely heavily on the presumed historicity of the texts. For the Israelites, that means the unquestioned validity of covenants struck between legendary patriarchs and Yahweh, at least within the Yahweh cult itself. The hybrid forms of Dante, Milton, and others in the Christian European tradition draw on both well-traveled epic conventions and the veracity of biblical traditions, as Milton does in turning a Homeric invocation of the muse into an appeal to the Holy Spirit. Much as Milton, too, is now read as a poet rather than an inspired seer, so probably were earlier authors who claimed direct personal revelations. If that was in fact the case, it would have weakened moral teachings less than cult recruitment andthecall for military campaigns against foreign powers. Whereas legal and ethical matters have muchto recommend them independently of their origin, waging war on religious grounds requires strong convictions.
Cite this paper: Toliver, H. (2014) Myth and Epic. Advances in Literary Study, 2, 19-26. doi: 10.4236/als.2014.21005.

[1]   Arnold, B. T., & Beyer, B. E. (Eds.) (2008). Readings from the Ancient Near East. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.

[2]   Cassirer, E. (1946). Language and Myth. New York: Dover.

[3]   Frye, N., & Macpherson, J. (1962, 2004). Biblical and Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework of Western Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

[4]   Frye, N. (1982). The Great Code: The bible and Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

[5]   Frye, N. (1990). Words with Power. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

[6]   Gilgamesh (1991). The Epic of Gilgamesh (A. George trans.). London: Penguin.

[7]   Gilovich, T. (1991). How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York: Simon Schuster.

[8]   Girard, R. (1977). Violence and the Sacred (P. Gregory trans.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[9]   Gunkel, H. (2011). Israel and Babylon: The Influence of Babylon on the Religion of Israel. Kindle edition.

[10]   Herodotus (1972). The Histories (A. De Sélincourt trans.). New York: Penguin.

[11]   Hesiod (2004). Theogony, Works and Days, and Shield (A. N. Athanassakis trans.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[12]   Kahn, P. W. (2008). Sacred Violence: Torture, Terror, and Sovereignty. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

[13]   Lucan (1992). Civil War (S. H. Braund trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[14]   Milton, J. (1957). Complete Poems and Major Prose (M. Y. Hughes ed.). New York: Odyssey Press.

[15]   Pagels, E. (1995). The Origin of Satan. New York: Random House.

[16]   Raglan, L. (1990). The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama part III (1956) in In Quest of the Hero. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[17]   Shermer, M. (2011). The Believing Brain. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

[18]   Statius, P. P. (2004). The Thebaid: Seven against Thebes (C. S. Ross, trans.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[19]   Trigger, B. G. (2003). Understand Early Civilizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[20]   Virgil (1990). The Aeneid (R. Fitzgerald trans.). New York: Random House.