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Mythological studies in itself provides a convenient canvass of the history of scholarship: the study of myths and rituals has become a focus of many analyses in literature, anthropology, and religious studies.Attitudes toward the mythological today are less “monotheistic” than in the past—but few scholars would argue for earlier models that presumed that myths merely constituted primitive attempts at science, or reflected interpretations of astrological models.
Demonstrations of the problems that primitive Christians had with their Jewish compatriots and forebears (the New Testament has several equations of “myth” with “Jewish concepts”) generally help more neutral audiences to understand some of the hostility that led to early-Christian burning of the great Alexandrian collection of all remaining Greek manuscripts because they were mythic and hence “anti-Christian.” Modern and contemporary anthropological evaluations of the mythic include Bronislaw Malinowski’s (1884–1942) emphasis upon myth as an active social force and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s proposals that myths represent attempts to resolve philosophical dialectics between—ultimately— being and nonbeing.
Yet it is perhaps an open question whether or not myths really resolve the ancient Zoroastrian dichotomies reflected in the Hebraic prophetic contrast between human inclinations toward good or evil.
The “mythical” came to be considered less important than the “logical,” and the history of Western science was off and running with Aristotle (384–322 BCE).
In the Roman period, largely due to excesses of allegorical interpretation, ), named such traditional mythological stories—and then later the Christian apologists sought to show that the Christ myths were superior to the traditional Western stories (even though their artists repeatedly created early Christian images using the traditional heroic models).
Rather, a multidisciplinary approach acknowledging several factors is widely accepted: psychological functions, sociological applications, even philosophical dimensions are now considered relevant.
Myths and mythologies are like the lenses in our now variously tinted spectacles: we see through them.
Certainly biblical folklore and mythology presents a third most important source of Western mythological traditions, but today “world mythology” has become yet more central in most educational contexts, even at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, where the English department is responsible for the humanities education of the plebes.
The Academy has found world mythology to be an excellent way to inculcate tolerance and receptivity to other world cultures (primarily using one of the many widely available collections, such as Donna Rosenberg’s ).
It is easy to note their afterlife in language, as is seen in English-language adjectives originating from the Greeks: hermetic, mercurial, Apollonian, Dionysian, narcissistic, oedipal.
Many of these figures reflect the central roles of creativity and development that somehow always recur as an important dimension of the mythological.