Contend Earnestly: Mythology 101

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mythology 101

What is mythology? For years I have been wanting to investigate the tales of the Greeks and the Romans. Like many of you my understanding is very limited and due mostly to bits and pieces of stories that I have heard over the years. Names like Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Medusa, Hades and the Titans come to mind. I am also familiar with authors like Homer and Virgil as well as books like Iliad and the Odyssey. I have vague memories of stories but over the years I must admit that the line between fact and fiction has become a bit blurred.

Many of you may know that I find great joy in watching USC football. I have been watching my beloved Trojans play since I was nine years old. I can’t believe I don’t know more about the Trojan Wars but I can tell you the names of all seven Heisman Trophy winners. I have not given it much thought but I now have a very clear understanding of the true story of the Trojan Horse. Without going into the whole story the Greeks tried to defeat the men of Troy but could not break through the city walls. So the Greeks devised a plan to hide their men in a giant wooden horse and leave it at the gate of Troy as a gift. At night when the city was asleep the men climbed out of the wooden horse, opened the gates and let the Grecian army into the city for a victory. Be honest, how many of you thought that was an actual historical event? Just one of many great myths found in Homers classic, The Odyssey.

How about the “warring men-haters” who were a nation of women, all warriors known as “Amazons”? Just a myth. And I hate to break it to you ladies but unicorns don’t exist either.

I find it fascinating that Greek and Roman mythology is generally supposed to show us the way the human race thought and felt untold ages ago. Through it we are suppose to retrace the path from uncivilized man to the man of reason and rationality. When these stories were being shaped we must understand that little distinction had been made between the real and the unreal. The imagination was vividly alive and not checked by the reason. So although real places were named and explanations for real things like creation, spiders, thunder, lightning and love were described reality was subjective.

The Greeks unlike the Egyptians, made their gods in their own image. Primitive man, whether in Indonesia today or ages ago in prehistoric wilderness has lived in fear and terror of who their maker was. The Egyptian gods had no semblance of reality. They were unlike all living things. A woman with a cat’s head, men with birds’ heads, lions with bulls’ heads and both with eagles wings deliberately made inhuman and mysterious.

Greek mythology humanized the world. Men were freed from the paralyzing fear of an omnipotent Unknown. The terrifying incomprehensibilities, which were, worshipped elsewhere, and the fearsome spirits with which earth, air and sea swarmed explained by the Greeks.

The “Unknown” or “God” as we would describe it was terrifying and irrational to Greeks. The Greeks felt as if they had freed the earth from the monstrous idea of the inhuman supreme over the human. We see the seeds that man is god.

Greek mythology is largely made up of stories about gods and goddesses but it must not be read as a kind of Greek Bible, or an account of the Greek religion. According to the most modern idea, a real myth has nothing to do with religion. It is an explanation of something in nature; how, for instance, any and everything in the universe came into existence: men, animals, trees, flowers, stars, storms, earthquakes all that is and all that happens.

It becomes very clear why the Bible begins with an explanation as to who made this world. The creator of the world is the God of this world. By trying to substitute Greek mythology into the science of creation the Greeks are able to eliminate God. We see the same war being waged today by scientists through the fable of evolution.

Myths are considered early science; the result of men’s first trying to explain what they saw around them. But there are man so-called myths, which explain nothing at all. These tales are pure entertainment. The sort of thing people would tell each other on a long winter’s evening.

The world of Greek mythology was a place of enlightenment to the beauty of man. They had no desire to create some fantasy shaped into their own minds. All the art and all the thought of Greece centered in human beings. Human gods naturally made heaven pleasantly familiar. Homer stated, “Greek artists and poets realized how splendid a man could be, straight and swift and strong, He was the fulfillment of their search for beauty.” And modern secular humanism was born.

The Greeks had no need for magic or ugly witches. The Greeks believed god was created in the image of man. We believe that man was created in the image of God. In this subtle difference man is really god according to the Greeks. The Greek gods are also described as being very human in their character. The most important god, Zeus is represented as falling in love with one woman after another and descending to all manner of tricks to hide his infidelity from his wife. He was not omnipotent or omniscient and he is not even the only god. It was a brilliant way to lower the true God to the level of man. Like man their gods are not perfect or holy.

I’m not sure if these myths originated as timeless tales or a masterful plan by the evil one to distract, misguide or even lie about the realities of how things came into being. It is evident to me as I learn more about them that they have been a stumbling block to many. Surely western political philosophy, which has been descended from Plato and extended to today, has been strongly influenced by these myths.

Finally be alert and stand firm for our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the schemes of the devil, the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:11-12). See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Col 2:8) Where is the wise man? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God. The foolishness of God is wiser than men, the weakness of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor 1:18-25)


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