Finally the last topic! Not really, but the last topic before the two DLC topics…
No particular history or mythology lessons this time, but just a short and fast trip through ancient times to see how myths evolved from worship based on fear, later gratitude, to means of control and in the end to entertainment for either the masses or the chosen ones.
Previous topic: Siegfried and tales of heroes.
From etiquette to entertainment
- The sheer variety and number of myths and legends makes them very entertaining stories;
- Initially they weren’t created for entertainment purposes and as their form changed (orally transmitted -> written down), so did their details according to the social position and influence of the ones recording them;
- Japan: Kojiki written at the end of the Asuka Period and Nihon shoki written at the beginning of the Nara Period talk about the same myths and history and are considered canon literature -> 8 years apart, yet they still differ in certain parts due to political circumstances -> sometimes such differences lead to different readings of history*;
- It is widely believed that the concept of gods was first applied to phenomena that affected people’s daily lives -> nature worship -> oldest chief gods were the ones who controlled thunder -> the ones who could summon heavy rains, leading to floods and great losses;
- The evolution of civilisation -> rise of the sun/harvest chief gods -> communities were now better organised and had improved their construction and flood control skills -> sedentary population -> around this time myths began to be written down;
- Human societies developed => the leaders’ power needed to increase as well;
- Ancient societies -> leaders = religious or political figures -> influential people were assimilated to or related to gods -> marrying gods in sacred ceremonies/inserted into legends as heroes => led to changes in legends (e.g. arbitrary changes reflected in Kojiki or Nihonshoki);
- Originally the stories were all dispersed -> collected in writing -> any contradictions removed (especially if done at the request of various rulers) -> separate episodes became a continuous tale -> legends and myths became entertainment -> an imaginary history;
Myths exchanged in ancient times
- Religion evolved from polytheism to monotheism -> old religions were considered ‘heretical’ -> small cults disappeared/big cults survived (Hinduism, Shinto);
- Greek mythology (once the most important in the world)-> remained as part of the cultural heritage or stories written for entertainment purposes;
- This entertainment tendency is not recent -> in ancient Greece -> Homer’s ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ -> sang in front of many people -> may have been a form of worship, but -> transmitted orally -> improvisations (which could also depend on the listeners’ preferences);
- After Homer (8th century BCE) -> other writers/poets -> 6th century BCE (Athens) -> numerous Greek tragedies written and played;
- Stories now known as the ‘Greek mythology’ -> collected in Alexandria in 2nd century BCE (including the tragedies);
- These tragedies etc -> different from the ancient myths -> could be considered derivative works;
- One more argument for the entertainment idea -> the Library of Alexandria was not a general library accessible to everyone -> more of a private place for the royal family and friends;
- Sumerian and Akkadian legends -> collected in other libraries -> vestiges of Nippur, close to Baghdad -> collection of 62 works on clay tablets (‘Sumer Literary Catalogue’) -> thought to have been used in religious ceremonies;
- Ancient libraries collected myths and legends from all over the world in a time when the concept of ‘nation’ didn’t exist yet -> people travelling over long distances for commerce etc -> exchange of both goods and ideas => similar motifs in mythologies from everywhere.
* You can read a bit more over here about each work and the differences between them. Basically Kojiki focused more on mythology, was recorded by low courtiers and used a mix of Chinese script and native words with very few concrete dates and distinctions between the actual reigns of the emperors and, most important, does not mention Buddhism. Meanwhile, Buddhism became really popular in the Nara period, and Chinese influence is particularly strong in Nihon shoki (written in classical Chinese, quoting several Chinese literary works), which was compiled by a prince and focused more on historical events and chronology, and added a set date to the beginning of the imperial family, despite the difficulty of dating the age of gods (they didn’t, they just added Jimmu at some point). Nihon shoki also shows clearly the Chinese influence in the organisation of the state, imperial court and arts.