(The Intuitive Appeal of Myth)

Kirk A. Shellko

This paper examines the possibility of interpreting the significance of myth through epistemology.  Theories of myth abound, including Freud's psychoanalysis, Jung's theory of archetypes, Strauss' structural theory.  Guthrie and Kirk warn against interpreting myth through one theoretical lens and standard myth texts merely list various types of interpretation. Hansen and Martin write about orality and myth, but neither concerns himself primarily with myth's intuitive reception by the Greeks.  Detienne and Veyne argue that the term "myth" is either irrelevant or that it is a concept that does not adhere to a Greek "program of truth."  While there is validity to this assertion, there is no universal Greek "program of truth" to which myth might adhere.  There must be a more fundamental manner in which Greeks understood their stories. 

This paper, like Kirk (1974), contends that there is no universal theory of myth, that each theory - including the present one - provides the classicist with insight into myth's meaning and historical significance, but what is missing from the different theories of myth and theories of the origin and significance of myth is an understanding of the significance of the instant communication of simple knowledge about common living: issues of marriage, desire, murder, lust, power, truth and the like.  I contend that there is an intuitive comprehension inherent in the reception of a story that underlies its comprehension.  Myths were not intended exclusively for the educated upper class of ancient societies, but also for the likes of tanners and blacksmiths.  These were not educated men.  They required a form of story immediately comprehended. 

Myths communicate fundamental, mysterious truths or perceived truths in a simple and straightforward manner.  This ability of myth to provide a flat state of immediate comprehension is what permits it to act as a capacity for social cohesion.  Myths present human beings with an already comprehended knowledge of being-predicate.  In other words, human beings already have an intuitive knowledge of being, but the manner of a being becomes evident only through sensory input and experience.  Myth provides this input without universal, applied logic.  It is my intention to show how this function of the mind is stimulated by mythological story-telling such that myths present an immediate affinity with human understanding.  In other words, myths are vicarious experiences of common, personal-life events and perceptions of the miraculous.  They are immediate conveyers of knowledge in that they bypass the need for specialized education and the need for complex reasoning, although they do permit the educated and the powerful to reflect upon their logical, political or social-personal truth.  Myths were perfectly suited for all ancient Greeks who saw in them the validation of social customs and the immediate explanation of the order of the universe.  This fundamental ability permits communication across cultures while it presents scholars with the unsurpassable difficulty of constructing a theory of myth.  Thus this paper examines a simplicity of comprehension as a kind of open structure within which human beings are open to story-telling.  The universal appeal of storytelling becomes inevitable and the scholarly construction of a universal theory becomes impossible.

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