Sunday, February 17, 2013

Myth vs. philosophy

Yesterday, I got into a bit of a discussion about Hellenismos and the foundation of its ethical system. The person I was debating this with, stated that in the Hellenic Era, myths lost their standing as literal facts, and as such, they should not be used to structure the ethical system of modern Hellenistic religion. Instead, we should focus on philosophy, as set out by the ancient Hellenes in said era. Examples include Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle but also 'pre-Socratic' philosophers like Xenophanes, Pythagoras, and movements like Pluralism and Sophistry. There are many more, of course, and many of them older. Stoicism comes to mind, as does Epicureanism. Wiki has good introductions to all of those, but seeing as the focus of this post will not be on the actual philosophies, I'll not explain these terms further at this time.

Seeing as this was the view of my opponent, it is only logical that my thoughts on this differ from his. I have discussed the importance of defining the age or era of ancient Hellas you draw your major inspiration from before, in a blog post about said ages. In that blog post, I also specify I am a follower of the Classical period, a period where the popularity of scholars and poets increased, but had not yet overtaken the minds of the followers of the Theoi in a way. This is the age in which Socrates was put to death for endangering Athens with his ideas.

Needless to say, at least to those who frequent my blog, I am very invested in mythology, and most--if not all--of my ethical, social, and religious framework comes from the accounts of ancient writers like Hómēros, Hesiod, and all the playwrights. I believe in a form of literal interpretation of mythology. From that post:

"Literal: this one is related to the previous three and is probably the most controversial one; Hellenists are called to see the myths of the Theoi as a literal interpretation of the nature of the Divine, as well as history as a whole. What happened in the myths, literally happened. It's called living with the Theoi on a daily basis. It means seeing the divine in everything. Lightning is just as much a scientific phenomenon as Zeus' mighty weapon cast down upon the earth. The little girl who guided Odysseus to the palace of Alcinous was just as much a little girl as the personification of Athena. The two overlap and co-exist. And as such, Hēraklēs' madness was brought on by Hera, and--at an even more basic level--Hēraklēs existed. He may have existed in multiple men, but there was once a man so powerful that he could only be the child of Zeus, and the many extraordinary things he did could only be attributed to a man aided by the Theoi. Literalism is tied to supernaturalism in a way that can not be untied, and as such, I feel it is part of Hellenismos. To chalk the myths up to metaphor is to deny the Theoi."

As I explained in that post, this is my vision, my view, on Hellenismos, and it might not fit yours at all, while we both honor the Theoi in a Recon manner. If so, think of the ages of Hellas and see if you subscribe to an earlier or later era, or a different region of Hellas.

I feel myth was inspired by the Theoi Themselves, while philosophy was created by humans who saw society and drew conclusions from it. These conclusions often included a religious aspect because society was religious (even though the ancient Hellenes didn't have a word for 'religion'), but at its core, they deal not with religious matters. they deal with the influence of religion on humanity and society. As such, philosophy--of which I am a great fan, by the way--will never be the foundation of my faith, because religion and philosophy have a different goal; one to guide mankind in the way of the Theoi, the other to understand mankind. There is nothing religious about the latter.

Myth, on the other hand, was written by human hands, but with the Theoi in mind. They describe events in a way the ancient Hellenes viewed them--guided by divine hands. As such, it is far more logical to me to look for ethics in mythology than philosophy--this is the way the ancient Hellenes saw the world, and if I want to re-create their worship, I, too, must learn to look at the world through their eyes. They encourage and discourage certain behavior upon which the Theoi looked favorable or frowned upon. It is this behavior pattern I, as a Reconstructionist of ancient Hellas, look to adopt. For me, that is the core of Reconstructionism; to adopt not only the Gods, but also the mental framework of religion of the culture that you are invested in. This is why I go on and on about ancient Hellenic culture on this blog: to understand them is to understand a little more of the Theoi, and of the behavior desired of me. 

My opponent and I worked it out: we applied a 'live and let live' mentality to our discussion and we both learned something from it. I got to cement my feelings about mythologically inspired ethics in a blog post, and he--hopefully--learned not to make sweeping generalizations in the future. Again, I don't have The Truth™ or the One True Way™. Your milage might--and probably will--vary. To me, that's alright, as long as we can be civil and respectful to each other. 


Daphne Lykeion said...

Personally I draw from both. I think that the myths tell us very important things about the gods and our relationship with the gods. I don't consider myself in the interpretations of the myths to be a literalist really, I think that there can be factual based information in there but that they are serving more to be informative rather than relay historical happenings. In my view their purpose is served by telling us about the gods rather than relaying exact events. Therefore I appreciate that myths have an allegorical nature. I don't seen them as metaphors any more than I see them as literal, but that there is information buried through allegory used in the language of myth to give us further insights in regards to the gods. And I will happily admit that I draw much more from the myths and my understandings of the allegories within them then I do from philosophy.
But I also like Philosophy, particularly the work of Plato and some of the work of Plutarch.
So I find it isn't much of an either/or thing for me :) Though I can see how it can be for others.

UltravioletAngel said...

i always look to the myths and legends as moral stories, and if we can draw on those morals that have been drawn on in teh myths then , its a lesson in itself. i haven't read many philosophical authors, but i am striving to do so by hunting down books form Plato, Aristotle etc to get a better insight of what they were like and see how they saw th world sort of speak