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Mythology and gullability - did people really buy these stories?

  1. Jan 20, 2010 #1
    Surely, weren't there at least some people who dismissed these stories with a roll of their eyes? Is there any speculation of the extent to which people accepted these stories? Is it comparable to today's religious beliefs?

    Were there laws based on myths?
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  3. Jan 21, 2010 #2


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    I think a better approach would be along the lines:
    a) To which extent would the believers vs. unbelievers be the substance of the dominant layer of their society?

    b) How can the existence of the myths been seen as necessary co-motives in how actions were performed/avoided?

    Something like that, perhaps..
  4. Jan 21, 2010 #3
    Depends on how broad is your definition of myth. One could view law as a code based on moral judgments concering social conduct. Then laws would based on these ideas, which could be described as personal or prevailing myths. A good book is The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz. This discusses mythology in a specific modern context.

    One premise of the book is that so-called "mental illness" does not emerge from an empirical test, there is only a pattern of interpersonal behavior and an invented name. This process is closer to that of making a legal judgment, says Szazs, then it is to making a medical diagnosis of a disease using a procedure which elimates moral judgments. One can learn much about the roles in society, human psychology, prevailing mythology, just from reading this one book.

    So my answer is yes, since law is based on moral judgment about personal concuct, and so is the concept of morality in general emergent from prevailing beliefs or myths, there is a deep connection between myth and law which has yet to be consciously fathomed by the experts in these fields.

    I would add that the Psychiatry establishment sought to discredit Szasz because he "did not believe in mental illness." What Szasz did believe, based on social evidence, is that humans are persistent self-other communicators who seek doctors, psychiatrists, and legal/social helpers when they are in pain (i.e., it is natural for humans to complain and seek help when one is in pain). The meaning of these behaviors is open to further interpretation ...
  5. Jan 23, 2010 #4
    I do not believe that most people of those ages actually believed the myths though may have considered them allegories for less tangible beliefs than say a humanoid god having his hand bitten away by a giant wolf. Among the many cultures with complex story based mythologies story telling was a major form of entertainment and art. To figure that they must have believed these stories either is naive or betrays an unwarranted concept of one's own intellectual superiority, in my opinion. Certainly several hundred years from now one may read and watch sci fi books and films from this era and decide that we must have had some strange ideas about what could be done with science and technology.
  6. Jan 23, 2010 #5
    That's an interesting take on things, Statutory. Today, the amount of fictional material, disseminated widely, rivals the factual. Why should people of any other era be any different?

    If a big event happens, like the earthquake in Haiti, we flock to it in common knowledge, trading gossip. When it goes away, and things return to the mundane, we go back to fictional material as the most tintilating. Ball games are no exception to fictionalization. These are contrived battles or ‘big events’, as much as the gladiatorial games of Rome—though thankfully less bloody.

    Why should people of any other era be any different? How much of their fiction-of-entertainment do we now consider to be things they considered factual?

    I think if we want to know what people actually believed to be factual, we should look at what they published in their times of tribulation rather than comfort.
  7. Jan 28, 2010 #6
    Well Put.

    I am drawn to the Norse Myths more than any other right now. I need to get my hands on a good translation of the Prose Edda because currently I am only basing what I know of the Norse Myths from childrens books (which I still love, those stories stayed with me forever.) I'm betting there is a lot more to these tales than the simplified versions that most people know about.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2010
  8. Jan 28, 2010 #7


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    You don't think the Egyptians believed in their Gods?

    You know about the Greek temples to Mercury, Venus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Athena. How about the Roman Gods? You think the Norse didn't believe in their gods? You think the Hindu do not believe in their gods? What about the Gods of various Chinese religions? Many of these gods are still fervently worshipped today.

    What are you talking about that they only considered the tales about their gods as entertainment? Go to a temple anywhere is Asia and tell them they don't believe in their gods.
  9. Jan 28, 2010 #8
    I am not saying that they did not believe in their gods only that they likely did not believe the stories to be true, at least not literally. I will accept that the Norse likely believed in Loki but I can not really accept that they actually believed he was bound under the earth with a serpent eternally dripping venom into his eyes but for his wife tending him with a bowl to catch the venom and that earthquakes happen every so often when his wife must leave him to empty the bowl of venom. I do not believe that the egyptians truly believed that the source of the fertility of the Nile was the phallus of a castrated god. And I do not believe that Romans actually believed that Zeus turned into a, what was it? a bull I think? to mate with a human female and begot Hercules, though I could imagine they may have believed Hercules to have existed in some form at some time.

    Do you really think that we are so much more intelligent than they were back in the day that we can see their 'religion' as fanciful stories and they could not?
  10. Jan 29, 2010 #9


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    Ok, so similar to how normal Christians don't believe the earth earth/universe was created in 6 days, and the other stories of the angels and virgin birth, and other miracles in the Bible, such as Jesus healing the sick, or rising from the dead, etc...

    I guess that a large part of the population back then may have believed more than people now do. Don't forget they used to do blood letting to remove evil spirits. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/redgold/basics/bloodlettinghistory.html
  11. Jan 29, 2010 #10
    i'll put in a somewhat biased but i hope worthwhile plug for the norse myths translated by a professor i had in college, kevin crossley-holland, a great man and poet, and amazingly gifted in language. he hasn't done (to my knowledge) the edda, but he wrote an excellent norse myth translation. he also did a beowulf translation, though i haven't read it yet. you could find his work at a giant online bookseller.
  12. Jan 29, 2010 #11
    I am uncertain if you are being sarcastic here or not, lol.
    I would consider Jesus to be somewhat different just like Hercules. The idea that such a person existed and did incredible things is something I think many people would believe though I think most would at least be skeptical of the accuracy of the stories.
    Angels I know a lot of people believe in. Whether or not they believe the stories in the bible about them actually happened would be another thing.

    Superstition is yet another thing. We still have it today too though primarily in other forms and we usually refer to them as myths such as humans only using 10% of their brain. Based on a certain world view and ignorance of modern medicine I can see how someone might believe that there is something evil in their blood making them sick. The same way a person in a modern developed society with their world view and ignorance of science may believe silly things like 10% usage of the brain. Either way I think its a far cry from believing in fancy stories.

    I know that there are people who do believe the bible literally word for word, though I think that they are a minority. I believe that the catholic church is also partly responsible for the phenomenon. Until about one thousand years ago most people paid little more than lip service to Christianity. Then the church defined the biblical canon and formed the inquisition to enforce strict interpretation of it. I am not certain if any ancient religion ever had such a pervasive and wide spread force driving strict adherence to particular beliefs.
  13. Jan 30, 2010 #12

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    What? The Inquisition didn't exist until Protestants were around... Less than 500 years ago. The Catholic Church was THE dominant force in Europe from 800 to 1500 AD, and they took it literally.

    And to the OP, if you want to ask "Did the Norse really believe this stuff?" ask "Do Christians really believe this guy can walk on water, heal the sick with a touch, and save everyone's soul?"

    OK, now go and ask a devout Christian that. You'll get one of two responses:

    They will answer you. Not bloody likely, but possible.


    They will strike you. Quite likely.

    Yes, they believe this stuff. I should know, I'm a Christian.
  14. Jan 30, 2010 #13


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    Eeh, the Inquisition was established in the late 12th century, charged with combating heresy.

    You are mixing them with the Jesuits.
  15. Jan 30, 2010 #14
    I read a book on the inquisition not that long ago. Either I am remembering wrong, they had it wrong, or they over generalized the time period. Wiki agrees with Alridno on the time frame.

    The church was dominant primarily through the leaders of kingdoms who endorsed the church. As I noted though most people (i.e. the peasants) were Christian in name primarily and still held fast to their original cultural beliefs referring to their old gods as saints or angels. Since the people had relatively lax loyalty to the church it felt all the more threatened by movements such as the Cathars and the Waldensians. So they created the office of the Inquisition which still exists today, though I forget the proper name, and is responsible for preserving canonical law and proper interpretation of the canon. Again this is what I have read and the book, or my memory of it, may be off.

    As far as belief I would not presume to tell you what you believe. I know many Christians and have met very few that believed in a literal interpretation of the bible. I am working up my hypothesis from my own experience and vague memories of statistical studies on strictness of belief among Christians. I would maybe go looking for those stats or pick your own brain regarding your strictness of belief but I do not wish to offend you with my questions and I think it would be against forums guidelines to pursue such a discussion. I am perhaps coming close to that line as it is.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2010
  16. Jan 30, 2010 #15


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    I doubt that it's likely that a random off-the-street devout Christian that prone to violence, especially on a hair trigger. In fact, I would expect it to be incredibly unlikely. :tongue:
  17. Jan 30, 2010 #16

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    @Hurkyl: question the basic beliefs of my religion, and... well, actually, I'm in the first category. But I see a LOT of Christians who fit the second question.

    @Statutory: Ask away, I'm not offended by people asking questions about my beliefs, no matter what the questions are. Not here, though. In a PM maybe.
  18. Jan 30, 2010 #17


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    Several I would recommend.


    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13007 & http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13008

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  19. Jan 30, 2010 #18


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    I was thinking it likely I have never met one.
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