If you’ve ever wondered why you sometimes hear an echo when you speak, you’re not alone! Occurrences like this are what led to the creation of myths which are stories that try to provide an explanation for the extraordinary in life.
The Greek myth of Echo, (one of many great Greek myths) is about a nymph who was cursed and lost her voice to speak, only being able to repeat words uttered by others. The Greeks believed that every time they heard an echo, it was the nymph repeating their words, which may not make a lot of sense in modern-day, as this nymph couldn’t be everywhere and repeating such a great amount of sounds at once. But at that time, it made sense to the Greeks as myths were the way they (and others) understood life until more scientific discoveries occurred.
The Greeks, who relied heavily on the ocean, wondered why at times there were such severe storms. At that time, they used mythology to make sense of and explain their many questions. They believed Poseidon, the god of the ocean controlled the waves, and that if they send prayers and gifts to him, he would calm the seas for their safe expeditions. When there were great storms and high winds, the Greeks believed they were facing Poseidon’s wrath. However, we know now that the more accurate explanation for the natural dangers in the ocean is due to the wind blowing across, and the sun and moon’s gravitational force which causes the ebb and flow of the water.
While many myths are mainly if not completely fiction, they still serve several purposes, one of the most important ones being teaching morals in order to prevent history from repeating itself. Myths can be seen as the “easy way” to learn a lesson ahead of time before it’s too late.
A famous example of myths with morals to learn is Achilles, a soldier immortal everywhere but his heel, who fought in the Trojan War. Achilles had decided not to join the battle because his previous loots of war were stolen away from him by Agamemnon, a king who was part of the alliance. This resulted in Achilles’ friend, Patroclus (who was mortal, unlike Achilles), going into battle wearing Achilles’ armor. Patroclus dies in battle, to Achilles’ dismay. Achilles then goes and joins the war against the Trojans, and even after chasing down their king, nothing can bring back his friend or lower the amount of shame and guilt he feels. This myth teaches the lesson of having respect for those lower than you, such as in Agamemnon’s relationship with Achilles, where if he hadn’t considered Achilles a mere soldier and stolen the spoils Achilles had earned away from him, there would have been no issue with Achilles joining the fight. Another lesson that could be learned from this myth is not to be as petty over small things as Achilles was. He lost a close friend because of some small feudal event. One who reads a story such as this one might realize that friendship is worth more than a petty feud, and it’s better to let things go before they escalate.
Here’s a more relevant myth that still impacts us and has a great contribution as an annual holiday, Halloween. Halloween is a holiday of scary costumes, passing out candy, and pumpkin carving, based on a Celtic myth that originates from ancient Britain and Ireland. The original ceremony was held to celebrate harvests and the end of summer. The Celts lit bonfires and wore costumes to scare away the ghosts that they believed came out during the night. In time, this ceremony slowly changed as more and more people began to celebrate it, and had their own variations. As you can guess, costumes are still worn as the Celts did, but bonfires changed to lit jack o’ lanterns, and candy became our own variation as time passed. Overall, myths can be seen as festivals passed down from generation to generation, or as fun stories to tell.
Learning the myths of different cultures can also help connect and bring together people from all over the world. You’d be surprised at how people who seem to have nothing in common, actually believe in similar mythologies. Examples of this are the Haudenosaunee (aka the Iroquois) who are located in modern-day New York, the Hindus who originate from India, the Ainu from Japan, and the Greeks from Greece and other countries surrounding the Mediterranean. These people couldn’t be more abstract from one another, and not just in location. However, they all have the common concept of a singular divine entity controlling and continuing the flow of the world in their mythologies. The Iriquois and Hindus believed in a great turtle, the Ainu people with the trout, and the Greeks with a god named Atlas who bore the weight of the world. While these societies are located too distantly from one another to interact, we can learn from these people that we may have many visible or non-visible differences from others, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the same amount of similarities.
In conclusion, while you may still believe that myths are just nonsense, it is impossible to state that their relevance is non-existent, as certain myths are extremely important to others, as they can be valued celebrations handed down generation by generation. Nor can you disagree that there isn’t a lot to be learned from, or that myths aren’t a fun way to learn morals and lessons, compared to learning lessons the long hard way, when you accidentally stumble upon them.