Friday, May 04, 2007

A short history of Myth - Karen Armstrong

I have picked this book up from Hyderabad Airport as I was waiting for the boarding announcement. A small book with a very catching name. As I briefed through the pages to see what is being discussed, grew interested and picked it up.

It is amazing to know how the myths are created and being created even now. What is the role of myths in human life and how they are important. Myths are ways of connecting our mortal lifes to the unknown or are they the imaginations of our forefathers. What do they teach us ?

The book is written in seven chronologically seperated chapters

The Paleolithic Period: The Mythology of the Hunters' (c. 20000 to 8000 BCE);
The Neolithic Period: The Mythology of the Farmers' (c. 8000 to 4000 BCE);
The Early Civilizations' (c. 4000 to 800 BCE);
The Axial Age' (c. 800 to 200 BCE);
The Post-Axial Period' (c. 200 BCE to c. 1500 CD);
The Great Western Transformation' (c. 1500 to 2000 CE).

As the chapters indicate, the creation and the progression of myths as the human race has developed in this world are described amazingly. Myths are created in this world because they are your connection to the world of unknown , the world where there are no explanation. In the early ages, where hunting was the only job, most of the myths ( as you see in the cave drawings etc) are related to that. As we progress through the ages, it is interesting to see how the myths and the religion have changed and how newer versions of the myths are created. She spends ample pages discussing the clash of 'mythos' versus 'logos' toward the later part of the Christ Era ( 15 th to 20th century ) where for western philosophers and scientist wanted to know the truth and how the world order has changed. This has made quantum jump in the scientific world and the important of myths started to take a back seat.

On the other hand it is the history of the human race through the myths. From the hunters to farmers to traders and to the latest information age, the human race had travelled a long way and dropped few old myths and embarked newer ones to the changing spiritual , religious order.
A very clear thoughts and writing has made this a compelling read and her experience as a religious history writer helps her in getting to the discussion with ease. Except in the end pages, where the future is discussed with respect to the western civilisation (which I find unconvincing) , the book is very well researched and informative.

Before I end, I would like to quote the following paragraph from the book:

" We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow being, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideologic tribe. We need myhts that help us to realise the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a resource. It is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet."

A short history of Myths
by Karen Armstrong
Penguin Books
Rs 225

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