Myth vs. History

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Reply Tue 17 Nov, 2009 07:36 pm
Myth vs. History

Where is the line of demarcation? I've study ancient Mesopotamia (the cradle of civilization), and have run into some anomalies which science and history cannot explain, but which ARE described in the myths of that region.

For example, the sudden "leap of civilization" associated with the sudden appearance of the Sumerians, a developed civilization from where? There are no transition layers in the area, no migrational footprints. As one UCal at Berkley archaeologist recently wrote, we've been digging for over a hundred years now, and we have nothing.

Some cultural anthropologists suggest that if human cultural evolution had continued at a normal rate, we'd presently be at the level of the
African Bushmen.

But the real clincher, at least for me, are those pesky Old Babylonian math tablets. The extant copies go back to 2000 BC but scholars place the originals closer to 2500 BC, perhaps Akkadian or NeoSumerian in origin.

In any event, not only did these ancients inexplicably use a sexagesimal (base-60) system, but recent evaluations of extant math tablets (with a team led by Dr. Otto Neugebauer) have shown that some tablets contain, all in sexigesimal notation, cube and square roots out to several decimal places, the Pythagorean theorum, elaborate algebraic equations including quadratic equations (which were not re-discovered in our own decimal system until The Enlightenment), and even a table of sexagesimal secant squares!

Apparently the math of that region began to decay around 2000 BC, and by the time the Greeks arrived in Babylon, there was little left to salvage. However, it is now accepted that some math advances previously credited to the Greeks were the remnants of ancient Mesopotamia.

BTW: Egyptologists and Indus Valley scholars keep pushing back their dates of origin, and we may well end up with THREE ancient cradles of civilization. It is well documented from Mesopotamian trade records that these three regions had established trade routes and diplomatic relations going back to very ancient times.

Re: the ancient myths of the mysterious Kingdom of Colchis --Jason and the Argonauts and Medea and the golden fleece. Colchis existed, located the present Republic of Georgia. Until about 50 years ago, Georgians in the mountainous Svaneti region regularly dipped sheep fleeces in running streams to pan for gold -- golden fleeces. (And even predating that ancient Kingdom of Colchis, archaeologists in Georgia have found an intricately engraved silver bowl dating back to 2500 BC, with signs of another pre-Colchis high civilization.)

Two great ancient cradles of civilization speak of Seven Sages who taught the arts of civilization to mankind. These sages were sent to mankind in Mesopotamia by the god Enki, in Egypt by the god Osiris. Indus Valley archaeology is, unfortunately, sparse due to climate problems.

There are now several ancient "myths" that have some archaeological or historical evident to support them (such as the fantastically unbelievable antediluvian Sumerian kings list), and the number seems to keep growing.

Are we to presume there is NO REAL BASIS to these all these ancient myths and accounts, which are the ONLY extant explanations we have for ancient historical anomalies. Where do we draw the line between myth and history?

Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 04:01 pm
I do not think we can. Our knowledge of history is always partial and incomplete and filtered through our cultural bias and worldview. Myth perhaps does not even pretend to be a historical accounting of factual occurence. History pretends to be but is always biased, incomplete, and partial.

Some myths have a historical basis and evidence can be provided to show the myth is based on actual happenings and actual events and people. I suppose if one has this kind of evidence the myth becomes history but there is no bright dividing line.
Myths generally have a meaning or message which lies beyond their historical accuracy. In fact the historical accuracy or discussion of it miss the point of myth almost entirely. The Bible is an interesting mix of history and myth and the separation of the two has engaged scholars for centuries.
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 05:12 pm
Mircea Eliade writes the best stuff on this subject so far as I know, delineating the actual process of "how myths are made" Giving actual examples from research in rural Romania. I think this book is more recent (slightly) though-

Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?: An Essay on the constitutive imagination

My personal view is that the dominate narrative of our late capitalist universities is deplorably and disgustingly bloated with hubris.

The isle of Flores and the biblical behemoth are examples where archeology has scientifically proven the accuracy of absurd and ridiculous legends.

I believe Freud mentions in his little book Moses and Monotheism that everyone is in agreement as to the existence of certain historical figures up to a "demarcation point" as you put it. It becomes cloudy with the question, was there a man Moses?

One idea I have had, that I have not found anywhere, but seems reasonable to me, is that the biblical flood stories (Mentioned in Gilgamesh as well) have to do with the end of the last Ice age.
Didymos Thomas
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 12:09 pm
Myth is very often man taking history and writing into that history a narrative that transcends time.

Take the flood stories. There have been cataclysmic floods. Myths are written into these historic events for teaching purposes, to give meaning.

Today we have a tendency to think of a myth as something that is not true. And this is a mistake. Myths are written to be stories that are always true, true in the past, in the present, and in the future. Like most good novels.
sometime sun
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 07:39 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
History is Myth if you live it, if it becomse remembrance, History becomes Myth.
Now as to who, how why Myth becomes History i dont rightly know who, how or why, but hope there is one or many ways to make Myth History, could have something to do with the impact of the stroy of History shaping the Myth, what we wage war toda.
Example would be the Holocaust, has taken on the power of both Myth and History.
Powerful and still History altering, although not always necessarily Myth.
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 07:58 pm
@sometime sun,
Do they not both serve the same purposes, documentation of an ideology, cautionary tale, experience of a people we romanticize in some way. It seems functionally like the difference between a John Grisham Novel and a Piers Anthony Novel. One is fiction and somewhat plausible, the other fiction and implausible, both of them narratives design for the same purposes.
sometime sun
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 07:59 pm
Where does Scripture lie, Myth or History, both and in which order?
Does prophecy apply if apocryphal at all?

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