[Myth MAIN page]  [AH index]  [^^TERMS index]

Mythology: The Power of Presence

[^^A/H Index]


[^^A/H Index]


See also: [Philosophy Concepts] [(art) concepts] [Time Line] See also: [Philosophy Concepts] [(art) concepts] [Time Line] See esp: [The Power of Presence] (Armstrong, etc)

Mythology: The Power of Presence

On this page: {Greek Myths} {"The Powers of Presence"} (Robert Plant Armstrong)

Greek Myths

An interesting question is: "So, what importance do these ancient myths hold for us today in the modern world?"

Kenneth McLeish

In his introduction to Robert Graves' masterwork "The Greek Myths", Kenneth McLeish puts it thusly BEGIN BLOCK QUOTE [The Christian writers would sift through the various Greek works trying to fit them into the existent theology.] [P. 15] This is the kind of reductionism Graves mentions at the beginning of his introduction -- and he was one of the people influential in throwing open the windows and letting in fresh air from the world of classical appreciation outside of 'the classics'. A robust alternative tradtion began in the Renaissance and contintinued un-abated: Of viewing the Greek and Roman legacy, and the myths which underpinned it, not as pedant-fodder, but as a source of fascination and delight on the one hand, and of inspiration for new work on the other.
In Renasissance Italy, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Palladio had begun their careers by studying ancient sculptures and buildings -- and then re-defined former rules and practices to suit the sensiblities of their own age. Peri and his fellow-members of the camerata [Note 1], trying to work out the structural and emotional strategies of ancient Greek trageday - invented Opera. In England, study of Aristotle and Seneca led not just to anodyne pastiche of classical drama, but to the work of Shakespeare and Jonson - prefigured a generation before, when Marlow as a universeity student, seeking and English quivalent for Virgil's hexameter in his Dido: Queen of Carthage, perfected the "The mighty line" which was thenceforward standard English verse drama. Sidney re-interpreted Theocritus to create English pastoral; Froissart's chronicle history of the fourteenth century, drawing on the methods of Herodotus and Plutarch, translated into English in the 1520's, sparked a dozen imitators to investigate the originals witht he result that the Plantagenets and Tudors were written about with the same energy, and the same annalistic and analytical techniques, as had once been used to descrribe Xerxes, Alexander, and Cleopatra. All this activity, at the populr rather than the academic level, used ancient literature in the same seedbed manner as that in which literature itself used ancient myth. And it provoked a hunger not just for new work, but for accessible translations of ancient texts. Until the Reformation, it had been anathema in Europe to translate the Bible, on the grounds (understandable if you were a fundamentalist and thought that God spoke Latin) that translation might damage the divine utterance. The same attitude had been applied to all works in ancient languages: If you wanted to enjoy Homer, Virgil, or Ovid, you had to learn Greek or Latin. But in the sixteenth century all that changed. Two of the most popular English-language books of the time, both drawing heavily on Greek myth, were Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses [P. 16] (1565-1567) and Chapman's version of Homer's Odyssey (already circulating in the 1590's, published in 1616). In the next two centuries, 'amateur' enthusiasm for the ancient world continued to grow at an exponential rate, fueled by such events as the un-earthing of Pompeii in 1748, Napolean's discovery of ancient Egyptian culture in the 1790's and the delivery by Lord Elgin of the Parthenon Marbles to Britain in 1812. Molier's plays assumed knowledge of Platus, La Fontaine's Fables drew on Aesop and Horace, Johnson parodied Juvenal, Gibbon magisterially followed Tacitus. Eighteenth-century (1700c) painters, sculptors and opera libretists left practially no story from classical myth or history un-touched, and for anyone baffled by some of the references, there were handy books such as Lemri'ere's Classsical dictionary ! (1788, and still one of the best available to set them straight. As familiarity grew, two things happened. First, popular knowledge and enjoyment of the ancient world moved even further away from academic study. Second, writers of fiction began to use the ancient world as subject-matter, either closetly researching the sensibilities and attitudes of its inhabitants (as Flaubert did in Salammbo^, 1862, set in ancient Carthage), or cheerfully assuming that Greeks and Romans were prototypes of our-selves (as Lord Lytton did in The Last Days of Pompeii, 1834, or as Lew Wallace did in Ben Hur/em>, 1880. By the 1930's there was a long tradition, side-stepping academe, both of popular transaltions of ancient authors (such as those in Everyman's Library or in Samuel Butler's and T.E. Lawrence's versions of the Odyssey and of fiction re-interpreting the past in modern terms. Robert Graves himself contributed three of the most influential, and outstanding, examples of this second genre in I, Claudius and Claudius the God (both in 1934), giving the fourth Roman emperor the psychological attitudes of a post-Freudian, post-Imerial age, and The Golden Fleece (1944), rationalising the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Amazingly, despi9te all this interest and all [of] this work, the Greek myths themselves still tended to be downgraded. They were regarded as stories, ingrdients, and nothing more; their religious status was systematically sneered at and demolished by Christain apologists and their socail and anthropologoical resonances went largely un-acknowledged. Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890-1915), the first attempt to relate myth to real socieites and genuine practices, was side-lines by his academic colleagues. [P. 17] even in the 1960's, an Oxbridge tutor could advice a student, "If you want to shrink your brain with that sort of non-sense, go and look at the other Pitt-Rivers shrunken heads" -- and although the myths were told brilliantly for children (for example, in Hawthornes Tanglewood Tlaes, 1853), they were hardly regarded as fit material for adult attention, except when worked over in works of fine or literary art. This was the climate in which Graves [] was educated. Robert Graves (24 July 1895 7 December 1985) -wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Graves If you were interested in myth, you were automatically lumped with children, 'primitives' -- in the mid-1930's one respected Encylopedia of Mythology refered tp Afrian aboriginal myth as "fairy-tales for Blacks, of no interest to the advanced European mind" -- or such "cranky" anthropologists as Margaret Mead. Then at last, in Britain at least, the thaw began. [also: J.R.R. Tolken is writing about this time!!] In 1846, Allen Lane established the Penguin Classics list, devoted to new translations of the great works of European (and later world) literature, and found, in E. V. Rieu, an editor who combined a scholar's eye for detail (Rieu was a classics-educated civil servant) with an open-ness of imagination and a romantic willingness to try hunches - the idea combination for such a post. Rieu wrote one of the finest versions of Homer's Odyssey ever published (Penguin Classics' inaugural volume), introducing the classical world to millions of ordinary readers; he commissioned outstanding versions of the Athenian tragedies (from E.F. Watling and Phili Vellacott), and in 1951 he turned his attention to Greek myth, asking Robert Graves - an inspired choice - to produce what would be, in effect, the first collection to treat the myths both as fascinating stories and seriously, with narrative cohesion, psychological verisimiltude and philosophical density - in short, as matter fit for adult human minds. Graves began The Greek Myths

Armstong: POP

"The Powers of Presence -- Consciousness, Myth and Affecting Presence", by Robert Plant Armstrong.... "THis book is a wonder (a gift) to the world. [It] ... along with the other two books ("In Vain I Tried to Tell You" -- Essays in Native American Ethno-poetics" and The Social Use of Metaphore [sic]) could be used for an abs fab course in spiritual modernism" -- Frank Leeding, UGAATUT, 2006.05.02. [P.3]

The Powers of Invocation

Powers of Virtuosity



(this section only)
[1] Peri The *camerata* .... {Back up to the TEXT, above} [2] {Back up to the TEXT, above} [3] {Back up to the TEXT, above} [4] {Back up to the TEXT, above} [5] {Back up to the TEXT, above} [6] {Back up to the TEXT, above} [7] {Back up to the TEXT, above} [8] {Back up to the TEXT, above} [9] {Back up to the TEXT, above}