Myths—inspired stories which relate “things which never happened at any particular time, but which always are,” in one ancient author’s memorable phrase—have played an important role in wisdom traditions around the world. But the role of myth is often woefully misunderstood in our contemporary society, where myths are seen as mere fiction, falsehood, or silly stories that “other people” tell who are “too ignorant to do science,” the way “we” do.
In this two-part series, we’ll try to recover a richer, more robust understanding of myth, with the help of some Platonist philosophers of the 3rd-5th centuries, who defended and explained mythic modes of knowing for an age, much like ours, in which elite opinion scorned traditional myths.
In the first session, we’ll follow Sallustius, Hermias, Proclus, and other late antique Platonists as they examine two specific mythic stories: one drawn from Homer’s Iliad, and another taken from the works of Plato himself. With their help, we’ll build a robust toolkit of strategies for approaching interpreting myths. By following them in their rich, multi-layered interpretations, we’ll begin to cultivate a sense of what it’s like to think mythically, where apparently divergent interpretations do not simply co-exist, but mutually enrich one another. And we’ll gesture beyond Homer and Plato, to consider Sallustius’ suggestion that the entire cosmos can be read as a myth.
In the second session, we’ll work together to apply the strategies we’ve collected to two further myths: one from Plato, and one from the Old Norse Eddas. We’ll ask all participants to spend a few minutes each day, during the week between the two sessions, working with these two myths on their own in light of what we’ve learned in the first session, so that we can all bring the fruits of that work to share with one another: both specific interpretations and understandings of the myths themselves, and more general challenges or insights about the mythic mode of thinking.
NOTE: Since the second session—and the week’s work leading up to it—are intended as an opportunity to apply the lessons of the first session, we will ask that only those who have been part of the initial exploration on FIRST DATE attend the second session on SECOND DATE.