Parallel Greek Myths Essay, Research Paper
Mythology is the traditions that have been passed down orally, among a culture, for many generations. Myths can include several different elements, often varying slightly. Most include fantasy or unnatural characters, such as monsters, dragons, gods and goddesses. Myths generally tell a story which is the basis for many beliefs among a culture. Greek and Roman myths encompass the gods that the cultures worship. Myths often serve to teach a lesson or play on superstitions. The origin is unknown and because it has been handed down orally, there are variations in the story. The story often travels around to other cultures also. This leads to similar myths among cultures. Similar situations and characters appear in several myths. An example of this is the
Greek myths Io, Arachne, and Daedalus and Icarus. Although these stories are unrelated, they have similar aspects. They all use the transformations between people and animals and have a common theme of jealousy. A psychoanalysis of these myths shows deeper connections behind the stories.
In Greek mythology Io was an Argive princess and the daughter of the river god Inachus. She became the object of Zeus’ affection, who changed her into a white heifer to protect her from his jealous wife Hera. Hera still suspected that the cow was really Zeus’ mistress, so she asked for it as a gift from Zeus. She also requested that is be guarded by the 100-eyed monster Argus. This way Io would not be able to escape because the monster never slept with all of his eyes closed. Zeus then sent his son Hermes to rescue Io. Hermes managed to put all of Argus’ eyes to sleep with a series of boring stories. He then killed the monster. Hera was still angry and sent a gadfly to torment Io, who wandered the earth in misery. Io told this tale to Prometheus while he
was bound to a rock. He told her that her future would be full of hardships but she must
go to Egypt where Zeus would restore her to her original form. Io finally swam across the sea, later named the Ionian Sea after her, and reached Egypt. The was changed back into a woman and bore Zeus’ son, Eaphus, who was the ancestor of the Greek hero Hercules. Hercules later ended up freeing Prometheus from his rock.
Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalytical theories on the unconscious mind, which is where he believed myth to be derived from. His ideas can be used to incorporate a common theme in every myth. This universal idea was in male-female relationships. He believed there to be a power struggle among every relationship: male-female, male-male, and female-female. Freud’s explanation for this was that everyone had a mother and father, therefore the subconscious possessed these psychological ideas about sexuality. In applying these ideas to the myth of Io, there is the obvious sexual relationship between Io and Zeus. Zeus, as the king of the gods, is in a place of immense power and Io is inferior to him. According to Freud, Io’s submission to Zeus is unconsciously an act to replicate a father-daughter relationship. The daughter is subconsciously sexually attracted to her father and acts out on this desire. Looking at the relationship between Io and Hera, the sexual tension turns to competition. The older wife is jealous of the younger, attractive girl. The Freudian idea of anxiety, in which a person uses defense mechanisms to protect themselves from danger situations, is evident here. One of these danger situations is the fear of abandonment of a loved one. Hera’s crazed jealousy is a natural, basic instinct of survival. Although Zeus was notorious for his
infidelity, Hera, being the inferior partner, had little to compulsion to do anything about it. Hera’s anxiety about her husband caused her to use what Freud refers to as ego defense mechanisms. Hera displaced her anger of Zeus to Io. In sending the gadfly to torment Io, Hera was substituting an immediate solution for her ire towards Zeus.
The transformation of Io to a heifer is a common theme in mythology, representing the mercy of the gods. Mortals were often changed to another form to protect them from themselves and others. Greek mythology is largely based on the gods intervention in mortal life. As in the case with Io, the wrath and the mercy of the gods can be seen in the same myths. Myths often served the purpose to warn humans not to offend the gods. The myth of Arachne also incorporates conflicting ideas of the gods with a transformation between mortal and animal.
Arachne was a young Lydian women who was known to be gifted in the art of weaving. Not only were her weavings beautiful, but she watching her weave was also stunning. Her work was so remarkable that observers often commented that she must have been trained by the patron goddess of weaving, Athena, herself. Athena, resenting the implication that she was inferior to Athena, said she could out weave Athena. Athena was offended at this comment, but decided to give Arachne a chance to redeem herself. She disguised herself as a old women and gave Arachne a warning not to insult the gods. Yet Arachne only scoffed at this. She said she challenged Athena to a weaving contest and was willing to suffer any consequences if she were to lose. The goddess accepted the challenge and changed to reveal her true form. The contest began, the mortal against the goddess. Athena wove a scene depicting her contest with Poseidon for the city of
Athens. The scene showed Poseidon and the salt water spring and Athena with a olive tree, gifts to the people of Athens who would later name their city after her. All the bystanders agreed Athena’s work was marvelous. Arachne wove a tapestry showing various scenes of Zeus’ infidelities: Leda with the Sawn, Europa with the bull, Danae and the golden rain shower. The work was so exquisite that the bull seemed lifelike. Athena herself admitted the girls work was flawless. Though no winner had been proclaimed, Athena, angered with the audacity of Arachne’s challenge, destroyed the girls tapestry and loom. Although Athena wanted the girl to feel guilt, she never imagined she would commit suicide. She took pity on her and brought her back to life as a spider. In Arachne’s new form she and her descendents would forever hang from threads and be great weavers.
The Freudian aspect of this myth is not blatantly sexual, it lies more in the power struggle among the same gender. Athena, being the goddess and supposedly superior, became jealous when Arachne’s work rivaled hers. Whether or not the tapestry was better, Athena was furious at the thought a mortal could be on the same level as her. In destroying Arachne’s weaving, Athena was releasing her unconscious motivations of anxiety-provoking drives. An individual does this when something is socially or ethically unacceptable to a person. In Athena’s case she was reacting on both of these thoughts. Freud looks at anxiety in three categories: realistic, moral, and neurotic. Moral anxiety is not an outside, physical threat, but in the internalized social world of the superego. This can be seen as guilt or shame a person experiences within themselves. The unconscious instinctively resorts to the defense mechanisms. Hera’s rage in the myth of Io showcases the similar thought that mortal were to be inferior to gods. When this threatened to be untrue, the goddesses reacted in ways driven by fear.
An interesting aspect of the Arachne myth is that Athena took pity on the girl. When an injustice is committed against a god, there is usually no compassion for the offender. Though this is the case with the male deities, female deities had a tendency to show mercy. The matriarchal theory can be applied to understand this. Johann Jakob Bachofen believed in three stages of European culture. It began as hetaeristic, in which both genders were dominant in society. There was widespread sexual promiscuity during this time. The next phase was matriarchy where the females banded together to fight the chaos of hetairarchy. The social order then transitioned to patriarchy. During the matriarchal period love and worship of the mother figure was prominent. The goddess’ show of mercy can be linked to the traditional view of the female as the caring mother. The reasoning behind this compassion of women is that the possess a fundamental religiosity and the cult of the female deity. It draws upon the idea of a earth mother that protects all humankind. The female was seen as loving and caring. The female instinct for protection is also seen in the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. The goddess Minerva intervenes in the conflict in a maternally manner to protect the younger male.
Daedalus was a famous inventor from Athens who designed the labyrinth in Crete for King Minos. He and his son, Icarus, ended up in exile in the labyrinth for fear they would divulge the secrets to the maze. They were blocked by the land and water, but Daedalus realized the sky was open. He channeled his creative energy into defying the laws of nature. He created a pair of wings from feathers, twine, and wax to replicate those of a bird. As he fit the wings onto Icarus’ shoulders he instructed him to fly a middle course to avoid the water and the sun. In the excitement of flying the boy flew too close to the sun causing the wax on his wings to melt. Icarus then plummeted to his death in the dark waters of what later became known as the Icarian Sea. Despite the fate of Icarus, Daedalus’ sister sent her son, Perdix, to apprentice with the elder. Perdix was only twelve but he was very clever and inventive. He made the first saw out of iron and death. Daedalus envied the boys skill and hurled him headlong from the temple of Minerva. Daedalus lies about his murder, saying the boy fell. The protectress goddess Minerva managed to stay the boy in the air and give him wings. She changed Perdix into a partridge. The bird keeps low to the ground, fearing high places in remembrance of his uncle.
Minerva’s compassion towards Perdix is a clear example of Bachofen’s thought of matrilineal duty. The female has the natural instinct to protect and nurture. The male child has a large dependence towards their mother. Minerva was exercising her power as a mother. The myth of Io shows a dominance of Zeus over the women. This patriarchal society is thought to be a response to the overcompensation of the childhood male need for his mother. Freud was deeply influenced by the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy. He used this infantile love felt by a male child to his mother to explain the sexual tension in that relationship. As the male ages he maintains this sexual attraction to the mother figure. In the child-mother stage of the relationship, the mother has the love and protection for the child. The child sees this differently and develops his ideas about sexuality from his mother. He sees the female as the kind, caring partner. Even in a matriarchal society the men were not denied ways in which to act without female supervision. Men were trusted to hunt, fish, gather foods, mind flocks and herds, and help defend against tribal invaders. These were things that are seen as masculine in a patriarchal society. By allowing men to act in these roles, women put themselves at a place of inferiority. This ended up paving the way for the male dominance in society which is evident in Freudian beliefs.
Daedalus and Icarus is unlike the others because the jealousy is not involving the gods. It shows a male-male power struggle among mortals. Although the power struggle in the myths of Io and Arachne contain a deity vs. mortal battle, the Freudian belief lies in the same gender relationship. In all three myths the elder is acting out against the younger. The second generation has some element that is seen as a threat. Hera’s hatred of Io is based on the fact that she feared losing Zeus to the younger, attractive female. Athena’s jealousy of Arachne is because she worries the people will like the younger girls weaving. Her worry is intensified by the thought that a mortal could out perform a goddess. Daedalus murders Perdix because he does not want to be overshadowed by the younger boy. The reactions of the older generation in these stories are all based on their own insecurities. The fact that Io and Arachne contain struggles amongst humans and gods only strengthens the gods worry. This leads back to the Freudian idea of moral anxiety. Hera, Athena, and Daedalus fear a reality that is beyond means of their own comprehension and they act out in irrational ways.
Myth alone can give a cultural belief or an explantion of an event. By further analyzing myths, it gives a deeper perspective into the lives of the people it represents. The Greek myths Io, Arachne, and Daedalus and Icarus, all possess the element of humans transforming into animals. Looking at the reasons why the transformations occurred brings up more similarities among the three myths. The prominent theme is jealousy. There is a strong same gender struggle in which jealousy and anxiety are the driving force. Each of the stories also teaches a lesson, which is the primary reason for myths. By connecting the psychological thought behind the actions in these myths it is evident that the Greek culture had transitioned between matriarichal and patriarchal societies. The influence of religion was heavy on daily life. This demonstrates the idea that myths are symbolic stories that show the inner meanings of the universe and human life.
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