The Use of Myth in History: Ken Dowden

Monsters exist in order to be defeated and, preferably, slain. (134)

Ken Dowden

Ken Dowden

Ken Dowden’s The Uses of Greek Mythology (Routledge, 1992) provides an excellent guide to the ways in which Greek myth was used to construct Greek historiography that was set in the more remote past.

I particularly like the following quote from the book, which should be meditated upon at length by a fundamentally uncritical strand of scholarship which is unfortunately prevalent today within biblical studies:

No matter how fictional or artificial local myth seems to us, it is always capable of being treated as strict history by interested parties. (89)

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Filed under Ancient Greek, Greek Giants, Myth

12 responses to “The Use of Myth in History: Ken Dowden

  1. Emma

    Not to mention the bizarre notion that seems to be prevalent in biblical scholarship that the ‘original listeners’ believed in the myths as literal truths.

    • steph

      don’t know Emma – maybe you mean apologists rather the biblical scholars.

    • Tyrone Slothrop

      Yeah… that notion the ‘orginal listeners’ believed in the biblical stories merely as having some literal correspondence with reality, or that this was always the most important function for them… and the opposite error, also prevalent in biblical scholarship, that these ‘original listeners’ distinguished myth from history and read the former as only conveying ‘deeper truths’ without any form of correspondence with reality.

    • Tyrone Slothrop

      Memo: I must write a book, ‘Did the Jews Believe in Their Myths?
      a la Paul Veyne.

  2. steph

    ps – in case I wasn’t clear: It is not “prevalent among biblical scholars”. It is “prevalent among apologists”. See Willie Lane Craig, Blitherington, and the rest of those american dudes confessing statements of faith with their shiney white teeth and crisp matching collars and flashy wide ties bearing illustrations of Noah’s Ark and the like… Critical biblical scholarship does NOT assume the ‘original listeners’ (in quotation marks?!!!!) believed in the myths as literal truths. That’s the sort of wrong idea that the mythers like to exaggerate, accusing biblical scholars of being Christian apologists. Get off the grass!

    • Tyrone Slothrop

      The center of the empire still churns out the majority of “official” biblical scholars, as you probably have noticed, Steph. But criticism thrives on the periphery ;-)

      • steph

        you’d better start supplying some evidence to support your accusations Tyrone.

      • steph

        and you’re being very unclear. Perhaps you are referring to old conservative OT scholarship, maybe you’ve been reading to much imaginative whackos like dumbell mcdonald and royal robbie price and implying NT scholars are ‘hiding’ their ‘evidence’ (and their ‘arguments’ are full of mistakes, more than I ever imagined, as you know I am witnessing an ongoing investigation by my companion, the Prof), big conspiracy against the mythicists. Maybe you’ve been reading too much american apologetic ‘scholarship’, even the Jesus Seminar could have led you astray and inspired assumptions they promote… You’re being very unclear. To say it’s prevalent in biblical scholarship is just plain wrong.

      • Tyrone Slothrop

        I was thinking of the approach to Genesis-Kings, which many (most?) still view as essentially corresponding to some historical kernel. Those were the “fictional or artificial local myths” which I particularly had in mind as “capable of being treated as strict history by interested parties” in biblical studies.

        This does not apply to the Gospels. McDonald reminds me of that chap who ‘demonstrated’ that the Maori language was related to Egyptian. The Gospels are based on a historical figure, with – as is the case for all writing about historical figures from Alexander to Jean-Baptiste Sans Souci and beyond – lesser or greater amounts of myth tacked on.

  3. steph

    I think you might have a hard time finding evidence to support the notion that many/most contemporary OT scholarship is that naive, but it would be reflective of old scholarship. But thou art forgiven if ever thee sinned although ye ain’t the blinking messiah!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not yet anyway… :)

  4. steph

    I did not pardon thee. Thy Great Onenessothernesswotevaness pardoned thee.

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