Beginning from the early civilizations, mythical images have been engraved in the human mind, albeit often unconsciously. Individuals and societies alike ask questions about themselves and sometimes find answers in the remote past (Ritchie 2017). Most of these stories might now seem irrational and irrelevant to some, yet they offer valuable insights to understand the social and cultural fabric of ancient societies. One of the strategies to explore these societies have been giving the texts an allegorical interpretation, which was to apply ‘a metaphoric mode of understanding’ to the stories that do not have ‘metaphorical language’ (Gibbs 2011). This strategy has long been used in the interpretation of myths, such as Homeric poems, religious texts, such as the Old Testament, and modern novels, such as Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm (Ritchie 2017). Metaphorical stories and allegories still shape our discourse on the topics like climate change, gender inequality, and racism.
Daily experiences of modern societies, not unlike their ancient counterparts, are also shaped by the mythical discourse. Both as an individual and as a society, human experience is not only associated with its immediate physical and social environment. Humans also experience events in the context of allegorical narratives and metaphorical stories. The allegorical narratives from both the distant and near past have been influencing the political ideology of societies and reinforcing the cultural responses to particular facts and events. In his seminal work Mythologies, Roland Barthes showed how the instruments of mass culture transformed the mere objects of everyday life into symbols and how a mythologist can decipher these symbolic meanings (Leak 1994). Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was such a transforming book deciphering the complex and oppressive myths about female identity (Le Doeuff & Dow 2010). In the political sphere, Edward Said’s Orientalism criticized the concept of Eurocentric History and deciphered the myths of colonialism about ‘the Orient’ (Young 2004).
The Third Symposium on Mythology: Allegorical Interpretations, Cultural Responses and Human Experience welcomes submissions from academics, intellectuals, and students working on myths, culture, and politics. Alongside the papers analysing ancient and modern myths, their role in understanding cultures, the relationship between myth, history, and philosophy, this year we especially encourage papers focusing on how the allegorical discourses have reinforced the established gender roles and identities throughout history, how femininity is represented in stories and myths, and how these myths have affected women’s experience in everyday life.
Gibbs, Roland. 2011. The allegorical impulse. Metaphor and Symbol, 26, 121–130.
Le Doeuff, Michèle and Dow, Suzanne. 2010. Beauvoir the Mythoclast. Paragraph, 33, 1, 90-104.
Leak, Andrew. 1994. Barthes, Mythologies. London: Grant and Cutler.
Ritchie, David. 2017. Metaphorical Stories in Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Young, Robert. 2004. White Mythologies (2nd ed.). Routledge.
General Information about the Symposium Series
Although, for modern societies, the term “myth” stands for a tale, an untrue story, a legend, a superstition etc., for archaic societies who existed prior to written culture, myths were narrations of “the ultimate origin of reality” and, in that respect, they were not tales but true stories based on Reality. Therefore, a great philosopher like Plato appealed to muthos as a pedagogical means for telling his views through the Dialogues. On the other hand, along with the transition from mythopoetic thought to cosmological arguments, an irreversible diffraction occurred in the history of ideas, and philosophy parted ways with mythos for a certain while. Centuries later, however, many theorists in both clinical psychology and contemporary philosophy made use of the myth as a symbolic means of expression and pioneered a “mythic-turn” in the social sciences. This fact indicates that mythology remains an essential area of interest for humanities like philosophy and psychology. This is also the case for the disciplines of sociology and socio-cultural anthropology, whose practices developed within the framework of rituals, myths, customs and traditions, indicating that myth and mythology have pervaded into daily life, that they have turned into a reference guide, sometimes due to their guiding spirit and sometimes by being a tool for social control.
Throughout historical and cultural processes, human beings have attributed divine meanings to the factors influencing them. By attributing such meanings to natural forces that were superior to them, humans also adopted the habit of symbolization. Furthermore, depending on the geographic and cultural context they were in, humans developed solutions for inexplicable events and/or situations such as illnesses. To specify, humans sought for genuine solutions by means of the daily practices they structured around the myths and legends, which were transmitted to them through cultural heritage.
Legends and symbols are not discoveries that archaic people carried out on their own; rather, they are the products of a cultural whole that is well limited, kneaded and transmitted by some societies. In this way, some of these creations spread to lands far away from their own root-soils, becoming absorbed by the local people of those lands who would not recognize these elements otherwise.
As the interaction between literature and mythology is at stake, a similar picture confronts us in this domain. Myths of several cultures have been shaping modern literary texts, and the characters in these myths have been creating modern stereotypes. The world where the mythological characters of ancient Greece and Rome belong may seem exaggerated for the modern reader. However, when the historical journey of literature is considered, it is understood that myths, initially, provided an inspiration for tragedies. Just like the fates of tragic heroes, the fates of mythical characters are full of circumstances that point towards a “moral.” From this perspective, it is undeniable that mythology is an essential reference for modern literature.
Within the literary world, almost all writers apply myths, mythical characters and related archetypes that then become woven within the collective unconscious as a means for their literary narrative element for various purposes. Thus, it is difficult to understand Ulyssesby James Joyce, who is one of the most prominent writers of English literature, or Oedipa Maas by the American author Thomas Pynchon without the knowledge of classical mythology. As is obvious, mythology plays a crucial and central role in shaping and constructing literary genres, fiction and the relation of characters.
Without the knowledge of mythology and iconography, art history could not be comprehended, nor could art criticism be carried out. Today, mythology is the primary source to which one appeals in order to interpret the works of art ranging from the hunting scenes on the walls of Lascaux to the masterpieces of the Renaissance and the products of eminent artists of various genres from primitivism to cubism.
Certainly, the dance of mythology with other sciences cannot be limited to the abovementioned disciplines and areas. Myths and mythological systems have a peculiar role for each discipline associated with the humanities and social sciences. Based on this fact, as young academicians, we have decided to organize a worldwide symposium and, by doing so, we desire to bring together academicians and students from all areas of study including philosophy, sociology, anthropology, literature, psychology, art history and the fine arts provided that their papers are in direct relation to the theme of the symposium.
Catalin Partenie, Plato’s Myths, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2009, 1.
Çiğdem Dürüşken, Antikçağ Felsefesi: Homeros’tan Augustinus’a Bir Düşünce Serüveni, Alfa Yayınları, 2013, 6-8.
Mircea Eliade, İmgeler Simgeler, Gece Yayınları, Ankara, 1992, 10-11.