Myth, Science, and Real Life

Myth, Science, and Real Life

Pentecost 24

The mythologies of the world are just stories, right? I mean, who would think a “true scientist” would connect their science with such stories? They make great bedtime stories and perhaps even help explain religious doctrine or the consequences of not following such but, c’mon….Who really thinks they have any place in today’s modern society?

Mythologies have been around for almost as long as mankind has and their relevance to the current living of mankind has never wavered. I am not referring to the recent movies or children’s books that have been printed for the past eight centuries. Nor the continued killings based upon error and prideful myths supposedly to earn one a place in the afterlife. We may think of the ancient mythological legends as just characters in unbelievable tales of might and power but they also place important roles in our living today. You might even say they play gigantic roles.

Greek mythology boasts the most well-known of the deities and the giants of all mythology. The poet Hesiod helped secure their place in the world’s literature by claiming the “gigantes” were the children of two spirits, Uranus of the sky and Gaea of the earth.   The gigantes became involved in a power struggle with the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus (more about them next week) in a battle known as the Gigantomachy. The fighting stopped when a character named Heracles fought on the side of the Olympians. The giants were laid to rest under the earth, buried for all time. However, the Greeks believed that their pain, their grief would be felt occasionally in the form of earth tremors, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

Few were uncovered, according to legend. The Spartans supposedly unearthed the body of Orestes, measuring almost ten feet long, in Tegea while the Athenians uncovered the body of Theseus, also said to be taller than an average man. The folk hero Ajax was also said to be a giant with knees, according to the writer Pausanias, the size of “a boy’s discus”. This would make Ajax fourteen feet tall, a giant in any culture. The Cyclopes were also children of the Olympians, children of the deities and nature spirits such as nereids, naiads, and dryads. They were also considered giant in size. One of the more prominent ones was Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and Thoosa.

The being may or may not have had a basis in reality but their names have become a part of our world, even the scientific world. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Donald W. Black writes: “Narcissistic personality disorder is named for Narcissus, from Greek mythology, who fell in love with his own reflection. Freud used the term to describe persons who were self-absorbed, and psychoanalysts have focused on the narcissist’s need to bolster his or her self-esteem through grandiose fantasy, exaggerated ambition, exhibitionism, and feelings of entitlement.”  Even parts of our brain are identified with the name of a Greek goddess, Psyche.

The place mythologies held in the cultures of the world empowered those cultures. We may consider them mere stories but they instructed, educated, inspired, and organized the people who heard them and believed them. It may seem silly to us but some of our doings would seem silly to our ancestors and, most likely, they would be right in their judgement.

The brave take the time to learn and then decide if what they believe has merit. Life is not for the weak. Socrates once said: “All men’s souls are immortal but the souls of the good are both immortal and divine.” The Cyclops is reputed in myth to have said: “We villains are a very select group indeed. In the very desperation of our hate rests our strength.”

It is not hate that the myths encourage but the acknowledgement that it exists and can destroy. While Cyclops may have seen an advantage in hating, the real truth is that hate destroys. It does not create; it does not build; it does not lead to happiness. Those who garner power by hating and destroying others know that more of their kind will follow and destroy them. The conflicts in the Middle East are not power struggles between the Western world and the Middle East but in-fighting, brother against brother, Muslim against Muslim. Their attempts to overcome through hatred simply lead to prolonging the battles and the destruction of their culture and acts contradictory to their faith.

The world has always needed heroes and mankind has written stories of hoped for heroes since the beginning of time. Author Rick Riordan explains what a true hero is and has always been in his book “The Mark of Athena”: “Being a hero doesn’t mean you’re invincible. It just means that you’re brave enough to stand up and do what’s needed.”  Sometimes that means staying the course in spite of troubles and sometimes it is not a grand gesture but a simple smile. One kind act like smiling can be a giant gesture in the life of a stranger. I hope today you share a smile and see the hero that lives within you.

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