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Four Functions of Myth

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In the modern rational and pragmatic world, the interest to mythology grows and goes deep. As well as centuries ago, myths are captivating and mysterious; antediluvian stories appear unexpectedly urgent; the mankind continues to find food for mind and body in them. The profound psychology opened many secrets of a myth. The works of Freud, Jung and other psychologists reveal the unconscious bases of mythological symbols, the origin of grotesque characters of myths, sources of their extraordinary adventures and surprising destinies. However, the myths allow estimating new and unsurpassed combination of a naive charm and a huge wisdom of the simplest legend or a fairy tale.

According to Joseph Campbell, the basis of a heroic myth is composed of symbolic form of expression of two major notions in the collective and individual human history - creation of the world, and formation of a human being. In other words, the readers see a cosmogonic myth and the initiation ritual in the heroic epos. Thus, the myths from Mesopotamia include the two main notions singled out by Campbell: they describe both creation of the world and formation of a hero – a human being. The myths from Mesopotamia include the birth of the hero and his wandering correspond to the initiation symbols (transition ceremonies); on the other hand, deeds and death correspond to the creation of space (order) from the general Chaos. Both these processes are uniform to a certain extent, and initiation itself often has a cosmogonic character.

The most important part of the myth is a revival (transfiguration, salvation, magical escape), which is finished with apotheosis of a hero’s power and might. He gets unusual force, magic abilities, beauty, and an imperial dignity; he marries the princess and becomes a king, or a god. According to Campbell, the basic award for the hero in a myth is, so called, “freedom to live”. All these features can be found in the myths from Mesopotamia.

According to Campbell, the myth is a universal matrix of a personal growth. Using it fully, a person can live in the consent with own secret nature. Connecting together ancient symbols and modern art, primitive rituals and travelling of a hero, Campbell helps the reader to find a myth of a soul - a way which leads to pleasure.

One of the examples of such myths is the book “Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and others” written by Stephanie Dalley. This book represents the selection of myths of ancient people who inhabited Mesopotamia.

According to Campbell, the myths have four main functions. Let us apply these functions to the myths of Mesopotamia.

The first function is the awakening of the hero’s sense of the sacred trepidation and gratitude in front of the mystery of existence. The second function of the myth is the author’s goal to show the ideal picture of the world, inspired with the sacred mystery. Speaking of the Mesopotamian myths, it should be said that Dalley describes the Mesopotamia as an ideal and mysterious country:

“These stories all concern the deities and people of Mesopotamia, a rich, alluvial country which lies between the great rivers Tigris and Euphrates in modern Iraq. Their background is that of a very ancient, largely urban society, supported by agriculture and pastoralism, in which prosperity was assured by firm government capable of controlling irrigation for agriculture, and by extensive trading” (Dalley, 1998).

The artist’s main goal is to present the reality to the reader in such a way that he/she understands the meaning. Passed through a prism of the master’s sight a subject, which a reader would more likely pass without having noticed, is lighted up with the inner meaning, and it plunges a reader into an esthetic shock.

The third, sociological function of myth provides a reader with laws in accordance to which it is necessary to live in the society. Certainly, any society will not dare to declare that it definitely knows what these laws will be in the next ten years. Everything that we consider to be good is changed sooner or later. The last, pedagogical function of myths is its ability to give the possibility for an individual to connect the internal psychological world with external, phenomenal environment.

The myths of Mesopotamia give the reader the space for thinking and analyzing the perceived information. Having read any Mesopotamian myth, a reader starts to apply the external environment of a myth to own understanding of reality and personal internal world.

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