Myths are stories passed down as part of the traditions of a culture that attempt to explain the history of the people or explain a natural phenomenon. Myths usually contain supernatural beings-humans with supernatural powers and/or deities with supernatural powers.
An understanding of traditional myths, especially those from the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman cultures; is helpful because many writers draw on these myths in their works. Many writers use allusion to popular myths in their writing.
The ancient Greeks explained how the sun moved across the sky using a myth that has the sun god Phoebus driving his chariot across the sky each day. The son of Phoebus, Phaethon, asked to be able to drive his father's chariot, but lost control-scorching the Earth. This myth was used to explain the deserts of Africa, and the dark skin of Africans (they were charred when Phaethon lost control).
The ancient Greeks explained famine and the seasons through the myth of Persephone. Persephone was the daughter of the goddess of the harvest, Demeter. Persephone was stolen by Hades, the god of the underworld, and taken to the underworld to be his wife. Her mother was so upset that famine was the result. Zeus told Hades to return Persephone, but she had eaten a pomegranate, so she could not be free completely. She had to spend a portion of the year in the underworld. Persephone's time in the underworld corresponds to the winter-when the earth is barren and nothing grows.
In the Hebrew Torah, which also makes up part of the Christian Bible, there are two myths that are often alluded to-the story of creation and the story of the flood. In this tradition, the world was created by God, and he created man and woman (Adam and Eve). Sin and death are explained because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of the perfect Garden of Eden. In addition, the story of Noah tells how the earth was destroyed by a flood, but that God sent a rainbow to show that he would not ever destroy the earth in this manner again.
Examples of Allusions to Mythology in Literature:
Shakespeare often alluded to myths, as shown in this example from Romeo and Juliet:
Gallop apace, you fiery footed steeds / toward Phoebus' lodging.
Shakespeare also alludes to the Roman myth of Cupid, the god of love. Cupid shoots people with his arrows, which makes them fall in love. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare alludes to Cupid when Romeo tells his friend, "His arrow has pierced me too deeply, so I cannot fly high with his cheerful feathers."
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