Tag Archives: myths

A Sense Of Story

In his book, The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton makes the statement that although philosophers examine patterns when analyzing reality, Christianity is a story. I will add that so are all of the major myths from various cultures. Later in that same book, there is perhaps the most interesting and unique discussion about comparative religion which I have ever read. Whether you believe them or not, Christianity, Judaism, Greek mythology, Roman mythology, and Norse mythology (not to mention too many additional myths and religions to include in this post) are stories, and they address a fundamental need of the human condition. I remember being a college student in the 1970s. It was a time when these things could be discussed more freely than they are today. People weren’t nearly as prickly when challenged by ideas with which they disagreed.

The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801

Returning back to my opening statement, the recognition and analysis of patterns is extremely useful to the understanding of how nature works. My formal training in molecular biology taught me to do just that. Without the context of a story, however, patterns become disembodied, bland, and hollow. A widespread problem in modern society is the awareness that our weeks are like sentences which lack punctuation, especially that period or exclamation point at the end. Too often, it seems that nothing significant happens, something that adds definition to our existence. This extends into the fear that our lives have no story line and no underlying theme. Social approval only goes so far in filling this need. We long, often while resisting it, for a sense of belonging to something greater than individuals or groups.

Gods of Olympus, 1534-35 Giulion Romano
Gods of Olympus (1534-1535) by Giulio Romano

I’ve often wondered if this at least partly underlies our cultural fascination with fantasy, science fiction, or even horror. Especially in the case of the latter, do we jangle our nerves so that we will at least feel something? Lest you think I’m being overly critical, please understand that I love various literary and cinematic works of fantasy, science fiction, and mythology. The exercise of our imaginations can be extremely beneficial when it encourages us to conceive better things.

The Muse (1895) by Gabriel de Cool

May I suggest also taking a look at the hard stuff? Read the great works of epic and mythical poetry, including The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Divine Comedy, and The Poetic Edda. While you’re at it, you could certainly do a lot worse than reading works like, Confessions and The City of God by Augustine, The Bible, and the works of Plato and Aristotle. You won’t understand or agree with everything you read. I certainly didn’t, but I learned not only something of their content but also the pleasure of engaging in deep thinking. The driving can be difficult, but the ride is worth it.

Mercury and a Sleeping Herdsman by Peter Paul Rubens

We are by nature rebellious, so let’s rebel and begin to fill the hollow universe that has been left to us by materialistic thinking. I must add one more thing before closing. Learning is not enough by itself. Our lives become better stories when we apply what we learn by doing something, by adding quality to ourselves and our communities.

Merry Mythology

This is the day that western culture celebrates my favorite of all myths, one which I regard as fact. I understand that not all of my followers share in this persuasion, and my sincere prayer is that one day you will. Until then, I hope you will continue to follow me since I think I have demonstrated that I am not at all overbearing in my treatment of this topic of mythology. We can all learn from one another.

Christmas 2
The Annunciation (1898) by Henry Ossawa Tanner

If we can get the cartoons out of our heads, it is possible to consider the more profound aspects of the Christmas story. That infinite divinity took on a form we can understand with our limited faculties is a concept of the highest order.

Christmas 4
Adoration of the Child (circa 1620) by Gerard van Honthorst

Think of what those shepherds must have felt when angels announced the birth of the Christ child. These angels were not fat babies with wings. So impressive was their appearance that scriptures almost invariably mention their need to say, “fear not,” to those who beheld them. We pay good money to see movies with imagery less impressive than that. Might this reflect an unrecognized spiritual need?

Christmas 3
The Annunciation to the Shepherds by Cornelius Saftleven

The Christmas story is only the beginning of a greater story. So let me go all Tiny Tim on you by saying, “God bless us every one.” Happy Holidays. I’ll be back with the usual fare next week.

Christmas 1
Journey of the Magi (1894) by James Tissot

Mythology on Canvas (Part 1)

The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse
The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse

For my next several posts, I will discuss my impressions of individual paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This group includes artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Herbert James Spencer, John William Waterhouse, and Evelyn DeMorgan. These individuals are often noted for their realism, and they have sometimes been criticized for this and for their practice of working off of photographs taken in their studios. This was explained to me by Michael Greenholt, an animator for DisneyToon Studios.

What can be said about these painters? They were predominantly men, enjoyed portraying scenes from mythology, and evidently also enjoyed painting naked (or nearly naked) women, which was at least sometimes in keeping with the myths they portrayed. The realism for which they are criticized also made mythology more tangible. In my opinion, the composition of their paintings is unusual and visually arresting. What often draws my attention is that which is implied but not shown.

 Next week, I will begin examining specific examples of their work.