The Meaning of Myths

Centaur an ancient myth ?by Dr. Dimitri Karalis
same article in Greek here

Myths or mythos for the ancient people was an allegoric vehicle to awaken the soul from its forgetful past for those who were spiritual and sensitive enough to recognise the veiled truth behind it.  The Greek word μύθος= myth, derives from the soundmou’=murmur, which we produce when our lips are closed and the word Μυστήριο=mystery= inexplicable, adjoins with it. Together they form a secret communicating organ for every soul who is ready to recollect the forgotten experience from their previous incarnations.

Every mystical truth when presented by a normal open concrete language, usually is misconceived and rejected by the undeveloped intellectually insensitive individuals.  For this reason philosophers, mystics, epic poets and even prose writers of all times used myths, allegorises and parables to veil the truth from the unready ones and to unveil for those who were ready to understand.

The soul of man possesses the capabilities to recognise and respond to truth that the myth carries, even before the mind grasped and analyse it. Most of us have been touched with this type of phenomena in the past and especially in our youth, before our minds and souls have been wounded and cobbled by dogmatism and wrong education. Soul responds sensitively to truth and its poetical beauty that encompasses the myth –and which has been lost through countless incarnations. Here, we see clearly the Socratic theory that our soul pre-existed and that all knowledge is nothing more than αναθύμισης=anathimisis= recollections from the past.

The inclination for a certain talent and the easier understanding of some life issues, are nothing more than recollection, says the English Platonist Thomas Taylor. The aim of a myth is not to entertain the senses and the mind by telling interesting stories, but to awaken the soul from its lethargic past. The Greek word αλήθεια =alitheia= truth, is derived from the word λήθη= lithe= forget -and the letter a’ in the front which means to throw away the forgetful-ness. In other words, the meaning of this word it speaks clearly, that truth searching is nothing more then throwing away the forgetfulness of the past or ανάμνησης= anamnesis= remembrance, as Plato used to call.

Every free and undamaged soul wakes up joyfully like a child by listening to the poetic beauty and the truth that myth unveils.

It feels exited, like re-meeting old friends and known events from its forgotten past. This is the grace and the glory that the myth brings- and of which the ancient Hellenes have so generously endowed us with.

The exegesis (explanation) of myth is a valuable exercise for the wandering soul. Although initially it appears as a fable, nevertheless when analysed, creates enthusiasm and reveals the depth and glory that contains.

Plato was one of the greatest skilful masters of myth producers with his brilliant written dialogues.  He often used myths, imaginations and metaphors to pass the knowledge and the deep mystery, which our life hides. He proceeded bit by bit in lengthy dialectic conversations, manufacturing with scrupulous care the foundations of truth, leaving no ignorance and microbes behind, neither allowing lies nor doubts to creep between his celestial edifices. Suddenly without notice or argument, he calmly finishes his intellectual masterpiece to glisten everlastingly in the minds and souls of humanity.

When Socrates was conversing with his friends about soul and knowledge, he introduced myths and metaphors experimentally and almost hesitatingly at first, as if he was entering a holy ground.  As he new well the misunderstanding of the myth initially by those unfamiliar and has taken the necessary steps to make it easier conceivable. Great care is needed to interpret a myth and especially Plato’s. When he speaks of a human soul turning to an animal, he doesn’t mean that man becomes a beast, but he wants to say that when man cares only for his sensual pleasures (hedonism), he descends voluntary to an animal level, without intellectual and spiritual thoughts as higher human being.

Soul is an abstract word without material substance. No language ever yet managed to outline its subtle nature. For this reason Plato often used symbols, myths and fantasies to lead the human intellect higher and closer to their soul. The myths in his dialogues of Gorgias, Phaedra, Pheudo, Republic and Symposium, are the most valuable treasures that he left us behind to read.

Homer with his story of Achilles heel did not mean surely that the only vulnerable spot of Achilles, was his heel, but he was allegorising that for every bad act that we do, we will not escape our punishment no matter where we will hide our self’s, it will find us like in the secret venerable heel of king Achilles.

The well-known myth of Odysseus, who was wandering in the stormy sea for ten years before reaching his Ithaca home, meant that every soul goes through testing hurdles and sufferings before it reached intellectual awakening, of spiritual destination.

The ancient sphinx that gave a riddle to passing pedestrians with a risk of losing their life if not answering correctly had metaphoric meaning. It was saying that our life has new riddles daily to be solved, and if we don’t answer them correctly, our future life will not be safe.

Resuming for a moment the enormous and admirable Hellenic mythological inheritance, I ask myself with a heart yearning: Why we are not taught this valuable truth and analyse them from our young age? Why such enormous valuable treasures remain untaught and hidden away from our schools and societies today?  Although we see clearly the advanced of their culture, we remain indifferent and apathetic to learn or study them theoretically.

What would we loose by being taught the meanings of these mythological treasures from the past? Would it not be useful to know little more about the meaning of our present earthy existence, – rather to accept blind beliefs without any knowledge of our life purpose what so ever?

Dr D. Karalis
South Africa
Copyright © 2003
All Rights Reserved.

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