book review Essay

Submitted By gael1991
Words: 1152
Pages: 5

Used as a primary source in understanding and studying comparative mythology Eric Csapo’s Theory of Mythology offers us an elaborate and comprehensive dissertation on mythology. His work reviews, analyzes and challenges our most fundamental perceptions and understandings of myth. Posing such questions as: What are the origins of myth? What are myth primary and auxiliary functions? How has myth influence our thinking? Why do we study myth? And how does myth continue to manifest in our present world? These questions which might seem trivial and perhaps superfluous at first become progressive harder to understand and explain as one read through the pages of Csapo’s masterpiece. Csapo’s approach is direct and elegant. He first tries to chronicle the historical research and arguments that have been made about myths and he progresses into scrutinizing myth through four different lenses. He first analyzes the significance of myth, its practicality and its shortcomings in psychoanalytic theory which looks at the society to which the myth belongs. Then he proceeds on to analyzing its practices and ritualistic functions which investigate the foundations of these rituals and examine the relations between myth and rituals. He then analyzes the structural composition of myth, which look internally into the myth and the archetypes and contradictions embedded into the story. Finally, Csapo looks at the overall purpose of these particular myths, what their importance is for their intended cultures and how a particular myth can have different meanings for various groups within one culture. Csapo started the book with some comparative approaches. Csapo explores the earliest theories on myth stemming from the 19th century. First we are introduced to Max Muller, a German-born British educated philologist and anthropologist who started shaping anthropology, hence the study of culture, language, religion and myth into a format which extended beyond mere speculations and conjectures. Muller who had been displaced to India lived among the natives and was therefore able to better document and study the culture, traditions and lifestyle there. On that Muller formulated the basis of Solar Mythology theory which he saw as the source of all mythology. Csapo also exposes us to James Frazer, who took a more universal approach and try to compile as many similar versions of the same myth as possible and try to find a root myth to which all these myths can traced their origins. Frazer thought that all myths and all human knowledge came from one bank in the earliest phases of civilization and such a myth he called the Urmyth. Such a task proved a challenge since similar myths are ubiquitous in world stories and religions. There is a strong sense of eurocentrism in the views of many of these early anthropologists, something that Csapo made sure to voice. Csapo saw that as a shortcoming of their analysis of myth. These pioneers of myth studies, he argues, not only used their own experience to express myth but they did so by referring to non-European myth as primitive forms of expressions. They believed, he argues that civilization moved along a scale of intellect and technological advancement, and as Europe had advanced further technological, they had also done so intellectual and socially. These pioneers it seems saw in African and American Aborigine cultures a window to their past as if non-European culture inevitably would aspire to achieve the same technological and intellectual feat that the western world had. Csapo balances well the arguments of these early pioneers while taking into account the dangers that are marked in espousing such Darwinian views both for the purpose of academia and for the social interaction of scientist and the group being studied. Csapo then goes on to address the different schools of approach used by Freud, Jung and their contemporaries in using myth as a tool for psychoanalysis and a telescope into the