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11.07.2019

Modern Myth-Making | Connecting with Culture

Several of the most talked-about recent books retell the Greek myths.

Emily Wilson’s English translation of Homer’s Odyssey is the first by a woman. Madeline Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls provide feminist takes on the Odyssey and the Iliad respectively. Stephen Fry’s latest offerings, Mythos and Heroes, retell the tales of Greek gods and heroes. Why are we drawn back to these stories to help us make sense of the world around us?

In the introductions to his books, Fry argues that Greek myths show us ‘men and women who grasp their destinies [and] use their human qualities […] to perform astonishing deeds and dare to make the world safe for humans to flourish’. However, these figures are also deeply flawed, existing – as we do – in a ‘baffling world, with its cruelties, wonders, caprices, beauties, madness, and injustice’. They are pitted against rulers in the form of the gods, who the Greeks created in their own image: ‘warlike but creative, wise but ferocious, loving but jealous, tender but brutal, compassionate but vengeful.’ On both sides of the battles are figures displaying the most precious and the most dangerous aspects of human nature.

While these core attributes may not have changed much over the centuries, our own culture shares few superficial similarities with the backdrop to Greek myths. We live in an age where many have lost faith in a divine power, lost trust in traditionally ‘heroic’ political leaders, and – if the postmodernists are to be believed – lost confidence in grand narratives. This is often seen as a challenge to Christianity, a worldview founded on a sweeping story about a divine being and his relationship to the humans that he created.

However, Christians are in fact well-positioned as gatekeepers of a classic, ancient story that speaks to today’s culture. While it is equally honest about the dark side of humanity, it offers hope by showing that, unlike in the Greek myths, heaven is not pitted against earth. Instead, the two come together in the form of a figure both fully human and fully God, who existed without flaw and who shows that true heroism involves not brutality and vengeance, but humility and sacrifice.

Perhaps it’s time for us to find new, creative ways of telling and retelling this story. In a baffling world, we have good news to share.

Rachel Smith
Rachel attends King’s Church Durham.

Author

Rachel Smith

Comments

  1. What about the immense popularity of superhero and fantasy films and television shows? That would seem to be a major modern expression of the mythological urge. Also our culture’s obsession with celebrity taps into the same instincts.

    By Will Jones - 12th July 2019
  2. Couldn’t agree more. Most pieces of current news and human behaviour can be found in the Bible; in particular the OT. For example, Samuel’s warning about how life would be under a human king (1 Sam 8) is so 21st century it’s extraordinary.
    Daphne Clifton

    By Daphne Clifton - 12th July 2019
  3. Yes! the good news of Christ is surely the ‘greatest story ever told’.
    There is a Dark Prince who has come to ‘kill, steal and destroy’ and is the source of all evil, sin and sickness.
    There is a perfect Father who is always good, who sent His own Son to rescue humanity from all its folly.
    There is an Army of Light advancing against great trials and opposition culminating in the return of the King.
    There are beloved sons and daughters being transformed and empowered by His Spirit to establish His Kingdom and destroy the works of the evil one.
    There is a Bridegroom ardently awaiting the preparation of His Bride and they will ‘live happily ever after’ in a renewed heaven and earth.
    Can it get any better than that…….!

    By Peter Riley - 12th July 2019
  4. Thank you Rachel.

    By Robert Grayson - 12th July 2019
  5. “Perhaps it’s time for us to find new, creative ways of telling and retelling this story. In a baffling world, we have good news to share.” Yes indeed! but where are they?

    By Alan Chilver - 13th July 2019

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