The Anatomy of Myth is a comprehensive study of the different methods of interpreting myths developed by the Greeks, adopted by the Romans, and eventually passed to Jewish and Christian interpreters of the Bible. Methods of myth interpretation are closely related to developments in Greek philosophy, beginning with the Presocratics in the 6th century B.C.E. and continuing to the Neoplatonists in the fifth century C.E. Greek thinkers only rarely saw 'myth' as a category of thought in its own right. Most often they viewed myths as the creation of poets, especially Homer and Hesiod, or else as an ancient revelation that had been corrupted by them. In the first instance, critics attempted to find in the intention of the authors some deeper truth, whether physical or spiritual; in the second, they deemed it necessary to clear away poetic falsehoods in order to recapture an ancient revelation. Parallel to the philosophical critiques were the efforts of early historians to explain myths as exaggerated history; myths could be purified by logos (reason) and rendered believable. Practically all of these early methods could be lumped under the term 'allegory' - to intend something different from what one expressed. Only occasionally did philosophers veer from a concern for the literal truth of myths; but a few thinkers, while acknowledging myths as fictions, defended their value for the examples of good and bad human behavior they offered. These early efforts were invaluable for the development of critical thinking, enabling public criticism of even the most authoritative texts. The Church Fathers Church took the interpretative methods of their pagan contemporaries and applied them vigorously to their reading of the scriptures. Pagan Greek methods of myth interpretation passed into the Middle Ages and beyond, serving as a perennial defense against the damaging effects of scriptural literalism and fundamentalism.
About the author
Michael Herren, B.A. (Claremont), M.S.L. (Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies), Ph.D. (Classics, Toronto), has published and lectured widely on the Latin literature and culture of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. His work includes critical editions and translations, the history of texts, medieval mythography, and the study of Greek in the Middle Ages. He continues to teach and supervise students at York University and the University of Toronto.