Great question! While this question can certainly be subjective and differ based on particular cultures, myths and legends hold significance in many cultures because of the purposes behind them. When trying to understand the traditions and history of their culture, people often look to myths and legends. Three main purposes...
Great question! While this question can certainly be subjective and differ based on particular cultures, myths and legends hold significance in many cultures because of the purposes behind them. When trying to understand the traditions and history of their culture, people often look to myths and legends. Three main purposes of myths are to help explain, entertain, and set moral codes for a culture.
Myths can be informative and explain aspects of a culture's origin or beliefs. Many cultures have myths that have universal themes within them—meaning that you can see similar trends in, for example, Asian, Nordic, and Native American myths. A popular theme in many myths is that of origin, or how the world was created. Myths can also be used to explain weather patterns, death, and the nature of good and evil.
Myths can also be used for entertainment. While many myths do have factual elements within them—mythologized version of real people and places, for example—many myths are entirely fictional. These myths are often meant, at least in part, to entertain an audience. Many Greek myths, for instance, relate entertaining stories involving fantastical beings and monsters. Homer's Odysseus spends twenty years away from his home—ten years fighting in the Trojan War and then an additional ten years spent trying to get back to his wife and son. Throughout this time, Odysseus faces many perils, such as nymphs, Cyclopes, and the wrath of the sea god Poseidon.
Finally, myths can also set a moral code for a society in terms of how its citizens should act. In many Greek myths, the cultural value of hospitality (also known as philoxenia, Greek for "friend to the stranger") is prevalent, as this shows an audience how they should treat guests. People in Ancient Greece were expected to offer guests food and shelter, and in return, guests were expected to be gracious and polite during their stay. Many Greek myths show what happens to guests who are impolite as a sort of warning. The suitors in Homer's Odyssey, for example, are shown as rude, destructive, and burdensome to Odysseus's wife and son while Odysseus is away. Once Odysseus returns home, he slaughters the inconsiderate suitors, and their fate could be viewed as a cautionary tale for those who are not gracious guests.
While these three purposes of mythology are only one way of thinking about why myths are so important, they can help us see how different cultures understand their history and values through stories.