According to Robert Graves, what are the two functions of myths?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Myths are religious and heroic legends that have story-structure and social knowledge functions. We are accustomed to thinking of myths in relation to tribal life that is non-urban, illiterate and primitive. Myths are often known through ancient Greek, Roman and Scandinavian legends. These have taken a particular a hold on Western literature and have become embedded in it.

Robert Graves defines two functions for the myths of mythology.

These functions are (1) to answer awkward questions and (2) to justify and account for the existing social order of a given society, suggesting myths may have a contemporary genesis as well as an ancient genesis.

1. The awkward questions that myths answer are those that are persistently asked across societies, often by children or philosophers: Where did God come from? Will the world end? Where do souls go after death? Will my pet go to Heaven? Is there a God?

2. Graves contends that existing social orders, with their traditional rites and customs, need to be justified and accounted for by the upper elites for the benefit of the lower members of society.

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