View Full Version : The American mythology, versus the greek and English
01-25-2003, 11:28 PM
I was just thinking as i read through Lord of the Rings and then through Beowulf, that we as Americans do not have a cultural mythology. Maybe i am wrong in assuming this but doesn't it seem that way?
Would it even be possible to have our own mythology? How would you go about doing it?
01-25-2003, 11:36 PM
Howsabout Paul Bunyan? Johnny Appleseed? The Headless Horseman?
Granted, these aren't gods but I don't think you specifically meant mythology judging by the wording of your post (especially the Tolkien inclusion) but, instead, folklore. We have plenty of that.
01-25-2003, 11:45 PM
That's because we didn't need it. Mythology was the religion du jour for many civilizations. Greeks, Romans, Norse...they were all polythiests. The U.S. was founded by a bunch of old Christians. And it's too new to have myths going around. Granted, we have a lot of folklore like Paul Bunyan, but I think even he was made up by Harpar's Bazaar :)
Maybe in 1500 years kids will learn about mythology of the later Western Civilization.
01-25-2003, 11:48 PM
Oops, he wasn't made up by Harpar's, I was thinking of another Cecil article (Thanksgiving maybe). But this article explain's Bunyan's history. He was made in the early 20th century, which is pretty damn recent.
01-25-2003, 11:49 PM
Whaddaya think westerns are?
01-26-2003, 12:14 AM
Myths are old stories. We are not all that old a nation. But we have myths. John Smith being saved by Pocohontas, Daniel Boon killing a bear with his knife, Davy Crockett grinning down a bear, George Washington cutting down a cherry tree. Given a few hundred years, the Alamo will be a myth. It may be one already. Now, we could have listened to the Indians a bit better, and we would have lots of old stories from them, too. But we didn't, and there are very few of them left now, and as far as I can tell, we still aren't listening to them.
But we have our mythic people. Some of them were real, and we have fairly good reason to believe that some of them might have actually done some of the things they are reputed to have done. But that isn't much different than anyone else's myths, either.
01-26-2003, 12:37 AM
Mythology was the religion du jour for many civilizations. Greeks, Romans, Norse...they were all polythiests.Not really. Most Romans, at least, didn't beleive that the events of the myths actually occured, even if they did believe in the gods. As Ovid put it in the intoduction to Metamorphoses, "I prate of ancient poets' monstrous lies". Fun stories, but not to be taken seriously.
I might also add Casey Jones, John Henry, and Pecos Bill, too, by the way.
01-26-2003, 01:25 AM
As noted in a couple of threads in Great Debates, recently, myth is story that a people uses to explain/reinforce a truth (usually a shared truth, most often about themselves). While most of the examples that have been given tend to fall into the category of legend, Americans do have a number of myths that we cherish because they reinforce our perceptions of ourselves and our history.
Probably the most prevalent myth is that of the cowboy. (It is so typically American, that people in other lands often refer to Americans with refereences to cowboys.)
The myth, (borrowed from the knights errant of the early romans tales--before they changed into Romances)) is that of the drifter who wanders the West, armed with only his six-gun and Truth, defending the helpless and letting no one push him around. It is such a defining myth, that back in the 70s, truckers protesting the 55 mph speed limit plastered their bumpers with stickers proclaiming that they were the "last of the American cowboys." In this myth, the cowboy (standing in for the ideal American), is always willing to stand up for what is right, is willing to take on trouble against insurmountable odds (using either his fists or his ever-present gun, if needed), is no respecter of position or class, and does not take orders with anything resembling a subservient attitude.
The reality, of course, is that most cowboys were fairly young kids who showed a nearly feudal loyalty to their ranch, were quite willing to oppress those whom their boss claimed were threats, and were quite as awed by class as any other working stiff. The drifter (knight errant) who figures so prominently in movies and novels was more likely to be a bum who could not hold a job.
Another myth began with the opening shots of the War for Independence. We still find people sneering at the British troops who fought in mindless formations while the clever Yankees shot from cover, independently. The problem with this view, of course, is that the British were only so foolish in one battle during the French and Indian War, when Braddock got his command shot to pieces and Washington pulled them back to safety. By the time of the War for Independence, the Brits were quite capable of fighting effectively in the wilderness. After the skirmish at Concord, the Minutemen did harrass the British back to Boston, but every time the Yankees set up an ambush, the British troops would send out a squad with fixed bayonets and diperse them. Similarly, at the Battle of Bunker (Breeds) Hill, the British were thrown back a couple of times, but they came on and eventually overwhelmed the Yankee defenders. (Versions of the battle that claimed the Yankees ran out of ammunition seem to have been CYA memoes written by the defeated officers. The letters and diaries of the actual combatants say nothing about a lack of ammunition, only that the British were tough enough to endure the defensive fire and still overrun the defenses.) Battles were fought on the European model throughout that war, and the tide slowly turned only after von Steuben and Lafayette and a few other Europeans began to teach the Yankees how to do it.
The myth lives on, however, because it reinforces the American self-image of a people who do not follow the "old rules" and strike out independently to make their own way in the world.
01-26-2003, 01:38 AM
Just one word:
01-26-2003, 02:06 AM
The thing about how the British supposedly fought stupidly in the Revolutionary War goes beyond that...the fact is, with weapons with a rate of fire that low are really only effective when fired by masses of troops in tight formation. The battles where the Americans were the most effective were the ones where they were able to put forth formations of disciplined and trained troops, using the same tactics that are the only effective way to fight a war with the weapons of that time. The guerrilla warfare was a very minor factor, and frequently it cost the Americans more lives than they took.
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