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On Retelling Myths

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Reading Constructing Panic, by Capps and Ochs, has reminded me of a crucial part of my discovery of the power of narrative. In discussing the impossibility of a definitive or “real story” – in other words, every event can be told in multiple ways – I started thinking about the ways I discovered that when I first started working on my website.

It was a revelation.

When I began making paleothea.com at 13 (then on Geocities), I was looking for “the real story”. Before very long, I discovered that each “fact” was contradicted or adjusted by another source. For a while, I searched for some authority who could mediate these conflicting versions of what happened. I thought that on MY site, I would tell only the most reliable truth.

While I was deep in my matriarchalist phase, I reported the Pelasgian Eurynome myth (most clearly illustrated by Robert Graves) with far more fanfare than her piddling appearance as an Oceanid. Later, disenchanted by Marija Gimbutas and Graves, I detailed the most Classical versions of the goddesses. I even began to regularly refer to Athena as just “the misogynist”. When I first entered college, I was enamored by the most explicitly gendered and sexualized myths, regardless of their origin.

At some point, I realized that the choices I was making about what stories to tell were getting me no closer at all to the “real story” of what ancient Greek women believed and lived. In fact, the very idea of a Greek everywoman (spanning time, class and geography) was completely irrelevant. Most frustrating of all, I realized that while I could learn a great deal from the myths I was reading, the questions I most wanted to ask were impossible. I will never get to hear how one ancient Greek woman retells one of these stories I’ve read so often, or know what context she would tell it in. I will never hear its background details or be able to, as Capps and Ochs put it, discover the subjugated world view hiding therein.

I still love the stories for what they are. And I greatly enjoyed the four years I committed to more fully understanding what they tell us about the culture they came from. As Capps and Ochs said, “Stories have an architecture that begs to be dismantled and mined for meaning.” I can ignore that call no longer! Wish me luck.


Comments

One response to “On Retelling Myths”

  1. I know this entry, “On Retelling Myths” was an early one (I believe even the first no?), nevertheless I find this site, your style, and you quite fascinating. Please don’t confuse that with the typical perversion that occurs when a boy finds a girl online (whether gaming, chatting, or just browsing most boys are hungry bottom-feeders).

    I look forward to learning more through this site (while appreciating your creative touch).

    My interest began on account I am doing a study based on Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology: Timeless tales of Gods and Heros”.

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