Bringing Mythology Back: A Call for the Literary Study of Mythic Narratives

(Roundtable)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / World Literatures (non-European Languages)

Alex Liska (Villanova University)

Mythological narratives constitute a significant portion of the world’s most influential literature; nevertheless, they are glaringly absent from contemporary literary studies. Students interested in the study of mythology are directed to departments of anthropology, religion, or intellectual heritage, and these fields certainly conduct invaluable examinations of world-mythology; however, myths are unequivocally literary in nature, and their omission in departments of literature is both a detriment to the field and a disservice to world cultures. What went wrong with the study of myth-as-literature, and how can we revive this genre to reinvigorate the field of literary studies?

What went wrong?

It seems intuitive that the ever-increasing drive for inclusion and diversity within literary studies would create the ideal space for literature courses—if not entire literature programs—dedicated to the study of world mythology; however, it is just this cultural consciousness that often seems to balk at the suggestion. We are still, and with good reason, haunted by the sexism, ethnocentrism, and egocentrism that permeated early treatments of mythology. What were the mistakes of these attempts to subject myths to literary analysis, and how can we learn from them?

What can go right?

There is perhaps no more direct way for us to acknowledge and revere the diverse cultures of the world than to invite their most traditional and foundational narratives into our departments. How can the literary study of mythology contribute to cultural awareness and promote diversity? Additionally, mythological narratives encompass nearly every aspect of literary analysis. Questions of form surround the transition of oral traditions to written literature; mechanics of poetry and prose are perhaps nowhere else so artistically illustrated; translation and adaptation theories link the earliest clay tablets to the next anticipated Marvel Universe blockbuster. How can myths be used to examine and illustrate approaches to literary analysis?

Mythological narratives constitute a significant portion of the world’s most influential literature; nevertheless, they are glaringly absent from contemporary literary studies. Students interested in the study of mythology are directed to departments of anthropology, religion, or intellectual heritage, yet myths are unequivocally literary in nature. What were the mistakes of early attempts to subject myths to literary analysis, and how can we learn from them? How can the literary study of mythology contribute to cultural awareness and promote diversity within our departments? How can myths be used to examine and illustrate approaches to literary analysis? Might myth-studies reinvigorate the field?