Here’s the thing about Mythology – it isn’t supposed to be static.

Copy of Farnese Hercules
at The National Gallery of Art
(photo belongs to and ©Amalia Dillin)
Greek Myth is a great example of this. It began as an oral tradition. Epic poetry spread by bards and travelers, tailored to the audience at whatever village or settlement was playing host. This is why we have all those digressions in The Iliad, touching briefly on a hundred minor heroes who we’ve never heard of outside of those metered lines. Because those heroes mattered to their people, the men and women who claimed descent from those warriors, to the people who lived in the lands from whence those minor figures came. And when The Iliad was written down at last, by Homer (or “Homer” if you prefer), the threads of those narratives were preserved, even
as their larger stories, such as they were, were lost.

And in Classical Greece, the myths were still in flux. The playwright Euripides never did make up his mind about Helen’s involvement during the Trojan War, and no one seems able to decide whether Heracles performed his labors before or after he murdered his wife, Megara, and their three children. Theseus is sometimes the son of Poseidon, other times simply a child of Aegeus, and in yet other stories, both! And let’s not even talk about the Argonauts. That myth contradicts itself in a hundred different ways.

The point is, the stories changed. The myths, the adventures of these heroes, they weren’t set in stone. Not even after the Greeks re-learned to write. And if, even then, the stories were told, retold, invented and reinvented, why should we not continue that grand tradition in the modern day? Why should we remain beholden to the ideas of morality and ethics of times long gone when we revisit these same heroes and gods?

In order to survive, mythology has to be made relevant. Snorri Sturluson knew that, when he wrote his Prose Edda in a last ditch attempt to preserve the poetic styles and stories of his culture and heritage. So he turned Thor into Hector, and the Aesir (the Norse gods) into “Asian” Trojans. He linked Norse Myth with Greek and Classical, because by doing so, he made his mythology more legitimate in the Christian world he lived in.

He did it to keep his myths alive.

As writers, I say we have the right and the responsibility to do the same.

So write those mythological mash-ups, those paranormal romances bringing mythic heroes into the modern world, those inspired Tolkien-esque fantasies, built from the bones of a dozen different cultural legends into something brand new, into a mythology for today’s world, and our time. Play fast and loose, or stick close to the most well-known story, but write them! Write them, and be proud!

Because the myths are meant to live and breathe and be reborn. And just like Snorri and Euripides, we’re meant to keep them alive.



Post a Comment

  1. It's interesting that you mention revisiting stories with today's morals. You can see signs of that even between the Greeks and Romans. For instance, in Greek myth, Medusa was a monster and sister to the other Gorgans. In the Roman version, she was a priestess that Poseidon raped and Athena turned into a monster as some bizarre victim blaming retribution. The stories change because the people telling them change.

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    1. Exactly, Amy! That's exactly what I'm saying!

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  2. Fascinating Amalia! It's a really great way to look at it, and you're right! The retelling of myths has been done as long as they've existed, and as storytellers we should continue to do so.

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    1. Definitely!

      And I'm a firm believer in myths as living things -- they're meant to grow with us!

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  3. Love this!

    I think this is a cool next phase since the retelling fairy tales wave.

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    1. Oh man, I always hope this is the case. I mean, I have a pretty personal stake in it because almost everything I write is mythology retold but also because I think the myths have so much to offer us. There's a lot of meat there! Even if you're only writing a paranormal romance, and its just a light and fluffy story, there's still a lot of room when playing with the mythology, to give it something deeper to explore -- be that the human struggle against fate and destiny (can we control our own? Are we beholden?!) or just exploring how being a hero has changed since ancient times, when those ancient times are mashed up against the modern day. There's SO MUCH to offer!

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  4. What's old is new again! Love this post. :)

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    1. Or the more things change the more they stay the same :)
      Thanks!

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  5. Amalia, I've read and enjoyed any number of rewrites of classical myths (from all over the world). For me, however, the rewrites work best when the author has a basic understanding of the symbolic meaning of the myth, and adapts that meaning to contemporary readers.

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    1. I totally agree! Authors should definitely have a fundamental understanding of the myths before they start twisting them up, no question. But I don't necessarily believe that there is One True Symbolic Meaning -- what we get out of the myths today is bound to be much different from what our ancestors did, and the interpretation of symbolism is certainly debated, and probably always will be.

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