A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong
3 December, 2012
And so I come to the end of my brief foray into myths beginning with Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and going on to Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Winterson’s Weight and ending somewhat appropriately with Karen Armstrong’s A Short History Of Myth. I like to tie things together and Armstrong’s book is like an afterword to my mini reading project.
It’s a short non-fiction account of the place of myth in literature and society and inevitably this touches upon belief as myths are often the basis of both history and religion. I wasn’t sure how Armstrong would manage it as going back into proto-history, before the written and oral traditions flourished, is like treading on water.
Although a little tedious and overwhelming at times, there were several fascinating strands in Armstrong’s short history. From the early stone age, bronze age, the Assyrian, Mesoptamian and Egyptian civilisations to the Green, Roman and Judeo-Christian world, it’s an absorbing study into how early priests and scholars assimilated and incorporated their basic understanding of nature and the world into their daily cosmology. These evolved into ideologies and structures of government and social rule simultaneously transforming the myths themselves as people’s understanding and needs changed.
Although I was expecting a more western-centric history, that is a failing on my part as Armstrong shows just how diverse and rich our literary tradition is. And in turn, it shows that however admirable her attempt is, this is a huge undertaking and probably needed a more extensive study. But it certainly opened my eyes to the wealth of stories out there and I will be sure to delve further into mythologies, and not just the Greek myths.