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The Children of the Myths

0203: Statue of a Muse. Roman copy after a sculptural group from 130 BC. Completed in 1812 by Bertel Thorvaldsen. Glyptothek, München.

"There is nothing more ancient in the world than language. The history of man begins, not with rude flints, rock temples or pyramids, but with language. The second stage is represented by myths as the first attempts at translating the phenomena of nature into thought. The third stage is that of religion or the recognition of moral powers, and in the end of One Moral Power behind and above all nature. The fourth and last is philosophy, or a critique of the powers of reason in their legitimate working on the data of experience." (F. Max Müller, Contributions to the Science of Mythology).

"I will begin with the Muses and Apollo and Zeus. For it is through the Muses and Apollo that there are singers upon the earth and players upon the lyre; but kings are from Zeus. Happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his lips." (Homeric Hymn to the Muses and Apollo, 1).

Don Quijote: "Dios sabe si hay Dulcinea, o no, en el mundo, o si es fantástica, o no es fantástica; y éstas no son de las cosas cuya averiguación se ha de llevar hasta el cabo." (Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, Segunda Parte, Capítulo XXXII).

Don Quixote: "Heaven knows whether there be a Dulcinea in the world or not, and whether she be a notional creature or not. These are mysteries not to be so narrowly inquired into." (Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part II, Chapter XXXII).

The Children of the Myths are everywhere.

Cradle and preview

The table below describes, in mythical terms, how all things originate in the myths, which are the cradle and preview both of those things that already are, and of those that should be.

Myths and Civilization

Western civilization, which inherited the Greek myths through Rome, has developed its art, philosophy, science, technology, and many other wonderful things, based upon the images and ideals sketched in the myths, and on the spirit permeating them. Whatever seems in history to have superseded the myths has been created, predicted, and described by them. And if the ideals and prototypes which the myths, without ever imposing themselves, have provided for at least 3000 years, were absent, not only the individual minds would decay but also the works of institutions and governments would be impoverished. And if nothing were done to relieve that destitution, the whole civilization, having lost both past and future, would finally find itself on the verge of collapsing and falling into oblivion.

The Permanent and the Transient

In mythical terms, neither Peace nor War nor Justice nor Discord nor Love nor Hate, nor many other things deeply affecting the life of human beings, are made or invented by transient men. But instead mortals are called and formed by those forces that, being more permanent, transcend them and are immortal compared to them. And both the transient, which reflects the permanent as objects reflect invisible light, and the permanent itself, as well as the results their interaction yields, were first described and illustrated by the myths. However, the value and truth of the myths do not rest in the accuracy of fixed interpretations, but in their providing all free men and women with the implements and examples by which they may deepen their understanding of what it means to be a soul in human attire.

Belief, Disbelief and the Myths

But however extraordinary, the myths are neither to be believed, for Belief is blind and noisy, nor disbelieved, for in Disbelief dwell exhaustion, despair, and emptiness. And whereas Disbelief accomplishes nothing, Belief may achieve great things, good or bad. But when one of them shuts the mind or the heart, the myths can barely be heard. For the myths speak, by the power of Memory, standing on the golden thread that separates and blends both.

"There is much to be gained by neither believing nor yet disbelieving everything." (Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3.45).


Some have thought that Belief, being direct, is stronger than the myths, whose approach is indirect, and yet others have thought that Reason came after the myths in order to correct their nonsensical ideas. However, both Belief and Reason are contemporary with the myths, and are also their children, the former coming and going, and the latter arguing with itself. For Reason is not, as it has been suggested, the child of Philosophy, but Philosophy the child of human reason. And both are children of the myths. For when Achilles, nurturing his wrath, refused to fight, he was approached by his friends neither by ritual nor magic nor metaphysical threats nor irrational manipulations, but by the words of reason, which he left unheard, and by the king's gifts, which he despised.


And without reason there would not have been any prudent counsels when the Achaean leaders were assembled, but instead folly or apprehensiveness had prevailed. And no idea of law and citizenship could have been expressed either, as Nestor declared:

"A clanless, lawless, hearthless man is he that loves strife among his own folk." (Nestor to the Achaeans. Homer, Iliad 9.63).

or when Odysseus, describing the life of the Cyclopes, said:

"Neither assemblies for council have they, nor appointed laws, but they dwell on the peaks of lofty mountains in hollow caves, and each one is lawgiver to his children and his wives, and nobody cares for his neighbours." (Odysseus to Alcinous. Homer, Odyssey 9.113).


And what is true for Reason and Law is also true for Science. For if all traces of the myths were to be erased, a large number of celestial bodies and creatures living in the world would lose their names, which astronomers and other scientists gave them, taking into account the attributes and characteristics once described by the myths. And this, which is also true in many other fields of knowledge, has been done to such an extent, that if the footprints of the myths were blown away by some wind, not only science or philosophy or law would suffer, but all other human activities as well. And at the end, as less ideas and words would be available, speech itself would decay, and we would find ourselves pointing at things with the forefinger, not knowing how to rediscover the world, describe it, or find a meaning in it.


The myths are the source of all arts regardless of the casual motive of a particular work. But if all works of art concerned with the myths themselves, either by direct or indirect reference, were eliminated, burned, or destroyed, so that not one single trace would remain of the myths, an immense amount of music, paintings, sculptures, books, and many other pieces of art of all kinds and all times would vanish, inflicting an irreparable damage to the whole heritage of civilization. For in comparison very little would remain.

Arts, Sciences and Proportion

In such a case, both the sciences and the arts would suffer alike. For arts and sciences always work together and complement each other, at least until the moment when things fall out of proportion. Yet knowing and keeping Proportion, which is one of the most subtle links for harmoniously merging different things, is paramount both in science and art. For both chemist and musician rely on Proportion. And the same may be said of politics, economy, or the human soul. For peace and wealth and happiness and health are all dependent on certain proportions, just as war and misery and folly and sickness come when the sense of proportion is lost.

Proportion and Memory

But Proportion rules not only each activity, but also the balance among them, thus keeping the totality healthy. For art cannot be without science nor science without art, and none of them can exist without wealth, and wealth is nothing without them, and everything would be lost without law, and law would be useless if there were nothing to know and enjoy. And something similar could be said of Memory, for upon her rest both the Myths and the Children of the Myths, and therefore the whole life, past and future, of both individuals and societies.

Contextual Charts

Names in this chart: Apollo, Ares, Aristaeus, Asclepius, Athena, Cadmus, Calchas, Circe, Daedalus, Demeter, Dike, Dionysus 2, Eirene 1, Eunomia, Hephaestus, Medea, MUSES, Orpheus, Palamedes, Persephone, Prometheus 1, Themis, Tiresias.

Related sections Getting acquainted with the myths
Basic aspects of the Greek myths
Brief history of the Greek myths
"Is it True?"
The Munificence of the Myths