Comparative mythology

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

Comparing different mythical systems ends up revealing structures that dominate minds and manipulate intellects

What is the “aesthetic” that dominates us today? It must be the aesthetics of our dominators, the one that involves us the most and we question the least: we have difficulty discerning their deep structures.[I] The more the deep structure is the same, the more diverse the surface structures are. The “Yankee empire” has expanded since before independence in 1776 and has controlled NATO and surrounding areas since 1945. The semantic gesture of its hybrid war is, in terms of signs, the same as that of its practice of domination: violence as resolution of conflicts (real or supposed).

Comparative mythology is a “discipline” necessary to broaden the horizon of reason, but that is exactly why it is not taught in Brazil. It would serve to compare different mythical systems and, thus, end up unveiling structures that dominate minds and manipulate intellects. When you can see the deep structure, you stop being dominated by it (or, at least, you know who you are serving).

It should not be a “discipline” in the sense of a closed system of concepts, as it should be, above all, a search within the subject and culture. This introspection serves to get out of yourself. Extrospection towards the way of believing in a time ends up being a way of seeing ourselves, suspending what we have been indoctrinated with. It must therefore be a journey through labyrinths.

In the Greco-Roman gods it is clear that they are Aryan and white: they corresponded to the patricians and not the slave class, but this is not usually seen as obvious. Ancient slaves were unable to openly air their criticisms. There was no place for Christ in Parnassus. In a slave system, there is no belief in social equality, although its need is more evident. Greco-Roman religion and art served to legitimize slavery. Christianity gave slaves and those disinherited from the land hope, the promise of equality. He proposed love and compassion instead of celebrating violence. Yankee aesthetics is a return to the thesis of violence. American justice is based on Old testment.

As the Greco-Roman gods were anthropomorphic and had human actions and affections, only distinguishing themselves by their supposed immortality, religion served to think about the human condition, the presence of death in everyone's lives. There was a belief that the subject’s “shadow” would go to the Champs-Elysées. Each dead person carried a coin under their tongue to pay the boatman. In Aristophanes, a slave asks if he too would have the possibility of going to that place, the sarcastic answer is that, even if he had a “shadow”, he would not have money for transportation.

Just like in Bible the rivalry between Cain and Abel on the human plane repeats the rivalry, on the divine plane, between Lucifer and Jehovah himself; in the Greek tragedy, the fight between Oedipus and Laius replaced on the human plane the dispute that had marked three generations of gods for the throne of Olympus. In both mythologies, the fundamental sin is to challenge the owner of power: whoever loses is condemned, in Bible, in the depths of hell and, from the most beautiful of angels, emerges the ugliest of devils; In Greek mythology, the condemned is disinherited and loses space on Olympus. From Lucifer, the one who brings the light, comes Satan, condemned to represent evil where this fiction is believed to be a sacred text. There is no longer any worship for the fallen gods. There is no compassion for the disinherited.

The finitude of man became a central theme of Greco-Roman religion. The gods were believed to be immortal, but otherwise they were like humans. No man or god could kill them, but even a human could shoot an arrow in the back of a god in the midst of battle and send him flying to Olympus in leaps of seven leagues.

There being many gods allowed each one to choose the “saint of their favorite”. One could be more tolerant of other people's gods than in monotheism that insisted on its “one true God”. Among the ancients there were also those who did not believe in the gods: they were a polyatheism. Plato invented stories about gods, outside of official mythology. Christianity ended the dilemma of the ancient patriciate: it gave an immortal soul to everyone, it democratized the soul. Nietzsche said that Christianity was Platonism for the poor.

Zeus comes to power dethroning Cronos, just as he had come to power by overthrowing his father, Saturn. Zeus remains on Olympus, repelling his children's attack. In all three cases, the son is encouraged by his mother to rebel against his father. Perhaps she wanted to have more power or wanted to take revenge for her husband's arrogance. Today, the three goddesses could be denounced for crimes in the parental alienation syndrome, but, being divine, it can be believed that they would escape human power.

When this was, in Greek tragedy, transposed from the divine to the human plane, this active participation of the wife against her husband disappears. In the case of Oedipus, the dispute over the throne disappears, replaced by the caricature of a dispute over passage on the road. Humans turn out to be small compared to the gods. Oedipus is chosen king on merit, because he is more intelligent, and not because he has royal blood. This seems to be new, but it only seems so, since only those who have “divine blood” can have “merit”. In Christianity, sex between deities and humans was banned, with the exception of Christ, who went from being the son of the high priest Zechariah to being the son of “Jehovah”, with the assistance of an angel.

When formulating the “Oedipus complex”, if Freud had taken into account the underlying theological structure, he should have examined how one of the parents turns the children against the other and how there is a deep grudge on the part of the wife against patriarchal domination (of which she makes part). Sophocles, who was a priest, was sued by his children, who wanted to prevent him from spending his fortune. To defend himself, he read excerpts from Oedipus at Colomnon, asking if anyone who wrote something like that could be considered insane. He won the case.

Electra is the ideal figure of a daughter, such as Sophocles perhaps would not have had in his own children. Plato recorded, at the beginning of Republic, who would have asked Sophocles, in the port of Piraeus, how he, at the age of 80, saw himself in relation to sex. The priest would have replied:

– I have already got rid of this tyrant.

In Olympia, in a small local museum, there is a large sculpture of the god Hermes, well preserved, wonderful. The god appears in her as worthy of being the mediator between gods and men. I asked how the statue had become so well preserved. What they told me there was that she had been found buried several meters away, in a place far from any temple (the columns had their parts lying on the ground, knocked down by earthquakes). The only sensible explanation that 100th century archaeologists could find is that it was buried by Greek priests so that it would not be destroyed by the Christian horde that advanced around the year XNUMX.

The winner of the race at the games in Olympia was entitled to a statue. Athletes ran naked. Since the games were held every four years for seven centuries, one can count how many statues should have been there. Not to say that everything was destroyed, there were the feet of one of them. Christianity was in many ways an advancement from barbarism. After all, Moses' first commandment prohibited the making of art.

In Christian mythology, Christ appears, above all, as crucified. It was punishment for rebellious slaves, for leaders of defeated peoples. The defendant was completely naked, to remove his dignity. He didn't have a thong. However, no one in two thousand years has seen a representation of Christ with the documents on display.

What was the worst punishment was transformed into salvation. There was and is an inversion between fact and symbol. It is claimed that compassion and love are propagated, but what is shown is violence as the path to salvation. Going to masses and confessing did not prevent Catholic men from exercising violence (beatings, kneeling on corn, house arrest, psychological coercion, etc.) against their children and wives, without thinking they had done anything wrong.

In a scene in the official Gospel, a Roman soldier, seeing Christ on the cross, says to him: “If you are a god, get off that cross.” He pointed to the fact that he could not save others who could not even save himself. It was not worthy of an ancient god to be in the degraded position of a tortured person.

By focusing on the figure of the crucified person, Christian iconography makes a change in aesthetics: the horrific becomes central. It proposes the thesis of suffering as something that redeems, that is divine. Consecrates sadomasochism. A strange dialectic was generated, in which the ugly is beautiful; misfortune, salvation; torture, form of love. There is something like a perversion of values.

The ancient gods degraded human beings, as they distinguished themselves by being immortal, which we, mortals, would never achieve. The value of life was central to ancient theology. These gods had, as gods, however, only the duration of belief in them. Once belief was extinguished, the gods died, statues and texts remained. Christianity came promising eternal life to everyone: it was a success. His Church inherited the Roman Empire.

Historiography insists on the notion of progress over time. Contrary to what is said, there was not only progress with Judeo-Christian monotheism. By the first Mosaic commandment (which is falsified in the Christian version), not only the Jews were prohibited from making art, but also all those who adopted the ten commandments. Catholicism, although it declares itself monotheistic, is a form of polytheism. This generated an iconic diversification, but always within the parameter established by and in the figure of the crucified Christ.

When Saint Petersburg was called Leningrad, I visited Saint Isaac's Cathedral, whose dome is more than 100 meters high and which is open to tourists as a museum. From the inner top hung a pendulum, which reproduced the movement of the Earth on the ground: demonstrating the principle of the Foucault Pendulum. A light piece of wood was placed on the ground, so that you could better see how the pendulum was getting closer to it each time it came and went until it knocked it over. The last time I was there, the Soviet Union no longer existed, the pendulum had been withdrawn: religion had won.

Communists had believed that science would overcome religion. It was a form of belief. They thought the story had a meaning, the meaning they thought. The Soviet system fell due to a lack of materialism, historicity, dialectics, and a progressive spirit. What was intended to be virtue had become its negation. The dialectic of facts was stronger than the dogmatic one. Soviet communism fell because it was unable to carry out the reforms that the Chinese achieved; he did not take care of the people's demands, as the party leadership was supposed to embody the historical truth. 

In the Soviet system, prices were strange: there were goods that were very cheap, below their production cost, and others that were too expensive. The division was said to be based on the distinction made by Marx between articles of necessity and articles of luxury, with luxury being that which the working class could not use. This mid-14th century distinction no longer corresponded to the way of life of European workers in the second half of the XNUMXth century. Socialism itself was supposed to end the difference in consumption between classes, but it maintained it, basing itself on it. East Germans knew what their Western relatives used, how much time they spent working to buy a color TV or a car. They had to wait XNUMX years to get a new car, which was already obsolete when ordered. The system was thus showing itself to be obsolete.[ii]

Under the Soviet regime, there was a certain balance in wages, but productivity was not taken into account. After trying hard for some time, the employee would adapt to the performance of his colleagues, who pretended to work more than they actually did, but were exempt from criticism. If the director wanted to fire the relapse, he was forced to find another place for him. Why would the other director want to take it over? The system failed because it wanted to be good and because it didn't know how to face crucial issues. When I wanted to break with gerontocracy, it was too late, along the wrong paths.

Staying stuck to the horizon of political or historical dispute ignores that man is not the center of the universe. There is no center, as there is no closed whole, in the shape of an ellipse. There is also no cosmos, like something without shocks, perfect.

Man is a metaphysical animal, but he is afraid of it. He cares about what lies beyond the horizon, wants to know what he doesn't yet know. He fears that the unknown hides threats. Maybe the Homo sapiens be the only being that has concerns about outer space and can, at times, rethink the relationship between beings and being, between being and Be. It cannot be said Be by beings, just as there is no being that is being. Being is not Be. This cannot be said. What is worth in Be it is the risk that negates it.

The smallness of humans in the face of infinity is such that they populate this distance with deities, works of art and spaceships. However, before feeling threatened by the nothing beyond, he finds himself forced to run among very close entities to survive or prefers to build technical areas of knowledge or humanistic specialties, in which concepts and studies populate the space and the threat of the beyond the beyond, that you don't know where it will lead. Taking refuge among beings aims to hide what is not understood, what is beyond understanding, but which is the foundation of everything, and is not God.

By making Christ the new king of men and lesser gods, Christianity followed in the footsteps of Olympus. God the Father is not equal to Jehovah, as he did not have children nor participated in the Passion, but he occupies the same role as main god. When Christ appeals for salvation (“Father, remove this cup from me”), he makes the father (who, being all-powerful, could free them from pain) demonstrate that he had no paternal feeling and, therefore, had to be dismounted from power. The Christian era imposes itself with the dethronement of Jehovah and the ascension of Christ to supreme power. Divide the story in half. It's the same structure as Greek mythology.

When they propose to Laius, in the Phoenicians of Euripides, who sacrifices his son to save the besieged city, he refuses not only because the troops would lose their commander, but because: “I would not deserve the name of father if I allowed this.” The authors of New Testament They must have known Euripides and made a “parallel song”, not as a parody but as a stylization, an imitation that intended to have a higher tone. Even though the Church seeks to present the father as extremely compassionate in sacrificing his own son for the salvation of men, this does not hold water, as, being powerful and omniscient, he could have imposed alternatives. The last two millennia prove that humanity is not saved. The bread broke the Lord who broke the bread.

The old Jehovah demonstrates on Calvary that he does not represent the value of compassion and, in a subtle way, is removed from power. He does not appear worthy of the position, although it is said that his father showed love for men by sacrificing his own son. Christianity accepts that a father does this, as if it were not only normal but divine. Cruelty becomes kindness; indifference, attention; sadism, righteousness. While the son dies as a man, a new god emerges from him and in him, from a new era.

By making the crucified person the center of its iconography, Christianity promoted the ugly to the top of art, as if it were sublime. An agonizing tortured man, unable to save himself, is proposed as the savior of all. The perversion of values ​​echoes in the deformation of representations. As if it were a guarantee of values, the dollar indicates “in God we trust”. There has never been a president in the United States who did not call himself Christian. The country's option has always been war.

American Justice is mythically founded on Old testment: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Whoever kills must pay with his own life. There is life imprisonment. Brazilian justice pretends that it is based on New Testament: wants to give the criminal time to reflect on his sins, so that he can redeem himself. He now has more rights in prison than the average citizen: anyone looking from the outside thinks that, with the advantages he enjoys, he has gone to paradise, when in fact he is in hell. In other words, the system wants to show that it is compassionate. It promises a path to redemption but promotes courses in crime.

For a century, Yankee aesthetics have propagated violence as a solution to social conflicts in cinemas, on TV and in the media. This is echoed in the advance of the extreme right with popular support (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Netherlands, Spain, etc.). We are involved in a hybrid war, whether we like it or not. If westerns and Yankee police films saw punching and shooting as the solution to problems, this has a soft variant in European detective novels and films (English, French, Swedish, Italian, etc.), in which the investigator seeks to point out and arrest the criminal, as if all countries were always in search of justice.

In all of them, there is no in-depth discussion of crime, conflict, motivation. Only the “fact” is detected, already framed in a criminal code. The language of television and cinema does not allow for deeper reflection, as it is a sequence of speeches and scenes, in which one cannot stand still, thinking, as this becomes very boring. The French tried to make cinema as filmed theater, and it didn't work.

However, we do not want a critical reflection that questions what is proposed as good and evil. There are variants, not alternatives. The fact that violence is the “semantic gesture” of this flood of narratives in various genres and media does not mean that it is exposed as a problem. She is what whets viewers' appetites and holds their attention. This is not out of line with Christian tradition. It's a resumption of gladiator fights in the Colosseum.

The insufficiency of the visual image should allow literature and essays to take over the empty space and produce dense and long works. This doesn't happen, it doesn't suit the taste of an audience trained in punching, shooting, chasing. You don't want to think. We can no longer hope that new generations will do something better: they want pyrotechnic shows. A pop singer sings better with exposed thighs. Any longer text does not have space in newspapers and magazines. In newsrooms, the will of the owner prevails, with a series of sayings and prohibitions about which nothing can or should be said.

If we are in a hybrid war, the question would need to be asked as to whether this propaganda of violence should continue to be accepted as entertainment or whether there is a political problem being generated there. In the French court of Louis American aesthetics seek to hide this and pretend that reality itself is being shown, as if the camera were an omniscient god. This leads us to believe that things happened as shown. It is the way the believer reads his sacred text: as a document of facts, not as fiction.

This aesthetic of the believer assumes that what is being told in the text actually happened as reported: it is sacralized so that there is no doubt. It is not suspected that miracles could have been fake oldies. There is no suspicion that there was any deviation, that any facts were interpreted in a way that suited the interests of the priestly and ruling caste. Doubting textual reliability ceases to be a question of hermeneutics and becomes a question of faith and, hence, whether the person is trustworthy or not. The less it could be trusted, the more it is required to be revered.

* Flavio R. Kothe is a retired full professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Benjamin and Adorno: clashes (Attica). [https://amzn.to/3rv4JAs]

Notes


[I] KOTHE, Flavio R. the trivial narrative, Brasília, book, Editora da UnB, ISBN 85-230-0350-9, 250 pages, first printing in 1994, second in 2007.

[ii] KOTHE, Flavio R. The wall, novel, São Paulo, Editora Scortecci, 400 pages, ISBN978-85-366-4613-8, 2016.


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