Interpreting Myths in the 19th Century

There were several dominant methods of interpreting myths in the nineteenth century. The most widely accepted method was studying myth as a pre-scientific explanation of nature. Primitive science equaled primitive belief. Today, myths are no longer interpreted as an early form of science or “primitive” thinking. Myths are perceived as an alternative mode of comprehension and construction of meaning.

The Romantic Period (1800-1850)

Throughout the Romantic period, the symbolic-allegorical interpretation of mythology continued from the Greek and Renaissance traditions, with the belief that myths can reveal hidden information. In addition, the euhemeristic interpretation of myth continued from the ancient Greeks arguing that myths represent historical biographies of real people and events that have been distorted over time.

Another method used to interpret myth included the etymological interpretation, which claims that gods are created from observed phenomena. As a result, the myths make sense to those who witness such events. The historical interpretation of myth, also known as the comparative and derivative interpretation, is an ethnological view that gods and myths are borrowed from other cultures and incorporated.

Two new ways of studying mythology in the nineteenth century were developed:

  • The sociological interpretation states that gods were invented by those in positions of power to maintain order.
  • The psychological interpretation claims that myths helped to maintain social order where people were in fear of punishment from the gods and gave thanks to the gods for rewards.

Further Reading

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