What are the Limitations of using Greek Myths for Life Lessons?

Just like with any other philosophical body of work or a body of cultural expression, we can easily take things too far. We can quite quickly read too much into things and end up blinding ourselves. That’s the problem with any kind of textual analysis involving ancient works.

If you need a good example of this, look at the very popular academic analysis of ancient Greek culture published in the 1800s. It really is a love fest. I haven’t seen that level of intense loyalty and admiration outside of Apple Computer’s product launching. If you have ever been around Apple fanboys, then you know the level of loyalty and pride they have in Apple Computers. The same thing played out in Western Inteligencia when a lot of these Greek artifacts and artistic bodies as well as literary records stated showing up in the 1800s. It’s as if the Greeks predicted and set in motion the modern world. What’s not to love?

Well, the problem with that type of attitude is that we really are just reading our present reality into the past. If anything, we couldn’t care less about how those people actually lived and what their fears and hopes were. Instead, we’re trying to look desperately for a mirror. We are trying to justify our position in the here and now, and the past is a very useful patsy. Why? It’s not going to sit up and stand up from the grave and scream at us in our face and tell us we’re lying, or we’re engaged in some sort of self-delusion. That’s just not going to happen. That’s why a safe form of collective delusion. We are always in danger of committing this when we use Greek myths to try to mine life lessons.

If you can wrap your mind around this analysis, then you would see that cultures always reveal themselves in their myths. When you look at these mythological stories, you can see the priorities and the values of the particular society telling that myth. Furthermore, you can tell their aspirations. Who do they want to be? What kind of unpleasant realities are they seeking to escape by telling these myths over and over again?

Myths also highlight uncomfortable facts that cultures would like to paper over, gloss over, or otherwise process in a form of denial or self-delusion. No culture really is immune from this. All cultures do this at some level or other. Take the case of America. American cultural history is full of people that are neither fully saints nor fully sinners. This uncomfortable amalgam of morality that deftly evades and quick and lazy black and white moral filtering is understandably annoying to a lot of people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Greek myths are completely impractical and are entirely irrelevant. I’m not making that claim. Instead, understand that there are limits to this because you have to watch yourself.

If you trust the text so much, there’s something wrong there because that was written hundreds of years ago. It has its own specific cultural and economic context. It is a product of its time, and its application to the current human experience is essentially in the realm of emotions and not much more. If you were to look at these myths and see some sort of magical prescription for government, warfare, science and development, you probably are missing the mark.

If anything mythology provides templates or patterns that we can apply to our lives. They are not compulsory. They are not mandatory. They are just starting points or better yet, inspirations for connecting the dots. While there is quite a bit of predictive power in collective wisdom-even if it dates from thousands of years ago, the bigger issue here is of thematic consistency. We read in our present day realities and concerns. This is how things become real. This is how certain patterns and themes become relevant in our lives in the here and now.