Modern Myths

The Heroic Monomyth and Modern Gods

Are there examples of ancient myths being “rewritten” to fit modern ideologies?

A good example of this tendency is the Medusa myth, which has stimulated modern thinkers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to apply the myth to their own beliefs. This ancient Greek myth, with Roman additions by Ovid, tells the story of Medusa, a priestess of Athene, who was raped by the god Poseidon and then condemned by Athene for having polluted her temple as a result of that act. Medusa was turned into a Gorgon, a monster with snakes in her hair. Eye contact with her turned the gazer into stone. The hero Perseus, aided by Athene and other gods, decapitated Medusa. For the Greeks, Medusa was a monster—one of many in mythology—who, whatever the reasons for her state, needed to be killed by a monster-slaying hero. Sigmund Freud, however, saw Medusa’s decapitation as a symbol of and, in a sense, a justification for his theory of castration fear. The French structuralist critic Roland Barthes (1915–1980) equates Medusa’s “petrifying” (stonemaking) stare with conventional beliefs and opinions. Hélène Cixous (1937–) and other feminists have turned the monstrous Medusa into a symbol of feminine resistance to the male-dominated phallocentric world.

The brief years of the John F. Kennedy administration, including the Kennedys’ private lives, have been idealized by Americans, who often think of it as a shining moment of history, something like the myth of Camelot and King Arthur (left to right: President Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., Mrs. Kennedy, and Caroline Kennedy).


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