Mythic Wisdom: A Greek Author’s Perspective

Connecting the past with the present has always been a powerful experience for me, maybe because I live in a land rich in history. In this blog I am going to explore a variety of topics, which I find deeply meaningful: women’s roles, gender and sexuality issues, activism, goddesses and gods, etc. By examining myths, symbols, and archetypal figures, I feel that we gain a fresh perspective on our lives and society. Ancient history, art, and literature can become amazing sources of inspiration. By learning from the wisdom of the past, we can transform ourselves and the world we live in.

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How Stories Can Change the World and Ourselves

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Stories matter. In fact, human beings have been called “story-telling animals.” Every day we consume stories on the media and in books, films and TV shows. We can spend hours on Facebook reading the posts of friends, relatives, and even total strangers. We hunger for narratives that give us hope but all too often run into descriptions filled with horror, abuse and despair.
 
The narratives we’re told and the ones we tell ourselves interact to shape our way of thinking. They provide the context in which we place our experiences and the lens through which we interpret what happens to us. Stories affect our self-esteem, our emotions, and our mental health. They can be empowering or debilitating, life-enhancing or toxic. Though we seldom realize it, our relationship with ourselves and the world depends on stories, especially on the ones we’ve come to accept as “objective truth.” If these tales happen to be destructive, they can wreak havoc on our inner world.

Stories have a powerful grip on the human mind. Research shows that most people are unwilling to change their beliefs even when confronted with facts that contradict them. Facts appeal to the rational mind; hence their power is limited. Beliefs, on the other hand, are often rooted in narratives that we’ve been told from a young age or myths that are constantly cultivated by the media and which we’ve come to accept as facts.

We live in a society that relies on oppression and exploitation, hence the narratives we’re told are meant to maintain the status quo. For example, even though the story of Adam and Eve is an obvious myth, it's still used to stigmatize women, sexuality, and everyone who doesn't conform to gender norms. Furthermore, those who are at the top of the social hierarchy maintain power by portraying human beings as inherently greedy and aggressive, blaming on individuals all the evils created by the system itself. We learn that injustice, violence and war are inevitable because well, that's human nature, so what do you expect?

Such myths perpetuate norms that foster competition and discrimination instead of equality and cooperation. The system creates sexist, racist, and other stereotypes to pit us against each other—men against women, Whites against People of Color, cis straight people against LGBTQI+ folks, locals against immigrants, you name it. It's the old game called "divide and conquer."

Yet there are other stories that have the power to make us pause and think, to question, and to take action. Sharing our stories can be a radical act in a society that continuously gaslights us. It’s a way of telling our truth and of validating our perceptions of reality. By choosing to openly discuss our experiences, we’re saying, “we’re here and we matter.” By speaking out, we can also reach out to those who have similar concerns or have possibly experienced similar traumas. Through our narratives we can help ourselves heal and show a path of healing to others.

I’ve found it empowering to share some of my own stories as an independent scholar of the ancient world and as an activist in the women’s, LGBTQI+, and antiracist-antifascist movements (see, for example, “Finding Meaning and Inspiration at Midlife”). These two identities may seem very different at first, yet they intersect: by studying the past, we can draw important lessons for the present and future.

Myth and history can be valuable tools as we try to change the world and heal ourselves. For instance, by exploring how gender roles have changed over millennia, we are led to question the dominant narrative that sees women as powerless victims and men as inherent predators. Also, by bringing to light traditions that emphasize our interconnection with nature, we defy the capitalist view of the environment as a set of resources to exploit for profit.

In fact, the past, both historic and mythical, is pregnant with stories that can touch us deeply—narratives that speak of altruism, resistance, and transformation. They often resonate with us because they’re rich in archetypal themes and symbols. Through them we can identify the values that propel us towards a richer and more meaningful existence. They can also offer us the inspiration to take the collective action needed in order to build a different world.

 

Top image: Sappho, detail from Raphael's Parnassus, 1511. Sappho, the famous ancient Greek poet, put her stories in verses and sang them while playing the lyre.

This blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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Harita Meenee is a Greek independent scholar of classical studies and women’s history. Her graduate studies were in the field of archetypal and women’s psychology. She works as a writer, translator and editor while also being a human rights activist. Harita has presented cultural TV programs and has lectured at universities in Greece and the US. She is the author of five books, as well as of numerous articles and essays published in Hellenic and international anthologies and magazines.

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