In mythic mode

Myths know no boundaries, except the boundaries of myth. In a collection purporting to tell the ‘vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre’, Alex the Great figure of medieval myth is carried off by griffins in a cage (British Library, Royal 20 B XX)

Natural logic and math teach us that two plus two equals four and only four, regardless. That the rule of identity, self-contradiction and excluded third are true everywhere, except in such worlds about which nothing we could say can be said. The rational mind cannot breach its own rules without ceasing to be, and not only to be called, rational.


Things are quite different for the mythical mind. Mythology is a construct, myths are conceptualisations of stories which are predicated on the mythical mind, the mode of thinking which is as widespread as it is dismissed by the apostles of the Enlightenment gospel. If, to paraphrase one of its leaders, Enlightenment thinking is NOW in the here and now, then Mythology thinking is now in the illo tempore and sub specie aeternitatis. Dismiss the unashamed pedantry, we are mythic creatures endowed with a mythic brain. It goes beyond story-telling, which itself is a latter-day myth (no deprecation intended). Our way of thinking moves from myth to myth, while rationality is a leap or a sprint which leaves us out of breath, rushing us to the nearby mythic recovery clinic.


In mythic mode, the mind forgets that two plus two is four and that things can be either or. The logic of myth is hardly logical. The Greek creation myth is an assault on reason. It is also a glorious mess. The gods, godesses, heroes and heroines of Antiquity have multiple parentages which shift more rapidly than Ovid’s metamorphic figures. Whatever happened to Iphigenia? Did she die or was she rescued by a god and carried away from the sacrificial pyre? Why not both? The rational mind calls 911 (or 112).


Myths must be alive in the biological sense of the word. There’s no other way to explain the enjoyment they have over the havoc they wreak on reason. Take Alexander the Great. Thank goodness, we’re on steady, historical ground. Not so quick. Alexander is more than the Alexander of history. There is another one, the Alexander of the medieval period, purebreed mythical character. His adventures, victories and defeats throw historical criticism, the heir apparent of the Age of Reason, into disarray. The medieval Alexandrine cycle, the ensemble of stories told about a textually-transmitted historical figure, are a monument of anachronism and sheer logical chaos, top evidence of mythical thinking in action. Stories to be told and relished rather than broken down into laser-sharp taxonomies and surgically dissected.

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