Instruction by Fable
Theories through History about Myth and Fable 3
Just a few years before the the Encyclopédie published its texts on fable and mythology, the Scottish scholar Thomas Blackwell treated mythology thoroughly, having his own distinct idea about how it should be understood.
by Stefan Stenudd
In this book I critically examine Freudian theories on myth and religion, from Sigmund Freud to Erich Fromm. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).
Thomas Blackwell (1701-1757) was a Scottish classical scholar who wrote influential works on Homer as well as on Greek mythology. Like his contemporaries as well as his predecessors, he discussed almost exclusively the Greek myths and did so referring to them as mythology.
But his understanding of those myths was atypical:
The Gods of the Ancients, you see, appear in a duble Light; as the Parts and Powers of Nature to the Philosophers, as real Persons to the Vulgar; the former understood and admired them with a decent veneration; the latter dreaded and adored them with a blind Devotion. [Thomas Blackwell, Letters Concerning Mythology, London 1748, 62f. Of the 19 letters in the book, the first six were by an unknown author and all the following ones by Blackwell.]
He would not hear of any disprespect for the minds of old, neither the ancient writers of the myths nor the philosophers reading them the way he regarded to be the correct one. As for the "vulgar" ones adoring the myths blindly, he asks in the very next sentence if something similar could be found in his own time: "Has not the same thing happened in modern religious Matters?" To Blackwell, wisdom as well as folly are constant companions to mankind.
Blackwell saw mythology as "Instruction conveyed in a Tale." [Blackwell 1748, 70.] It could take the form of metaphor, of Esopic Tales by which he meant fables like those of Aesop and La Fontaine, of material representation or symbols containing moral or other higher meaning, and of rituals where mythological concepts were acted out: "These, my friend, are some of the mimic shapes which this grand Instructress formerly took to form the Minds and model the Manners of the human Race, in order to fit them for Society." [Blackwell 1748, 79.]
Then he goes on to mention another category, which he regards as the superior one: "the History of the Creation, or Rise of the Universe, what we call natural Philosophy, and the Ancients called Theogony."
He quotes from Hesiod's Theogony, explaining elaborately how gods as well as events in the creation story are symbols for natural forces and their interaction in the formation of the world as well as the plants and creatures on it. Blackwell also quotes Strabo and Hippocrates in order to find support for his view:
They will shew you that I am neither singular nor fanciful in supposing, 'That the old Sages imposed no particular Person or Character upon their primary Gods, nor interwove those Characters in a Tale, without a MEANING.' [Blackwell 1748, 93.]
Antoine Banier: Mythology as Idolatry.
© Stefan Stenudd 2015
Mythology Meanings Menu
- Mythology and Fable in the First Encyclopedia: Louis de Jaucourt
- Thomas Blackwell: Instruction by Fable
- Antoine Banier: Mythology as Idolatry
- Eusebius: Myths as Heathen Remnants
- Plutarch: Battle of Daemons
- Euhemerus: Myth as Actual History
- A Scientific Revolution of Mythology
- Andrew Lang: Rational versus Irrational
- Max Müller: Disease of Language
- Edward B. Tylor: Animism Turned Personification
- James G. Frazer: Myth as Ritual
How stories of the beginning began.
Theories through history about myth and fable.
The mythological symbols and what they stand for.
Patterns of creation.
The paradox of origin, according to an Indian myth.
The first creation story of the bible scrutinized.
The ancient Babylonian creation myth.
The insoluble solitude of gods and humans.
ON MY OTHER WEBSITES
What Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung thought about myths, their origins and meanings.
An introduction to the subject of creation myths and the patterns of thought they reveal.
What the Greek philosophers believed about the cosmos, their religion and their gods.
The many ancient and modern life force beliefs all over the world explained and compared.
Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy of life explained. Also, the complete classic text Tao Te Ching
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The Greek philosophers and what they thought about cosmology, myth, and the gods. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).
Qi, prana, spirit, ruach, pneuma, and many other life forces around the world explained and compared. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).
A brunch conversation slips into the mysterious, soon to burst beyond the realm of possibility. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).
Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. 90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).
I'm a Swedish author and historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. I've also written books about Taoism, the Tarot, and life force concepts around the world. Click the image to get to my personal website.