The act of studying mythology can be an extremely unifying thing. For humans as a species, myths connect us with our collective history by allowing us to see through the eyes of our ancestors. Potentially much more than in novels, myths allow us to enter into the ancient world on a deeper level; through them we are exposed to the popular worldview and superstitions of the day. The inner workings of ancient human beings are visible, and it becomes strikingly clear that they were not all that different than we are. They experienced similar hopes and fears, they felt the rapturous beauty of falling in love, and cursed the crushing pangs of loss. They missed loved ones when they were away, anxiously counting the days and watching the horizons for their return. Seeing, breathing, speaking creatures, they were living, emotional beings. Their hearts vigorously pumped lifeblood through their capillaries until the day of their death. (Ellwood, 9)
It is easy to forget the place from whence we came. By reading and studying mythology we are reminded of the great journey embarked upon by mankind as a whole. We can follow developments in mindset and public opinion, customs and courtesies, biases and superstitions. We watch the human race grow and flourish.
Every myth, and arguably every story, has one thing in common: an antagonist. The key to writing or creating a memorable story is to have an intriguing counterpart with whom the hero will duel. This can take many forms, the classic being the amiable and admirable protagonist who must conquer the evil antagonist and put an end to his despicable deeds. In cases such as this the reader will most often agree with the protagonist’s reasons for destroying the evildoer. Interestingly, though, there also exists plotline’s where the opposite is true. A perfect example of this is HBO’s Dexter, a television show where the protagonist is actually a serial killer. As a viewer, this inevitably causes some level of moral conflict as we are firm in our belief that serial killing, and murder as a whole, is certainly evil. However, we find ourselves sympathizing with this oddly lovable character and possibly even agreeing with the motives and logic he employs toward his kills (he only kills criminals who slip through the cracks of the judicial system: pedophiles, rapists, and other serial killers). A character who, in any other plotline, would be the ultimate monster worthy of destruction shockingly becomes the person for whom we find ourselves cheering.
Storylines such as these introduce a difficult question: what is evil, really? This is what this essay will explore: both the human invention and understanding of dark forces, and the myth of evil as it is exhibited through the arts.
However, before addressing the question directly I must first point out what evil is not.
The natural world – the trees, rocks, mountains, and streams – were, according to the creation story, all created perfect. Because of man’s folly,...