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Theseus: A Tale Of Propaganda Essay

2213 words - 9 pages

It can be tempting to look at myth and think of it in historical terms. There’s an amount of intuitive plausibility to their myths where it could be argued that it’s capturing an element of history and transmitting it through oral narratives. This could be seen in a great number of myths, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and the myth of Theseus included. But there is too much “other” going on in these myths to make them strictly historical. With the myth of Theseus, this “other” is too politically motivated for propaganda not to be part of its function. By analyzing the myth itself and how myth can be used as propaganda and applying that to this myth, it’s clear that the myth of Theseus is more ...view middle of the document...

In his hurry to return home to celebrate his victory, Theseus and his crewmates forget to replace the black sails with white ones, and his father commits suicide in agony when he sees the ships returning home, because he thinks his son is dead (22.1). In this way, Theseus becomes king and founds the people who would become Athenians. He is also credited with unifying the people of Attica into the larger Athenian city-state (24). He also initiated games like the ones dedicated to Heracles (25.4) and waged war on the Amazons with Heracles (27).
There are many reasons in this tale to believe it’s not strictly historical, the Minotaur being one. But more importantly, the author himself says that he is “purifying Fable, making her submit to reason and take on the semblance of history. But where she obstinately disdains to make herself credible, and refuses to admit any element of probability, I shall pray for kindly readers, and such as receive with indulgence the tales of antiquity” (1). This shows that the Greeks themselves would criticize their own myths, and did not take them to be wholly historical (Brilliante, 91). However, they did seem to think that myths told of people and the places they were in (Brilliante, 94). Ken Dowden does acknowledge that myths are capturing local history by writing about local people (62). From this, it may be possible that the Greeks were recording a time when Athens freed itself form subjugation to the Cretans. But there’s too much of an entertainment factor in the telling of myths that makes the aim of them to transmit historical detail (Dowden, 7).
Indeed, the nature of myths isn’t to transmit historical detail. Myths retain the original human interest simply through their narrative: by creating the fabric around this “base” people tell the story over and over again, keeping with it a core set of values (O’Shaughnessy, 87). Whether or not the story is actually true or not, however, is not important for the people telling this myth. It’s those core values that it’s talking about that are. That is what myths do, argues Blake Tyrell: they empty the meaning and use the idea to show a new concept (160).
It’s also important to note that the myths that come down to us have undergone transmission for thousands of years. Even by the time the Greeks got to them, they were being retold in stories. Throughout this time, they’ve also undergone changes, “not evolution, not development, just change – in reaction to social environment” (Dowden, 57). Change is always possible, and while it is hard to determine where these changes were made, they are typically the reason that myths continue to thrive (Brilliante, 111).
The combination of the human interest, the focus on a person and/or place, and changeability makes myth a great vehicle for propaganda. According to Oxford Dictionary, propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”. While not...

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