Plato in his dialogue Sophist claims that a myth, whatever it may say, is definitely based on something and it would be impossible not to refer to anything. In other words, a myth in the prehistoric times referred to an event, maybe a natural phenomenon, or a true situation; it was a fact. However, spreading around by word of mouth through centuries it was exaggerated and completely metamorphosed. Then poets embellished it with fantasy changing it radically. Pausanias, on the other hand, says that in the ancient times the initiated preserved their knowledge or let part of it out by way of coded myths. According to him then, in the myth of tradition there is some coded knowledge which we can decode only through the allegories of the myth.(Arkadika VIII)
Consequently, we could say that a myth (The myth of Tradition) consists of the real myth(=historic event)and the false myth (=fantasy).Therefore, it should become everybody's conscience that whatever has been said so far about the prehistoric times in the form of a myth, it has a base of truth which requires not only a systematically technical analysis of details by philologists, but also an internationally coordinated action by scientists such as geographers, Geologists, astronomers or physics who will help to isolate the false myth from what is historic.
The problem of distinction between the real myth and the false myth goes back to Socrates' time as it is clear in Faedros dialogue. There, Faedros asks Socrates if he is convinced that Oreithyia had really been kidnapped by Borea (=North Wind). Socrates replies that he believes she had fallen down the precipice being pushed by the force of the North Wind and her death gave rise to the legend that she had been kidnapped by Boreas. He adds that such explanations need a very capable man who will try hard but he may not be successful because he will have to explain Pegasus, Hippocentaurus, Gorgona and so many other monstrous creatures. Socrates goes on to say that since he has no time to work on these he just believes what other people believe about these.
From all these we can see that Socrates believes in myth and he does not reject it. He believes that behind all these lies a base of truth which we can reach only through strenuous efforts, frustrations and obstacles. Until Plato's epoch, myth had become people's conscience and it was not rejected or doubted by anyone not even by the wise men of ancient Hellas.
Unfortunately, both the Hellenic and foreign philology has been mistaken regarding the meaning of myth because they were not able to discriminate between the false myth and the real myth thus discovering the historic event lying in there.As a result, the word myth has lost its original meaning nowadays being identified with something that does not exist.
A significant and indisputable example of myth is Homeric Epics which at the beginning of the 19th century were considered to be merely a selection of legends by almost all the Europeans scientists, only to be belied later by the excavations in Mycenae carried out by E.Schlieman. The archaeological spade confirmed the myth. At this point, mention should be made of M.P.Nilson's statement in his book The Mycenaean Origin of the Hellenic Mythology, 1979 where he says: So far it has been made clear that it was MYTHOLOGY which led to the excavations of Mycanae and Crete. Myths were used as the guide to the finds and the successful search proved a connection between mythological centres and Mycenaean ones.
In conclusion, we could say that there is definitely a base of truth behind each myth and it is up to researchers and scientists to discover it and bring it to light. Let Hellenic myths be a challenge for those new researchers all over the world who really care about Truth and History in general! Homer's mythology served as a means to the discovery of the Mycenaean centres. And the question which arises here is: What discoveries would the myth of the Argonautic Expedition lead to?
Last updated: 21 March 1996 23:56:06