Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

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