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The extended voice: Instances of myth in the Indo-European corpus
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology.
1999 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Proceeding from the presence of recurrent, poetic phrases and verbal collocations in early texts composed in Indo-European languages, this study is an attempt to elucidate some fundamental problems of myth, tradition and culture. The scholarly study of Indo-European religions and mythology-initiated during the 19th century and proceeding up to modem times with varying success-has often been devoted to the task of restoring a homogeneous system of Indo-European religious beliefs by searching for deep-seated reflexes of such a system in the historically attainable cultures. The assumption forming the basis of this study, on the other hand, is that complex, hereditary features (e.g. so-called 'complex set-pieces') form a part of the poetic and religious language of the earliest Indo-European corpora, but that, as soon as we start asking questions regarding the original denotation of such hereditary features, we tend to ignore the mechanisms of oral tradition and to underestimate the capacity of individual cultures to interpret hereditary language from different angles and with different motivations. From this point of view, the question of the proper meaning not only discloses a troublesome task, but also partly loses its interest. It seems much more important to ask 'how hereditary features may be recognized?', 'how to separate them from their arbitrary interpretations?' and 'how to explain their persistency?'.

A clue to the last question lies in certain meta-linguistic concepts found in the individual corpora themselves. However, so far from being restricted to these corpora, the application of such concepts need not form a unique part of the heritage yet provides an excellent entrance to the appreciation of the custody and authority of traditional language in the individual cultures. One example is the distinction made in Vedic, Greek and Old Norse between the 'language of gods' and the 'language of men'; another is the pattern underlying the concepts of mûthos and épos in Epic Greek. In both cases, the former concept seems to constitute the marked member of a pair; it seems to call for authority, solemnity and traditionalism in general, but for deviant language (regarding auditory impressions, style, semantics and grammar) in particular.

When similar concepts are considered elsewhere (such as Old Norse stafr and Vedic brahmán), furthermore, they sometimes prove to index precisely those hereditary features initially referred to. In the light of these circumstances, the technical term 'myth' is interpreted as the common denominator of such indigenous concepts and its performance as an efficient and sanctioned means of deviating from ordinary language by force of traditional language, the specific meaning of which is circumstantial. Tradition is interpreted as a series of 'tracks' continuously being 'traced' and interiorized by the culture in which they constitute the common heritage.

The thesis is divided into three major parts: Chapter A sketches the historical background of different trends in the study of myth based on the abundant outcome of Indo-European linguistics. The first part of Chapter B deals with indigenous responses to mythopoeic praxis in Vedic India, Greece and Scandinavia, while the following subsections (II-III) proceeds to gather and extend a number of hereditary, formal regularities in Anatolian, Vedic, Greek and Old Norse texts. In the final subsection (III), particular attention is drawn to the depiction of the month of Lenaiôn in Hesiod's Works and Days (vv. 504-535). Chapter C sketches some theoretical consequences for and future prospects of the study of myth in the Indo-European corpus on the basis of the data gathered and discussed in the preceding chapter.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis , 1999. , 186 p.
Keyword [en]
Religion, Indo-European poetics, Vedic religion, Greek religion, pre-Christian Scandinavian religion, myth, oral tradition, oral literature
Keyword [sv]
National Category
Religious Studies
Research subject
History Of Religions
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-774ISBN: 99-2938149-XOAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-774DiVA: diva2:169865
Public defence
1999-04-17, Dekansalen, Dekanhuset, Uppsala universitet, Uppsala, 10:15
Available from: 1999-03-27 Created: 1999-03-27Bibliographically approved

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