Chapter 26

Looking Back at Heroes: The Different Versions of a Myth

The different versions of a myth represent adaptation to the needs of a group or individual. In this chapter, you once again encounter Sophocles' Oedipus the King, the play that was the main reading of Chapter 21. Now you are encouraged to think of Sophocles' rendition of the story as one among many. His is a literary version of the myth that he made relevant to the Athens audience of his day (see Chapter 21 for a full discussion). In our own day, the story of Oedipus has continued to change its meaning and significance, as the tellers or writers change aspects of the story or emphasize different parts of it to express their ideas. This chapter introduces you to versions of the story from first-century C.E. Rome through twentieth-century C.E. Europe.

Rationalized versions of a myth are different from individual literary ones; they are syntheses of all known versions, designed to highlight a particular characteristic or theme. Examples related to the Oedipus myth come from Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, and Claude Levi-Strauss.

Working versions, those myths that are still being told and modified by the society that originated them, also reflect the storytellers'—and audiences'—beliefs, although details may vary rather widely.

As you read, you may want to classify the myths and stories you know, or those you have read in this book, according to the categories found in this chapter and explain the reasons for your decisions.

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