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9483Re: [ANE-2] Mythic Mind (was:Tardy response...)

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  • Emanuel O. Pfoh
    Dec 4, 2008
      Dear Frank,

      now I seem to be more in agreement with you on some points. "Rationality and sophistication are not incompatible with a mythic-magic worldview". Agreed, of course. And plenty of Mesopotamian (and Egyptian) evidence is proof of that, as you indicate.
      Yet, I think we must sharpen our analytical tools and concepts in order to avoid a sense that anything pre-18th cent. was submerged in a 'mythopoetic fog' (as someone criticised my views in another list--otherwise it's a cool name for a blog) but also without conceiving pre-modern people just as modern is short pants.
      I liked your reference to Carlo Ginzburg.
      Best regards,

      Emanuel Pfoh

      --- On Thu, 12/4/08, Frank Polak <frankha@...> wrote:
      From: Frank Polak <frankha@...>
      Subject: Re: [ANE-2] Mythic Mind (was:Tardy response...)
      To: ANE-2@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Thursday, December 4, 2008, 6:12 PM

      Dear Emanuel,

      I see hat you are saying, but I also sense some difficulties. On the

      one hand, the light metaphor of

      Enlightenment itself entails a myth of knowledge. Kant's >synthesis a

      priori< was palatable only in

      a period in which the only axiom system was the Euclidean one, but in

      the nineteenth century its

      metaphysical nature (and thus its 'myth') became obvious with the

      advent of various non-Euclidean systems.

      And in Newton's thought physical theory is thoroughly framed by

      deistic theology.

      So to describe modern thought as non-mythical is, in my view. more

      than a bit misleading. Misleading ourselves that is.

      Just think of the thought power of men like Plato and Aristotle, and

      the residues of pure myth in their thought. They were

      eminently rational and scientific, but also thought in mythical terms.

      On the other hand, if one envisions a different mind when approaching

      antiquity, one immediately places the

      'ancients' in a position which is not ours. But this attitude

      actually precludes a better understanding of, e.g,

      Sumerians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and other People/Societies/

      Communities/ Cultures. We cannot get a step further

      as long as we do not understand that those PSCC, when viewed on their

      own terms, are as logical as we are in our terms.

      If there is place for relativism (which in itself should not be taken

      too serious), it is for self-relativization of the scholarly

      community. Their (with apologies for the collective) worldview is

      different from ours, but demands our respect, and our

      insight into the infinite differentiation (an insight which also is

      thwarted by the collectivity of the 'mythic mind').

      My insights on this point are not so much related to Carlo Ginzberg's

      'worms,' but rather to what I saw in a documentary

      movie about the cattle market in Northeast Holland, where a 'modern,

      urbane' trader could not negotiate with

      the local peasants (actually agricultural entrepreneurs of course),

      because he could not understand their way of

      bargaining by hand clash, and since they did not understand his

      procedures, they could not deal one with another.

      The local agricultural entrepreneurs have their own culture, which is

      not better understood by any appellation

      we might apply to them.

      By the same token they also have (or rather had) their own literary

      culture, in which the oral element is (or was, I fear) very importanrt,

      but which also had its sophistication.

      And think of the supreme sophistication of characterization and

      description of inner life in the Iliad (Achilles, Hector, Odysseus)

      and the Odyssea (Odysseus, Penelope, and their meeting; Telemachos),

      in any case in the centuries preceding Bacchyludes,

      and the great Attic dramaturgs and historians. The psychological

      insight of these poets, and the power of their imagination

      could never be covered by the notion of 'mythical mind.'

      There is something different going on. Let us follow Ranke: every

      PSCC is immediate to God (unmittelbar zu Gott).

      If we think of the period of Hammurabi, we have to think, not only of

      all kinds of mythucal thought patterns, but

      also on very clever and determined negotiation tactics vis-a-vis

      Zimrilim's envoys (I just had a paper on this subject

      in the Shalom Paul Jubilee Volume, Birkat Shalom, just out in Winona

      Lake). Rationality and sophistication

      are not incompatible with a mythic-magic worldview. Even if in our

      SCC such worldviews could not be held (and even

      though unbeknown to us we entertain similar views in our way).

      Best regards,

      Frank Polak

      On Dec 4, 2008, at 4:28 PM, Emanuel O. Pfoh wrote:

      > Dear Frank,


      > I agree with some of your comments. Malinowski showed (I guess it

      > was in his Crime and custom in primitive society [1926]) that

      > agency can in fact bend the structure, that is, that what natives

      > used to say about their beliefs and social behaviour was not always

      > corroborated by him (Malinowski) . Yet, one thing is still relevant:

      > why do these people have their myths? Why do they keep their

      > rituals? I believe that it's in the practice, more than in myths,

      > that the mythic mind is evidenced.

      > And it was M. Eliade in his Myth and Reality [1962] who made a

      > comparison between Christian escatology and Marxist escatology, so

      > here we may find another clue regarding the presence of mythic

      > dynamics in modern ideologies.

      > Now, here we are dealing with two yet intertwined aspects of

      > intellectual history: a) how the mythic mind was active in the

      > ancient world (the ANE) and how can we know of this presence from

      > the extant mythic text (no ethnographic research possible

      > unfortunately) ; and b) how was the pre-mondern (mythic) worldview

      > affected by the spread of the Enlightenment' s principles of reality

      > (Newton, Kant).


      > My stand is that, in order to understand how ANE people lived and

      > what the believed, one must un-pack the modern, post-Enlightenment

      > principles that rule our lives and get back to that ancient mythic

      > mind that was part of the worldview of ancient people.

      > No doubt, the ancient Egyptians who planned and built the pyramids

      > knew a lot about architecture, mathematics, etc., and they were

      > most logical engineers. But at the end of the day the recalled that

      > they were contributing to the eternal rest of their living god on

      > earth, the pharaoh, and making sure that maat prevail over chaos.


      > Best regards,


      > Emanuel Pfoh











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