How did mythology survive for so long?

Summary of Work on the myth

The myth through the ages

In Greek, the term “myth” no longer describes a story, a legend. The beginnings of this literary form can no longer be fathomed today. Among the best-known writings of myths from Greco-Roman antiquity are the Theogony of Hesiod, the Odyssey of Homer and the Metamorphoses of ovid.

Even the pre-Socratic philosophers used myths to explain reality with them. Still at Plato myth and philosophy correspond. First Aristotle made the distinction that later shaped the Enlightenment: while myth is only a theological narrative, philosophy is based on logos, reason and the scientific approach. During the Renaissance, myths were juxtaposed with Christian teachings: Both told stories, but the latter had to be taken seriously, while the myths left room for design and artistic interpretation.

Early modern philosophy tried to break the power of myths by questioning their truthfulness. It was clear to the enlighteners: All people should become equal through the use of their intellect and finally renounce their misconceptions and superstitions. The opposition to this point of view became the core idea of ​​Romanticism: Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling i.a. rehabilitated the myth in which they saw an early form of knowledge that still had something profound to say to people. Hence the preference of romantic poets for folk tales and legends. Friedrich Nietzsche also assigned an important function to the myth. This is increasingly lost in the modern age: lack of myths leads to a kind of loss of identity for people, he analyzed.

In the 19th century the view prevailed that the mythical basic conflicts were, so to speak, ineradicable, that they would repeat themselves again and again without humanity learning from them - regardless of the explanation. Thomas Mann understood the essence of the myth as "timeless always-present". Sigmund Freud in turn, at the beginning of the 20th century developed the theory that myths were nothing more than projections of human conflicts and problems onto superhuman beings. Today it is widely assumed that myths represent some kind of common denominator in human culture, in which, despite all differences, something general human is expressed.


Hans Blumenberg was a frequent reader who had a gigantic knowledge of European intellectual history. The sources referred to in Work on the myth falls back. In the first subchapter alone, he quotes 22 authors. Out of this multitude of thought leaders, some stand out, whose writings and theories he repeatedly goes into in detail. The thesis that people in their natural state would have overcome their fear by capturing the unknown powers of the world in stories can already be found at Giovanni Battista Vico and David Hume and was later inter alia. of Friedrich Nietzsche further elaborated. Even the philosophers of existentialism, in particular Martin Heidegger, have examined this fear of existence or life and are quoted by Blumenberg. The psychoanalytic focus on the function of the myth, on the other hand, is clearly of Sigmund Freud inspired.

Impact history

Nowhere has the topic of myth been treated as extensively and productively as in the Blumenbergs Work on the myth. This is evident not least from the fact that current writings on myth, be it in philosophy or literary studies, next to names Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1969) cannot avoid Blumenberg. The author himself introduced his thoughts in 1981 Realities we live in continued: Our way of dealing with the world therefore consists in inventing it according to our own ideas.

Outside of academic circles, Blumenberg's work went largely unnoticed. This is not surprising: unlike some contemporary popular philosophers, Blumenberg never wanted to reach the masses. "His texts are difficult to access, not intended for a broad readership, but rather for an educated, if not to say exquisite, audience," said the philosopher and Blumenberg expert Franz Josef Wetz. So will Work on the myth likely to remain a standard work for specialists in the long run.