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Myth and Narrative

What is myth?  How is it related to narrative? Going back to the epistemology of the word, - “myth” is derived from the Greek, “mythos”, meaning fable, storytelling or fictions to make a sense of the world, or as Hayden White would state, “it is a mode of discourse” (2000). As discourse pertains to “telling”, narrative subsumes within it discourses built on silence and speech, memory and history, which could be delineated through semiotics of visuals, music, mime, or any forms of aesthetic expression. Theoretical reflections on myth, history and memory are variegated and related to narrative strategies which are even more diverse, depending on cultural specificities, rituals, beliefs, oral traditions and human imagination. Bidderman and Scharfstein opine that a myth is formed by “contradictory narratives, which become involved in one another like threads of a tapestry, too intertwined to summarize adequately, and endless” (1993). According to Barthes, myth is a “system of communication” (1972). It is a message not merely confined to oral speech. It is a mode of representation through written and oral discourse as well as through a semiological system, including photography, cinema, reporting, sports, shows, publicity, which can serve as a support to mythical speech and its signification. However, to abide by Sanders’s analysis, a culture’s mythology is its body of traditional narratives, appropriated to diverse circumstances (2008). So the mythical paradigm offers the reader or spectator “a series of familiar reference points and a set of expectations” which any artiste “can rely upon” to relocate and recreate in “newly resonant contexts” (ibid).


Myth could also be a disguised political message (Robert Graves 1972), as in the case of Mozart’s subversive operas like The Marriage of Figaro (1786) or The Magic Flute (1791). It could also be Mahasweta Devi’s representation of the myth of Draupadi in her Breast Stories (1997), in the modern socio-political context of the tribal people’s plight in the Jharkhand region of India. Myth could also be a memory with a “projective past” in Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poem, “The Past” (1990), where,

            Let no one say the past is dead.

            The past is all about us and within.

            Haunted by tribal memories, I know.

            This little now, this accidental present

            Is not the all of me, whose long making

            Is so much of the past.


Again, myth could also be the inscriptions on the walls of caves, broken pillars of ancient temples, pictorials in old manuscripts, patachitras, thangkas and epigraphy. Thus, going back to Barthes, mythological concepts and their representation could be various, variously confused and ambiguous and multi-resonantly multi-creative. So, it is history which chooses myth as a type of speech, which cannot possibly “evolve from” the “nature” of things. In a world of increasing individualism and the growth of global capitalism, the history of a nation thus is interlaced with myth and memory. Possibly the “Writers in the New World” after Derek Walcott, would agree to “reflect the idea of history as time ( … ) for its original concept as myth (…) history is fiction, subject to a fitful muse, memory.” (1974:64).


So, the Special Feature on “Myth and Narrative”, covers some of the areas of scholarship discussed above, in the essays published in Caesurae: Poetics of Cultural Translation, Special Issue, January, 2017.

Managing & Chief Editor, Caesurae


  1. The Hopefuls in Love: Reading Attar’s Manteq at-Tair (The Conference of the Birds) - Meenakshi Jauhari Chawla (Click Here)

  2. An Indigenous Perception of ‘Myth’ and ‘Mysticism’: A study in Early Indian English Poetry - Subhendu Mund (Click Here)

  3. Truth is what we hear in our stories’: Legitimisation of myth in The Woman Who Was a Red Deer Dressed for the Deer Dance - Dr. C. Savitha (Click Here)

  4. Painting-Whitewashing: Liminal Memories of the Martyr in the Mural Literature of Ireland - Kusumita Datta (Click Here)

  5. Voices Re/Dis-Membered: Reading through the Editorial Politics of the Fairytale Collections of Colonial Bengal - Sarani Roy  (Click Here)

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