THIS book has arisen out of the pressing conviction that both the area of myth and the structure of language bear importantly on our most intimate and challenging concerns. This conviction is widely shared; less widely shared is the view that, at least for explaining literature, myth and language are necessarily interrelated. An examination of myth alone, or of language alone, will not go very far towards accounting for the odd power and special comprehensiveness of the achieved literary work: we must somehow try to look at both together and trace their interaction. And without some understanding of these processes we cannot effectively assess the role of literature in society generally.
To be sure, I cannot claim to have got very far towards doing this myself. What I offer in Myth and Language is not a step-by־step argument defining modes of interaction for myth and language. Rather, in each part of the book I take a series of probes as far as I can. These probes converge: the delimitation of Lévi-Strauss and the delineation of large phases for the interaction of myth and language in history do provide some further horizon for addressing the complexities of Ovid and Blake, while the separation of lyric poetry and philosophy and histonography out of their union in Homer moves into another phase by redefining myth. Such indeed has been the generally accepted view, though a comparable transposition of implied verbal attention in the elementary forms of proverb, riddle, and parable has rarely if ever been noticed.
In any case, anyone who writes at all comprehensively about myth must waver before George Eliot’s implied indictment when she cast as the would-be author of a Key to All Mythologies a vague, senescent Mr. Casaubon, whose irrelevance and dilatoriness shade into impotence. Perhaps in this figure she was exorcising her earlier contributions to the vein of the Higher Criticism. But she cannot so cleanly separate her argument from the dream of her creation. Nor can we; and it should help to try to understand why, even if only partially.
All translations are mine, except where otherwise noted. All bibliographic citations will be found in the List of Works Cited, in accordance with the form of citation now common for the social sciences.