Founding myth  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Romulus and Remus

A founding myth (Greek aition) is the etiological myth that explains the origins of a ritual or the founding of a city, group, belief, philosophy, discipline, idea or nation. A founding myth may serve as the primary exemplum, as the myth of Ixion was the original example of a murderer rendered unclean by his crime, who needed cleansing (catharsis) of his impurity.

Founding myths are prominent features of Greek mythology and the Hebrew Bible. "Ancient Greek rituals were bound to prominent local groups and hence to specific localities," Walter Burkert has observed. "i.e. the sanctuaries and altars that had been set up for all time." Thus Greek founding myths established the special relationship between a deity and local people, who traced their origins from a hero and authenticated their ancestral rights through the founding myth. Greek founding myths often embody a justification for the ancient overturning of an older, archaic order.

In the Greek view, the mythic past was deeply rooted in historic time, its legends treated as facts, Carlo Brillante has noted, its heroic protagonists seen as links between the 'age of origins' and the mortal, everyday world that succeeded it. A modern translator of Apollonius' Argonautica has noted, of the many aitia embedded as digressions in that Hellenistic epic, that "crucial to social stability had to be the function of myths in providing explanations, authorization or empowerment for the present in terms of origins: this could apply, not only to foundations or charter myths and genealogical trees (thus supporting family or territorial claims) but also to personal moral choices." (Peter Green, Introduction to Argonautika) In the period after Alexander the Great expanded the Hellenistic world, Koine Greek poetry— Callimachus wrote a whole work simply titled Aitia— is replete with founding myths. Simon Goldhill employs the metaphor of sedimentation in describing Apollonius' laying down of layers "where each object, cult, ritual, name, may be opened... into a narrative of origination, and where each narrative, each event, may lead to a cult, ritual, name, monument." (Goldhill, "The paradigms of epic: Apollonius Rhodius and the examples of the past")

Contrasting examples of Roman founding myths are Virgil's The Aeneid and the popular cult of Romulus and Remus. David McCullough's 1776 details the development of a modern founding myth.

See also

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