|Achilles killing Penthesilea|
I'm arguing that 'myth' shouldn't just be shorthand for 'false'; that myths are a form of understanding, which ought to be appreciated in their own way (but not as factual statements). A sample:
We are myth-making animals; creatures of enchantment and embellishment. Some more than others, of course - for every Homer or Joyce there are a hundred pedants. But even pedants have their fantasies and illusions, coupled with primal passions like fear and envy: the ideal of perfect grammar, for example.
We need myth because all these illusions and delusions have to be known and understood, and our less savoury urges sublimated. We need places - literally and figuratively - to play, knowingly and with a kind of childish seriousness. This is perhaps why Fascism and Nazism had such poor art: all their imaginary demons and angels went into the lie of the nation, and its fictional superiority.
Without a healthy imaginary life, Australia does not lose its mythic impulses: they are simply gussied up as 'traditional values', 'the bourgeoisie', 'illegals', and other vague but powerful political abstractions. Fiction remains, but it becomes 'common sense'.
The point is not that we all need to become amateur archaeologists or classicists. The point is to cultivate a better understanding of human thought and expression; of their quirks and verities. If the sleep of reason produces monsters, the sleep of myth can make a monster of reason.(Image: black-figure amphora showing Achilles killing the Amazon Panthesilea, by Exekias, courtesy of the British Museum)