BIOLOGICAL MYTHOLOGY
A Cultural History of Animals, Anatomy, and Physiology
Honors Colloquium
Neil Greenberg, Instructor
    Cultural Biology: A survey of alternative perceptions and the manifest and latent meanings of animals and other biological topics in folklore, mythology, religion, and the arts. Source material will be gathered from systematic zoology, anatomy, and physiology, anthropology, mythology and religion, psychiatry and medicine.

"These things never were...
and always are"
(Sallust)
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BIOLOGICAL MYTHOLOGY: TOPIC OUTLINE AND READINGS

WEEK 1. MYTHOLOGY and BIOLOGY. Is there a biology of mythology? Do myths serve an adaptive need? The importance of alternative perceptions. Was mythology the science of 2000 BC? Symbolism; Mythopoiesis. The Nature of evidence, validity, alternate explanations: The Basilisk . The Iguanodon of the Ishtar Gate. (Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, Chap. 1, Primitive Mythology, Chap. 1; White, TH, The Bestiary, Capricorn, 1960; Rowland, B. Animals with Human Faces. U. Tenn. Press. 1973). Review the organization of THE ABERDEEN BESTIARY
A myth is, of course, not a fairy story. It is the presentation of facts belonging to one category in the idioms appropriate to another.
To explode a myth is accordingly not to deny the facts but to re-allocate them.
(Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949) introduction)

WEEK 2. ETHNOZOOLOGY. Humans and animals have a long shared history that includes how animals have inspired fear, reverence, respect, contempt or provided food, shelter, and companionship. These relations are explored by ethnozoology, a sub-field of anthropology.

WEEK 3. INVERTEBRATES. (Clausen, LW, Insect Fact and Folklore, Macmillan, 1954; Abbott, RT, Kingdom of the Seashell, Crown, 1972). A fine website Cultural entomology presented by BugBios, devoted to the "shameless promotion of insect appreciation," including such diverse topics as: Native American insect mythology, Chinese cricket culture, and insects in psychiatry.

WEEK 4. FISH AND AMPHIBIANS. (Selected Readings, Freud, Totem and Taboo). The fish in science, art, and imagination. Mermaids?

WEEK 5. REPTILES. Fear and loathing in the Garden of Eden or "The real Gnostic heresy." (Greenberg, N. 1971. The transformation of the Serpent. Minnesota Review. 11(1):66-74.; Morris, R. & D. Morris, Men and Snakes, McGraw Hill, 1965). Visit the dragons at the Institut Virtuel de Cryptozoologie. Visit Crocodile Lore and The Transformation of the Serpent

WEEK 6. BIRDS. Messengers from Heaven. (Armstrong, EA, 1959, The Folklore of Birds, Dover).

WEEK 7. MAMMALS. (Van Vechten, C. The Tiger in the House, Knopf, 1936; Morris, R and D., Men and Apes, McGraw Hill, 1966).


WEEK 8. HUMANS. (Rudofsky, B. The Unfashionable Human Body, Doubleday, 1971; Scientific American Offprint #639 "Homo monstrosus").

WEEK 9. ANATOMY. Bones, fashion, and ritual deformation; organs; hands; head and face. The Brain. (Halstead, B and Middleton, J, Bare Bones, Toronto, 1973; Liggit, T, The Human Face, Stein and Day, 1974; S. Kern, Anatomy and Destiny, Bobbs- Merrill Co., 1975; Polhemus, T (ed.) The Body Reader: Social Aspects of The Human Body, Pantheon Books, 1978). The Breast What is INSIDE THE SKULL HOUSE?

WEEK 10. PHYSIOLOGY. Menstruation, sharing the secret of the snake-god; sex, birth, development, death. (Readings in cultural anthropology). Disease and superstition. Miraculous cures and faith healing. (Readings in anthropology and psychosomatic medicine). Blood

WEEK 11. BEHAVIOR: INPUT. Perceptions, pathways from stimulus to action, doors of consciousness. Light and Vision, Chemical Stimuli and Olfaction

WEEK 12. BEHAVIOR. Alternate states of consciousness; dreams, visions and hallucinations, madness. The psychopathology of science and religion. Mass aberrations. (Selected readings)

WEEK 13. FABULOUS CREATURES. Many of the most fabulous creatures are compound organisms, Chimeras : organisms that are composed of parts of multiple animals. Many mythological animals embody multiple traits including those of thehuman -- for example The Centaur The Mermaid, the Unicorn, the Dragon,

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"Is there anything truer than truth? Yes, Legend." (Kazantzakis)

MYTHOLOGY represents a "alternative belief system." It is one not based on the recently traditional Western "scientific" methods involving "objective" consensual validity and falsifiability (disprovability). Myths are thus not regarded as sufficiently validated to invite high levels of confidence by those committed to the view that we can (and should) establish progressively more valid and verifiable views of reality). The phenomena myths are based on do not meet repeated tests of "correspondence" (with the "real" world) and "coherence" (with the body of knowledge into which new observations or findings are received). In general myths may be VERY COHERENT, but correspondence to the real world is at best, fragmentary. Such alternative views, however, often tap into tacit knowledge which --despite their subjective origins-- are often externalized in ways that are nevertheless valid and illuminate the human condition. In some way, mythology is a systematic map of human consciousness.

The behavioral patterns --art, fiction, myth--that such perceptions are involved with are virtually universal among humans and are important if not crucial elements in our cultural lives. The aspects of the "real world that engender such perceptions are, however, often lost in a mass of symbolic transformations, coincidental interactions with nature at a crucial moment, congenital predispositions, or ecological circumstances. While our subject matter consists of observations, interpretations, and beliefs that are less than objective, our approach to them and the behavior that underlies them is ethological in that we will simultaneously consider (1) developmental and experiential, (2) ecological, (3) evolutionary, and (4) physiological aspects of each topic. Such an approach is most likely to confer a unifying, guiding insight to our survey. Although mythologies and the cultures in which they are embedded reflect behavioral patterns, and we are likely to encounter profound (possibly insurmountable) difficulties in being objective about ourselves, this approach to behavior is the least vulnerable to distortion in practice.

Our review of each topic will proceed by first forging a guiding paradigm from ethology, anthropology, mythology and religion; and then examining selected examples from all areas of zoological concern in the light of the paradigm.




"If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a documented disability or if you have emergency information to share, please contact the Office of Disability Services at 191 Hoskins Library at 974-6087. This will ensure that you are properly registered for services." --Associate Dean Stephens' Disability Statement, July 13, 1999.


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