Among the best known and most popular works of literature are those
dealing with the mythologies of ancient cultures. From classical sources
like Homer's Iliad and Ovid's Metamorphosis, to modern adaptations like
Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses" and Seamus Heaney's "Hercules and
Antaeus," mythology has shaped the body of western literature. There
exists a marked difference, though, between the purposes of the classical
mythologies and their modern counterparts. The majority of the classics
focuses on exploration of the human spirit and the teaching of moral
lessons, while modern mythological poetry tends to concern itself with the
social and political aspects of contemporary society. This modern,
socio-political, focus is the basis for the branch of literary criticism
known as Marxist theory. According to Peter Barry, Marxist critics examine
both the "covert" (167) and "overt" (167) aspects of a literary work to
determine how its structure, message, and theme were shaped by the
author's "social-class status" (167) and by the "social period which
produced' it" (167). Literature, according to the Marxist critics, makes
use of ideology, "a system [. . .] of representations [. . .] endowed with
an existence and an historical role at the heart of a given society'"
(qtd. in Barry 163), to identify with and establish a kinship with its
readers. One such ideology is ancient mythology. The works of both
Tennyson and Heaney provide prime examples of Marxist utilization of
... middle of paper ...
...eir emotions, their experiences, and their
civilizations. All authors work with the medium of humanity, but each sees
a different shape hiding within that clay. And each sculpts it to reflect
his or her own unique viewpoint. This is how it has always been, and how
it shall continue to be.
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. New York: Manchester UP, 1995.
"The Battle of Maldon." Old English Pages: Electronic Texts and Manuscript
Images.Trans. Douglas Killings.Online. 9 April 2000.
Heaney, Seamus. "Hercules and Antaeus."North. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.
Tennyson, Alfred. "Ulysses."The Norton Introduction to Literature. Eds.
Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 1998. 1139-41.
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