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Chronos and Chthoniê: Beginnings and Foundations in Ancient Mythology and Modern Theories of Myth

Subproject 1

Prof. Dr. Susanne Gödde
Institut für Religionswissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin

Anna-Maria Gasser
Institut für Religionswissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin

This project examines narratives of beginnings and foundations in Greek antiquity and in modern theories of myth from a comparative perspective. It systematically analyses the types and functions of such narratives and of constructions of the past in myth. Particular attention is paid to whether and in what context beginnings are represented as inevitably leading to and legitimizing a linear sequence of events with a ‘destined’ outcome, and when beginnings are destabilized or problematized by non-linear, ‘scenic’ narratives, narrative detours, and even disruptions.

The part of the project concerned with Greek antiquity evaluates the applicability and potential of the concept of aetiology for understanding cosmogonies (e.g. in Hesiod and the Presocratics) and political foundation narratives (e.g. in Pindar and tragedy). Both types of narrative revolve around ideas of autochthony and the primordial divinity Earth (Gaia/Chthoniê), concepts which necessitate an approach informed by religious studies. With a view to modern theories of myth, the project will also look at fundamental concepts of time and the interconnection of narration and explanation attributed to myth. How are time, progress, continuity, and regression developed in ancient narratives about the past, and how are these integrated and recast in modern theory? Finally, we will take into consideration the fact that our understanding of ancient myths is always largely determined by modern concepts of myth. This results in a circular relationship between theories of myth and the interpretation of individual myths, which we will also address.