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Universal Key to All Mythologies and Primordial Culture: Antiquarianism and Aitiology in the 19th Century

Subproject 6

Prof. Dr. Bernd Roling
Institut für Griechische und Lateinische Philologie, Freie Universität Berlin

Ramunè Markevičiūtė
Institut für Griechische und Lateinische Philologie, Freie Universität Berlin

This subproject addresses the universal mythologies of the 18th and 19th centuries and their significance for the exegesis of myth among subsequent folklorists and anthropologists. The material that had earlier been collected and digested into mythological systems was meant to serve, in relation to the history of humanity, as an aetiological model of primeval culture. Our approach will be diachronic, cutting across the epochs to look for continuities and transformations within these aetiological
narratives, which began already in the great antiquarian origin stories of the 17th and 18th centuries.

There will be two focuses. Firstly, the study of feminine mythologies with meteorological connotations, such as storm goddesses, fog witches and White Ladies: across all the paradigm shifts of the myth-systems, these phenomena continually demanded new explanations and so they become an especially revealing projection surface. The second focus is the work of the 19th-century myth researchers on Baltic and in particular Lithuanian mythology and popular poetry. These researchers had an aetiological ambition, of tracing the genesis of culture back to a material cause, which culminated in narratives of primitivism with an underlying colonialistic momentum. In this context we will ask, among other things, what role folklore studies played in the elaboration of keys to mythologies, how they profited from the material collected by the previous generations and what ideological potential these origin stories developed in the study of foreign cultures.