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Chapter 18 - Some mythological observations

from PARERGA AND PARALIPOMENA, VOLUME 2

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 November 2015

Adrian Del Caro
Affiliation:
University of Tennessee
Christopher Janaway
Affiliation:
University of Southampton
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Summary

§196

It may be a result of the ancient affinity of all beings of this world of appearance by means of their unity in the thing in itself, but in any case it is a fact that they all bear a similar type and that certain laws prevail among them all as the same laws, if only this is conceived generally enough. From this it can be explained how not only the most heterogeneous things can be elucidated or visualized in relation to one another, but also how suitable allegories are found even in descriptions where they were not intended. A choice sample of this is provided by Goethe's incomparably beautiful fairy tale of the green snake. Every reader feels himself almost forced to seek an allegorical interpretation of this, which is why, shortly after its appearance, this was also done by many with great earnest and zeal and in the most diverse ways, to the great amusement of the poet, who in this case had no allegory in mind. The account of this is found in Düntzer's Studies of Goethe's Works, 1849; I knew about it already for a long time from personal remarks made by Goethe. – Aesopian fables owe their origin to this universal analogy and typical identity of things, and on it depends the fact that the historical can become allegorical and the allegorical historical.

More than everything else, however, the mythology of the Greeks has from the beginning provided material for allegorical interpretation, because it invites this by delivering schemata for visualizing almost every fundamental idea, indeed, in a certain sense it contains the archetypes of all things and relationships, which, precisely as such, shine through always and everywhere; after all it arose actually from the playful drive of the Greeks to personify everything. Thus even in the most ancient times, indeed already by Hesiod himself, those myths were allegorically interpreted. So for instance it is only this same moral allegory when he enumerates (Theogony, ll. 211 ff.) the children of the night and soon after (ll. 226 ff.) the children of Eris, namely: effort, harm, hunger, pain, battle, murder, quarrelling, lying, injustice, disaster and the oath. His description of personified night and day, sleep and death is again a physical allegory (ll. 746–65).

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Schopenhauer: Parerga and Paralipomena
Short Philosophical Essays
, pp. 367 - 373
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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