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by Edith Hamilton

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Edith Hamilton’s Mythology is an excellent introduction to the most important myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as Norse mythology. Her writing style is direct, and she is careful to acknowledge the original sources.

There are at least three reasons why Christian students should be concerned with pagan myths. First, much of the Great Conversation references ancient myths. To fully understand later works, students should be “culturally literate” enough to see, for example, the manifold implications contained in the simple phrase “like Icarus.” Even Christian epics like John Milton’s Paradise Lost reference ancient myths.

Second, myths are some of the earliest examples of the art of story-telling. As Christians need to understand, story has an unrivaled capacity for conveying truth. This is why Christ often spoke in parables—we better comprehend what is entailed by the command “love your neighbor” when we hear the story of the Good Samaritan. Christians should also remember that Nathan relied on story to convict David of his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-13). The veil over David’s eyes was lifted not by debate but by the story of a lamb.

Third, Christians should embrace myths because they often describe a real human longing or need. Several ancient myths rightly articulate man’s need for atonement, either by a righteous man or god. Prometheus, for example, is told that he will have no end to his agony “Until a god will freely suffer for you,/Will take on him your pain, and in your stead/Descend to where the sun is turned to darkness . . .” In Norse mythology, Odin is sacrificed on a tree, saying, “I was offered to Odin, myself to myself.” When we hear these things, we should be amazed at how clearly pagan man understood his need for the transcendent to intervene to restore his lost righteousness.

This is why C.S. Lewis says, “Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. . . . By becoming fact it does not cease to by myth: that is the miracle.”

by Jeff Baldwin