Monday, April 2, 2012

Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth – summary, review and analysis – part 3: the myth of Oedipus

Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth – summary, review and analysis - part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4

In his "The Structural Study of Myth" Claude Levi-Strauss uses the famous example of the myth of Oedipus to illustrate his structural methodology for the study of myth. Levi-Strauss divides the different mythemes (structural units that make up the myth) of the Oedipus myth into a chart that provides both diachronic and synchronic, both syntagmatic and paradigmatic, representation of the structure of the myth. Each column in Levi-Strauss' chart of the Oedipus myth expresses variants of the same theme and the development of the plot is represented by the relations between the columns.

This method enables Levi-Strauss to locate binary relations in the Oedipus myth. For example, the first column in Levi-Strauss' chart has meythemes that represent the attribution of high value to kinship relations (such as Oedipus marries his mother) while events in the second column represent a downscaling of the family (Oedipus kills his father). The third and fourth column in Levi-Strauss' chart of the Oedipus myth represent a binary contradiction regarding the autochthonous origins of man.

Thus, Levi-Strauss' chart of the mythemes of the Oedipus myth find two sets of contradiction which Levi-Strauss finds to be correlated. The validation of the autochthonous theme is the devaluation of the family and kinship and vise-versa. According to Levi-Strauss, these contradictions appear in other cultures' mythologies and they therefore represent a central issue for all cultures.   

According to Levi-Strauss in "The Structural Study of Myth" symbolic translation of different issues is what makes up the myth in the first place and what enables it to function. For example, a binary pair like life/death can be translated into a symbolic pair of sky/earth and eventually find a symbol which unites the two, such as mist (located between the sky and the earth and connects them). These relations should, according to Levi-Strauss, the object of the study of myth.

Suggested reading:



Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth – summary, review and analysis - part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4

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