I am planning to write a series of posts over the year on myths and how modern people regard them.
In the 4th Century, Sallustius wrote one of the oldest known treatises on the Gods – called “On the Gods and the World.” According to Sallustius, myths were divine since they represent the Gods (Themselves) and their activities. He wrote “That myths are divine can be seen from those who have used them… But Why the myths are divine is the duty of philosophy to inquire.”
Sallustius asserts that the meaning of myths may not be apparent to everyone. Although the Gods do give commonsense to everyone, not all use it. “To teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish and the lack of zeal in the good.” He explains that hiding the truth compels people to ponder it. Therefore, myths have revealed (clear) and unrevealed (hidden) aspects of the Gods. Sallustius does assure everyone that “the soul may immediately feel that words are veils to the truth which is a mystery.”
In his treatise, Sallustius divided myths into five categories. Theological myths speculate on the essences of the Gods. (These myths interest only philosophers.) Psychic ones discuss the Soul, while physical myths tell of the activities of the Gods in the world. (Both psychic and physical myths are for poets.) Material myths concern the archetypes of the Gods such as Apollo as the Sun (however the Gods are never archetypes). Mixed myths, the most common, aim at unifying the humans with the Cosmos and the Gods.
In contrast, people raised in industrial societies of the modern age have different ideas. They have many problematic assumptions of myths in general. For example, traditional myths today are regarded as stories to entertain. In contrast, history, which supposes what did happen, is the truth. Actually, history is selective in remembering certain events and deliberately forgetting others. In the minds of modern people, myths and histories have become fused to create a particular vision of reality. One example of this is the myth of progress, which is regarded by many people to be fact.
Moreover, time and memory are regarded differently. The Ancient Greeks viewed time as a block – past is future and future is past. Therefore, divination is prescience since it dips into the time stream. Modern people, in contrast, see time as an upward arrow – past is past, and future is future. Oral tradition is faulty, whereas the written word is true. The Greeks believed that the written word was suspect since the writer could change the myth. For them, oral tradition what was faithful to the truth.
Read a version here: https://hermetic.com/texts/on_the_gods-1