12

When answering questions, we often need source material. I read a lot of mythology as a child, but I don't always have these texts at hand, and often they were re-tellings of the stories aimed at children - not the greatest sources for answering questions on SE.

Clearly Wikipedia is a place to start, but often a quote from Wikipedia is followed by someone asking "do you have other sources". And if you're unlucky, that's followed by downvotes.

So my question is - what other sources do we have?

For the mythologies as they were written down in the distant past, we can turn to sites like Project Gutenberg.

But what if you need material about a myth? Which books or papers would be useful to consult when answering a question?

  • 2
    The reason why I generally downvote posts that just use wikipedia is that there are so many better sources to use. I'm writing an answer that gives a list of better sources. – user62 Apr 30 '15 at 21:35
  • @Christofian I thought about the edit for a while, but I want it to be clear that I did think about it before posting. That's one reason I mentioned Project Gutenberg, for example. – Vixen Populi May 17 '15 at 10:54
  • how's this edit (I just removed the last sentence, so it should be clear that you've thought about it) – user62 May 19 '15 at 19:07
11

Here's a list of sources:

Good Sources:

1) The ORIGINAL MYTHS THEMSELVES

Don't be reluctant to quote from myths directly. Translations of texts are often easily available online, and also on Amazon or a library. Sites like Sacred Texts have a large collection of mythological texts , and often times translations of myths can be found with a simple google search (try googling "Gilgamesh read online" or "[myth x] read online"). Make sure that you are aware that many online translations can be out of date, as the most common reason translations are posted online is their copyright has expired (i.e. they are ~80 years old).

However, do be careful to note when some myths have slightly different versions among the manuscripts available (which is almost always the case -- translating is hard [translating old languages is harder], and there will always be disagreements between translators).

2) Footnotes or summaries in books of mythology

A lot of translations of myths have footnotes or endnotes that explain certain words or events. In addition, a lot of books of myths also have a 1-2 page summary and explanation of the myth before the myth itself.

3) Scholarly articles

Academics often study and write about myths, and their articles are almost always good sources. JStor is a good place to look for academic articles, but if you don't have access to JStor, a simple google search can often turn up scholarly articles. Another good source of free academic articles is academia.edu, a quasi social network that allows academic research to share papers online.

4) Well referenced websites by academics/experts

Sometimes, academics/researchers/dedicated amatures will create well referenced sites about specific myths. Some examples:

Generally, the quality of a website is directly correlated with how many sources the website cites.

5) Academic books about mythology

Many academics will write entire books about specific myths. You can buy or borrow these books from a library and use them to answer questions. If you're lucky, these books can be read for free online.

6) Etymology

You can learn a lot from deconstructing the names of gods/places/etc. This answer by Travis Smith of Bexar is a good example of how to use etymology as a source of information.

Questionable Sources:

1) Mythological Encyclopedias

There are often many different versions by many different authors of certain myths. Those versions don't always agree with each other. Unfortunately, many encyclopedias don't acknowledge this, and will confuse "source x described god y as having red hair" with "god y has red hair". Be careful when citing encyclopedias that claim to list "facts" about myths or religions, especially if those encyclopedias don't cite their sources.

2) Wikipedia

Wikipedia can often be wrong, but more importantly using it goes against the goals of Stack Exchange. Sites on the stack exchange network are best when they add new content to the internet. Regurgitating wikipedia doesn't do that, and makes this site useless because people could just bypass the site and search wikipedia itself.

Sometimes a Wikipedia article is well sourced. In this case it is still better to not use wiki as a source. Instead look through those sources and develop an original answer from them. In other words, Wikipedia can be a great place to find sources.

3) Children's versions of myths

Whenever possible, quote from original translations of myths. Children's versions are frequently edited to either simplify complicated plots or de-emphasize inappropriate content.

4) Movies and entertainment media

Many authors, writers, and producers make a good living by creating their own adaptations of popular myths. These are typically not representative of the original myths from centuries and millennia past.

5) Pseudo-science attempts to "prove" that a myth is true

There are small populations that believe certain myths are true. The best example would be Young Earth Creationists and the book of Genesis. Additionally, there are groups that argue that Atlantis was real, that gods like Zeus were aliens, and so on. Without committing a genetic fallacy, be very skeptical of the validity and factuality of any claim made by a source that intends to prove the truth of any myth.

  • Feel free to add, and also feel free to correct my spelling and grammar: I was in a rush when I wrote this. – user62 Apr 30 '15 at 21:48
  • Looks pretty good to me – durron597 Apr 30 '15 at 21:59
4

For Egyptology, E. A. Wallis Budge is a horrible source. His books are 100 years out of date (that makes a huge difference for Egyptian sources, the ability to read Egyptian writing systems was still in its infancy and major sources - like Tut's tomb - hadn't been found yet.) He also had a tendency to 'Christianize' Egyptian culture to make it easier to get money from wealthy aristocrats for expeditions.

Gutenberg (and Sacred Texts) are rife with these obsolete (free) sources. On a scale of 10, I'd rate a lot of wiki articles as 6 to 8, and Budge at 3.

Outside of Egyptology, I wonder if obsolete reductionist sources like Frazer's Golden Bough (1890) deserve special mention at the bottom of the list too.

  • 1
    Thank you for the feedback, and welcome to the site. As the above answer is a community wiki, can I encourage you to edit the answer yourself to incorporate the feedback. That way it can be seen by everyone. (Also, may I invite you say hello in the site chat room at some point) – user62 May 20 '15 at 19:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .