The War of the Gods (RLE Myth): The Social Code in Indo-European Mythology

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Routledge, Mar 5, 2015 - Literary Criticism - 190 pages

This structural analysis of myth, first published in 1985, focuses on social and political problems of Indo-European mythology. Dr Jarich Oosten tells how the ancient Indo-European gods competed for supreme power and the exclusive possession of the sacred potion of wisdom and immortality. In examining the social code of the wars of the gods, he reveals that there are remarkably consistent patterns in time and space: paternal relatives, equals at first, prove unable to share power, magic goods, etc; while some gods retain their divine status as an exclusive prerogative, their brothers or paternal cousins are transformed into demons; relatives by marriage, however, who are unequal at first, succeed in sharing power and magic goods, and thus become equal partners in the pantheon.

Dr Oosten describes how the ancient mythological cycles were broken down and transformed into heroic sagas and epics, and shows how many traditionally related themes – the severed head, the magic cauldron – were preserved. Gradually the political problems of kingship came to overshadow the social problems of kinship, as in the development of the myths of King Arthur. Dr Oosten argues that the social code remains basically the same, and his analysis of this code gives a fascinating perspective on the development of Indo-European mythology from the oldest written sources to the comparatively recent faitytales.


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1 The structural analysis of myth
2 IndoEuropean cultures as a field of ethnological study
3 The wars of the gods in Scandinavian mythology
4 The cycle of the mead
5 The magic cauldron
6 The severed head
7 The battles of Mag Tured
8 The Roman kings
9 The unworthy king
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About the author (2015)

Jarich G. Oosten is associate professor of anthropology, Leiden University, and the author of numerous books, including The War of the Gods.

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