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It has been said that there are under thirty plots in the world, and that all stories, in all languages, all over the world and throughout history, are simply variations on these. Parallels can be drawn between all literature; however, classical mythology has had particularly far-reaching effects on our present civilization. Modern society holds a fascination with Greek and Roman society, and classical literature and mythology are certainly no exceptions. Regardless of location, language and time period, humankind has always followed relatively similar thought patterns. Therefore, it follows that all stories created by humans would have certain parallels and would contain certain universal themes, details and values.
One of these is the idea of the wrongdoings of mortals being punished. The idea of punishment for sinners is a ubiquitous one, found in cultures all over the world. For instance, in the Bible, as well as there being a hell in which sinners are imprisoned, there is also Tartarus (a compartment in the underworld of hell), which was created by God for those fallen angels who left their first estate. In almost all cultures, some form of this idea has evolved. The concept of sinners- eventual penalization is a comforting one for those who have been wronged. This philosophy, of course, retains a place in the current day, with the idea of hell, present in most religions in some form. In addition, it is unequivocal that in most contemporary films and books, the villain is inevitably punished in the end. Many cultures have also adopted some form of an apocalyptic end of the human race. The image of Noah and the Great Flood is one of the most familiar in the Bible. Other cultures, too, have made some form of assumption that the world, or at least the human race, will eventually be utterly destroyed. Even Buddhism, a religion which views the world as running in a circular pattern without an end, recognizes the notion of the age in which we live coming to an end, along with humankind. Certain evangelists are firm believers in this notion, even now. A scientific theory has been put forward that the universe has been expanding more and more slowly since the Big Bang, and will eventually begin to contract until it disappears altogether. It is natural for humankind to wonder if the Earth and our species are, in fact, finite. In the story of Baucis and Philemon, this idea of the end of humanity is present with the destruction of everybody save for those who had shown hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury. The manner of apocalypse in this story is also a popular one ¾ a flood. Floods are a widespread metaphor in various regions and eras. Evidently, the most well-known flood in Western civilization is the Bible story involving Noah and the Ark. However, legends of a flood can be found in the folklore of the Middle East, China, India, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. The legend upon which the tale of Noah is based actually originated in Mesopotamia. The Mesopotamian flood myth appeared in the Epic of Gilgamesh (one of the first literary classics), the narrative regarding the adventures of a hero-king of Sumer. In this version of the story, Noah’s counterpart, Utnapishtim, is the narrator of the tale. This flood myth likely has roots in truth, as excavations have led archaeologists to believe that a number of serious floods occurred there between 4000 and 2000 B.C. This story later spread to Canaan and was eventually reshaped into the story of Noah. In the 5th century BC, the Greek poet Pindar relates a myth in which Zeus destroys the Earth, allowing only King Deucalion and his family to survive. In China the flood myth has always been seen as an impediment to agriculture. A traditional Chinese myth recounts the experiences of a savior-hero named Yu the Great, who successfully dredged the land to provide outlets to the sea for the water. In this way, the great central river valley of China was made suitable for agriculture and the development of civilization.
One quality that has been prized throughout history is that of hospitality. Before the advent of modern travelling methods, hospitality was essential for anyone who wished to make a journey. In classical Roman times, inns were disreputable places avoided by respectable travelers. For this reason, it was necessary for a person taking a voyage to stay at friends’ houses; hence the development of the concept of hospitium, the relation between guest and host. The story of Baucis and Philemon shows how important hospitality was in classical times. At that time, it was considered a transgression to ask an unexpected guest the purpose of his visit before taking care of all of his needs and wants. The Roman god Jupiter was the patron god of hospitality. This is an indication of the significance of courtesy and generosity to a guest, as Jupiter was the most important of all Roman gods; he was their king and leader, and he was the guardian of the sacred bond between host and guest. Jupiter’s anger at the disrespect shown to what was ostensibly two weary men seeking shelter is made more than clear by his harsh treatment of the wrongdoers as well as the lavish reward given to the elderly couple who made them welcome. Clearly, this tremendous emphasis on hospitality has since become archaic; nevertheless it gives us a better idea of the value system adopted by the Romans. Like most stories, the classical Roman tale of Baucis and Philemon can be related to the narratives of many other cultures. Because all literature and legends stem from the same origins, they all contain certain inevitable similitudes. Patterns of archetypes, values, and themes can be seen in writings and stories throughout history and all over the world. As well as using these patterns to study the similarities between ancient and modern society, mankind can use them to recognize the differences that exist and learn more about the civilizations which helped to shape the world in which we live.
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