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(video source: "The Oral Tradition of Storytelling", Ken Quiet Hawk)


Mankind has been telling stories since the beginning of time; just look at the cavepainting on this site.


When Mr. Skipper taught mythology, he always said that myths were told for three reasons: to explain, to enlighten, and to entertain.

Imagine a small child asking his parents why we have seasons. Not having access to the National Weather Service's site, the parents create the story of Persephone to EXPLAIN the seasons.


The linked site above concludes: 

Thus the lovely maiden Persephone became the rightful wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld. During the six months that Persephone spent in the Underworld, her mother was sad and not in the mood to deal with harvest. Thus she would leave the Earth to decline.

According to the ancient Greeks, these were the months of Autumn and Winter, when the land is not fertile and does not give crops. Whenever Persephone went to Olympus to live with her mother, Demeter would shine from happiness and the land would become fertile again and fruitful. These were the months of Spring and Summer. Therefore, this myth was created to explain the change of the seasons, the eternal cycle of the Nature's death and rebirth.

If you have about six minutes, you can watch a nice video telling the story.

ENLIGHTEN means "to give someone greater knowledge and understanding," and in the case of our ancient storytellers, that meant detailing what was important to their culture.  A perfect example of that is the story of Odyseus. 


Here are three quick examples of this: (1) When Odysseus introduces himself, he always says, "I am Laerte's son, Odysseus. My home is the peaked seamark of Ithaca."  (2) Odysseus' troubles began when he blinded Polyphemus, the cyclops son of Poseidon and gloated about it. (3) When Odysseus was finally able to reach his home and castle, he was disguised as a beggar. Only the suitors who were kind to him survived his wrath. (This is a great telling of the whole story.)


These three examples demonstrate three core beliefs of the ancient Greeks: (1) Your lineage is very important; (2) always respect the gods; and (3) be kind to strangers.

The most ENTERTAINING version of the Greek myths are retold by Bernard Evslin in Heroes, Gods, and Monsters.

The Greek myths date back to 700 BC in written form, but it's important to remember that for most of mankind's existence, most people could not read, so these stories were passed down through the generations through the "oral tradition of literature."


Moving forward in time to 5 BC, we find Greek slave and storyteller Aesop spinning his yarns. (That's a metaphor for telling stories.) The World History Encyclopedia has a nice article on Aesop's Fables. Author John Horgan writes:

[T]he stories served to remind the weak that being clever could provide a means by which they could succeed against the powerful... The subversive nature of the tales allowed the lower classes in Greek society a means of escape from a society which was often oriented around the idea that “might makes right.” The fables were also considered as a valuable tool in speeches especially as a means to persuade others about a specific point. Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, argued that in the absence of any concrete evidence for proving one's point that a fable could just as well support one's argument.

The fables served as a form of children's' entertainment beyond being a simple teaching tool. The fables transmitted important life lessons while also describing the “world of childhood.” The primary characters often acted in a child-like manner. The stories described the challenges of adulthood thus allowing young readers to engage with the characters and morals of adulthood at an early age.

The stories also provided an opportunity for a measure of self-reflection. At those moments when Greeks suspected their culture or civilization was not living up to expectations, the fables provided an opportunity for a degree of self-reflection.


Aaron Shephard defines folktales as "stories passed down through generations, mainly by telling. Different kinds of folktales include fairy tales (or fairytales), tall tales, trickster tales, myths, and legends" and he's 100% correct. You can even read folktales he's writen and researched on his website

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