English Title and abstract

STRATA. Stratification Analyses of Mythic Narrative Materials and Texts in Ancient Cultures
Characteristic for research about ancient myths is a plurality of approaches which might almost appear as diffuse arbitrariness and which reflects the heterogeneity of research results and their evaluations. Comparative research approaches are detectable, but they exhaust themselves largely in paratactic enumerations of different sources and in specialised individual studies. In order to work through ancient myths in a systematically and comparatively founded manner it is necessary to find a representative material base, a comprehensive theoretical frame and a method which can be applied for one culture as well as for cultures in comparison.

While the research of ancient myths has focused mainly on Greek and Roman sources, the research group STRATA broadens the material base regarding time, region, topics and genre by incorporating the earliest, Ancient Near Eastern as well as the later, Jewish-Christian ancient worlds. The further development and application of the basically mapped theoretical framework will initiate a development in formal, distinctive and dynamic respects. Formally myths are encompassed as plots which concretise in different forms, available in larger compositions and in isolated mythemes as in a Sumerian gods list, a Greek comedy or in a Late Antique Christian sermon. A differentiated, elaborated philological-historical method focusing on the analysis of plots as sequences of mythemes and of isolated mythemes provides the research group the innovative instruments to serve as a solid foundation for systematic, quantified comparative distinctions. A problem analysis of previous research on myths shows furthermore that one implicitly presupposed postulate of traditional approaches, namely that all elements of mythic plots and texts have to be intentionally related on one singular consistent level, fails ancient myths. In contrast the research group will explore the dynamic potential of myths in a completely new way. This approach will be successful if heterogeneous morphologies, incompatibilities and inconsistencies of mythical plots and texts are not regarded as mistakes or inaccuracies and as such are not smoothed or emended, but evaluated as indicators of a complex process of transmission, the analysis of which will help us identify different, historically grown strata.

This innovative approach will be applied exemplarily to ancient myths about changing spheres, that is to myths about going to vertically remote spheres as heaven and netherworld or to horizontally distant peripherals like the "Island of the Blessed". Preliminary studies have shown that such plots up to now remain incomprehensible in many respects. So it is just here that a new methodological approach is a desideratum. During the first grant-period the method will be enhanced primarily through textual sources; during the second grant-period it will be expanded systematically on iconographic sources. The practical steps will be technically supported by a scientific database, which will be built in cooperation of the research group and informatics. Within two grant-periods the research group aims at establishing a new research field for ancient myths, essential for culture-specific and for cross-cultural studies: the establishing of the mytheme-based stratification analysis of mythic narrative materials and texts in ancient cultures.