Ziele der FOR in Projektphase 2

The research unit (RU) 2064 STRATA will in phase 2 build on the theoretical framework for mythological studies with a Stoff-analytical focus that was developed from a representative material base in phase 1, and will expand on this theory by adding to it a comparative, transmedial dimension.

With the methodology generated in phase 1, which can be applied to a single specific culture as well as comparatively across different cultures, it becomes possible to reconstruct myths from the most diverse cultural regions, from the earliest remains of ancient Mesopotamia, via the Greco-Roman "classical" period, to the pagan and Christian civilizations of Late Antiquity, as Erzählstoffe made up of minimal action-bearing units (hylemes), and to compare them on the basis of their shared or diverging Stoff components.

In phase 1 we were able to systematically reconstruct, from textual witnesses, the strata of myths about transitions between spheres and to explore their dynamic potential as historical products of complex transmission processes. These investigations have yielded historical and functional criteria for distinguishing among different versions of a myth and the different layers within these versions - distinctions which, among other things, have made more apparent positive instruments of power and positive domains of power in the underworld, which is otherwise imagined as an entirely negative environment.

RU 2064 STRATA in phase 2 has the following aims:

  • to establish a transmedial, comparative study of myths by also including myths that have been reconstructed from pictorial sources and performative acts, and by a comparative determination of the specific characteristics and capabilities of the different medial manifestations;
  • to obtain a more profound trans-cultural understanding of myths in ancient cultures that will be derived from the analysis of the polymorphic and polystratic nature of the conglomerate that forms the complex body of myths about entities and regions of authority in the underworld. By widening the scope of the enquiry into the reconstruction and stratification of myths beyond the original focus on myths relating to transitions between spheres, we can further contextualize the results from phase 1, and compare the myths in question as polystratic constructs that are distinct in both historical and functional terms.

The analyses will be conducted systematically on the basis of the data collected in phase 1 for the Digitale Kartographie mythischer Stoffe ("Digital Cartography of Mythical Erzählstoffe"), and this resource will simultaneously be expanded by the RU with support from a project in the Digital Humanities. It is our intention to make essential RU results available to a wider academic audience in the shape of a Living Handbook of Mythology at the end of phase 2.

In the course of the first funding phase, the RU 2064 STRATA has been able to establish important national and international cooperations which will enhance the RU results through a dense network of cross-linked studies; the successful collaboration with the university computing centre, the university library, and academic publishers will continue to grow.

With the Synthesis of its results, members and participants of the RU 2064 STRATA hope to gain and to give impulses for the study of myths, and to strengthen interdisciplinary approaches in the classical and ancient studies.

Ziele der FOR in Projektphase 1

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.

Formally myths are encompassed as Erzählstoffe which concretise in different forms, available in larger compositions and in isolated mythic hylemes as in a Sumerian gods list, a Greek comedy or in a Christian sermon from late Antiquity. A differentiated, elaborated philological-historical method focusing on the analysis of Erzählstoffe as sequences of mythic hylemes and of isolated mythic hylemes provides the research group the innovative instruments to serve as a solid foundation for systematic, quantified comparative distinctions.

The research group also takes a completely new look at the dynamic potential of myths. Heterogeneous morphologies, incompatibilities and inconsistencies of mythic Erzählstoffe 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 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 “Fortunate Isles”. Preliminary studies have shown that such Erzählstoffe up to now remain incomprehensible in many respects. The desire for a new methodological approach is therefore justified.