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Anthropogony, Myth and Gender: Athenian Autochthony as a Case Study



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Yan, Di 


This thesis, with its reflections on previous myth theories, especially structuralism in the 20th century and post-structuralist readings in recent decades, suggests a new approach for understanding Greek mythology. Taking Athenian autochthony as a case study, it argues that, instead of regarding Greek myth as either a narrative system with one universal logic (structuralist reading) or as an ever-changing corpus without a unified concern (post-structuralist reading), it is more plausible to understand various myths as a dynamic system of social conversation, where individual authors and different genres respond to, argue with, or even compete against one another concerning core issues for a compelling explanation and understanding of the world. After an introduction in which I lay out my methodological concerns and the objectives of my study, the majority of the thesis is divided into four chapters, focusing on the themes of social order and gender order within the mythology of Athenian autochthony. Chapter 1, by looking at Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, provides an Archaic background for autochthony myths. It demonstrates that Archaic myth offered a tragic vision of social order in the human world, according to which a sexually active human society was unable to obtain social order. Chapter 2 deals with the myths of autochthony in the Classical period. It argues that Athenian autochthony, in revising the Archaic myth of social origin, attempts to establish a new social order for the human world as a response to the Archaic view. However, this new idea inevitably led to contemporary criticism, and myths of autochthony were subjected to sophisticated questioning. Chapters 3 and 4 thus discuss the conversation between accounts of civic autochthony and intellectual thinking in tragedy and philosophy. In Chapter 3, Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Euripides Ion are examined. These two tragedies, by revising the traditional autochthony myths into new narratives, inquire into the feasibility of the mythic imagination of autochthony establishing social order in the real human world. Chapter 4 investigates Plato’s Republic, Timaeus and Critias. In these works, myths of autochthony are repurposed again to criticize the civic idea of autochthony. Together, the four chapters demonstrate how different and competing authors and genres self-consciously revise myths, and how the mythic feature of “variation” could be manipulated powerfully and taken advantage of in the process of myth-making and theory-construction.





Goldhill, Simon


Autochthony, Greek Myth, Athens, Tragedy, Philosophy, Plato, Euripides, Aeschylus, Ion, Oresteia, Republic, Timaeus, Critias, Myth theory, Politics, Order, Erichthonius, Erechtheus, Acropolis, Athena, Pandora


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
China Scholarship Council (CSC) Postgraduate Scholarships