Friday, 22 November 2013

The problem of Athena

For some reason I write freely when I blog - I have therefore started this new one to complete a task I'm finding challenging, namely to write the introduction to my book.  The title will be 'The problem of Athena', and I will start with the following quotation:

For every complex problem there is a simple solution and it is always wrong.[1]
H.L. Mencken
I've started with the above quotation because it conveys something that I shall be referring to throughout this book, namely that attempts to provide a totalising explanation to a given problem are likely to be problematic - flawed, and downright 'wrong' as Mencken puts it.  Myth specialists writing around 1920, when a version of the quotation was first published, might have taken a divergent line to that of Mencken.  The study of myth was at that time guided by quests for monolithic theories and
totalising explanations were dominating.

I shall start with this quotation because something that I will be referring to throughout the book, namely that that attempts to come up with solutions to a given problem that seem to explain every aspect of it are likely to be over-simple.

[1] As quoted in e.g. Lowenstein 2005: 124.  Variant quotations, v. e.g. Troy 2007: 139; Mencken 1920: 158.

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