Posts Tagged ‘Milman Parry’

Baseball as Myth: an Introduction

April 26, 2010

Back around the beginning of the month I asked for some input into ball players who transcended baseball and became almost mythological figures. I got some good responses and have used the time to sit around (any excuse to sit around is welcome) and contemplate. So I’m going to take a look over the next few days at some specifics, but today I want to give something of a background to explain what’s about to go on.

Back in the 1920’s Milman Parry began studying epic myth and laid the foundations for modern study of mythology. His specific work dealt with the Homeric poems, especially the Iliad. Without going into any kind of detail that can and probably will bore readers to tears, what Parry discovered was that there was a certain amount of sameness to what was going on. Serb heroic poetry (what Parry initially studied) sounded a lot like Homer and he began to work on figuring out why.

Parry’s work ultimately led to Joseph Campbell’s major works on world mythology. Campbell stepped away from the specifics of either the Serbs or the Greeks and began to look at overall trends. I don’t want to mislead and make you believe that Campbell figured this out all by himself. There were a lot of people who came to conclusions that were much alike at much the same time. Campbell popularized the information so that it was available for people like me and all other non-specialists to read and understand.

There were a number of conclusions. For our purposes the most significant was that mythology deals with universal types of people. In other words, most myths revolve around types rather than actual people. There’s the all-knowing leader who is above the riff raff, the wanderer, the trickster, the doomed youth, and others. Pick a mythological cycle in any two societies and you see the same types emerge no matter how far apart geographically the societies are. (I’m vastly oversimplifying this so don’t take it as Gospel.). Some figures, such as Odysseus in Greek mythology, can hold more than one role (wanderer and trickster).

I will argue that baseball comes up with the same types to create its myths. Over the next few posts I want to give some examples of players who fall into some of the groups. My guess is that most of you, upon reading the above, will be able to figure who’s going where before even reading those posts. You’ll  probably also agree and disagree with my conclusions. Feel free to comment, but beware. As one of the all-knowing leaders above the riff raff I may toss a lightning bolt in your direction.