Kim H. Veltman

Mediae novae fontesque novae. De Luna, Mithra, et Proserpina Quodlibetica, Servizi e Contenuti Digitali

Gli Elementi Base della Societa della Conoscenza, Napoli 26 Giugnio 2006, Napoli: Università degli studi di Napoli, 2007 (in press)


New media entail much more than a simple translation process from an older to a contemporary version. They challenge us to rethink many of the limitations of earlier modes, methods and even to transform our definitions of the boundaries of disciplines. By way of illustration, this paper focuses on ancient mythology and religion, specifically on monthly cycles of the moon, and annual cycles of the seasons particularly with respect to Mithra and Proserpina to show how ideas which began in India make their way westwards via Persia to Europe. These polyvalent examples serve to show why humanists need much more than simple databases with names and variants. Implicit in these examples also is a need for a new approach to classical studies, whereby the quest to study the continuity of ancient symbols, which Warburg coined Das Nachleben der Antike, needs to be complemented by studies into Das Vorleben der Antike, i.e. the roots of these symbols in the period 20,000 B.C. -1,000 B.C. This new approach has profound implications for services and digital contents, for models of a digital economy and for Europe’s quest to redefine its identity.

1. Introduction

Mythology is frequently treated as a series of tall tales, the primary value of which lies in the curiosity factor of the stories. Ancient mythology is in fact much more than this. In modern terms, ancient mythology is concerned with sense-making, finding patterns of order, cycles and change in nature and life. These constancies in nature’s systems are rendered comprehensible by expressing them in terms accessible to the average person. Hence, the ancients used mythological stories in order to bring to life their understanding of astronomical events, cycles and anomalies. Accordingly, planets and stars were given names of persons and linked via stories. The basic stories were based on a small number of observations and facts. These were then adapted to “national”, regional and local versions to produce a richness of cultures and literatures. In retrospect, one challenge lies in identifying the key individuals (dramatis personae) and the plots of these stories. A more significant challenge lies in exploring and making visible the contexts and relationships of these individuals and stories.

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Presentation: Mediae novae fontesque novae