The Fall 2014 Author Q&As return today with Naoíse Mac Sweeney, editor of Foundation Myths in Ancient Societies, which looks at the many different ways that origin stories were told across the ancient world: through poetry, prose, monumental and decorative arts, and performance in civic and religious rituals. Foundation myths, particularly those about the beginnings of cities and societies, played an important role in the dynamics of identity construction and in the negotiation of diplomatic relationships between communities. Yet many ancient communities had not one but several foundation myths, offering alternative visions and interpretations of their collective origins.
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Penn Press: How do foundation myths begin?
Naoíse Mac Sweeney: We all tell stories about where we come from, to make sense of ourselves and our place in the world around us. In the ancient world, telling foundation myths was an important way for communities and groups to do exactly this—positioning themselves in the wider world.
Where do alternative foundation myths come from?
Alternative foundation myths occur when there is more than one tradition about the origins of a community or group. There are many reasons why several traditions might co-exist at the same time. People may have different levels of knowledge about the past, or different interpretations of past events. They may also have different views about the identity of the community in the present, which then necessarily colors the way they understand its history.