By Eric Anderson
Mythology is a social construct that has been discussed and revered as long as people have been able to communicate with each other. While it is more common to think of mythology as a construct of what we would consider primitive or ancient cultures such as Greek, Roman, Native American, the Norse, and many others; we see their cultures’ creation stories, beautiful depictions through artwork, and grandiose tales of heroism. Typically, it doesn’t seem that modern countries follow the same type of cultural mythology similar to how the civilizations before us have.
I would argue that, while the type of “mythology” that can be seen in American culture is not quite similar to the mythology of cultures past, a semblance of mythology remains within – especially in the realm of politics. Where we don’t hold gods and goddesses in the same light as past civilizations, we have certainly shown a distinct reverence towards our founders.
Today I had the opportunity to tour both the Supreme Court and the Capitol building and it doesn’t take a sharp eye to see how revered the individuals who have made an indelible impact on the country actually are. Within the Capitol every state is allowed two statues that represent a person of importance in their state. These statues are all made of either marble or bronze and beautifully crafted into a figure that stands, very literally, larger than life. Within the Supreme Court there is a large statue of John Marshall, one of the most influential Chief Justices in American history – the toe of his right foot clearly worn from the number of people who have paid homage to him by rubbing his foot as it is considered “good luck” (especially to law students about to take the Bar Exam). All of these statues of important individuals reminded me of the amazing statues made of the Greek and Roman gods and it gave me a new perspective with which to view our statues.
Not only have we mystified important individuals like presidents, generals, inventors, and advancers of social equality; but we also have many statues and carvings of physical manifestations of abstract principles that are considered important to America – most prominently being the Statue of Freedom placed atop the Capitol. Others would include the Contemplation of Justice, The Authority of Law, Philosophy, Equity, The Right of Man, Liberty and Peace, and a vast number of others all of whom seem very similar to figures representing similar values in older mythology.
I never really thought of America having mythology comparable to ancient cultures, but it is apparent that we do hold certain people and values with a lot of piety. I can imagine a civilization hundreds of years from now looking back on our nation and being able to tell what aspects of society were held in high esteem – and hopefully through that look to themselves and figure out what is honored in their society.