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V Influence of Myths (modern surrealism movement)
Mythology has exerted a pervasive influence on the arts in all parts of the world from the earliest times. In the Americas, people expressed mythological themes using materials such as sand (in the sandpaintings of the Navajo) and stone (in the jade masks of the Olmec). In Oceania, wood was a preferred material, used to created sculptures and masks. The indigenous peoples of Central and South America used ceramics for funerary urns and sculptures of gods and mythological figures. In ancient Europe as well, mythological themes were treated in a variety of media, including stone, wood, and metal.
Some of the richest artistic traditions involving mythology are found in the cultures of West Africa. Particularly prominent in sculpture are the Nommo, celestial twins whose representations can be studied both in the way they have changed over time and in the way they vary across cultures. Despite the artistic value of pieces inspired by myth, it is misleading to isolate the art objects of myth-making cultures from their religious and intellectual context. The statuettes and masks of the Dogon people, for example, do not exist primarily to satisfy an aesthetic impulse, but to serve as instruments in religious acts.
Even apart from cultures in which myth-making is bound up with ritual, myths have provided a wealth of material for the writer and artist since the beginning of recorded history. The divine characters employed by Homer in his epics-principally Zeus, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Ares-became the common property of poets throughout antiquity. In addition, Greek writers of tragedy drew upon the traditional body of myth to create such human characters as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra (in the Oresteia of Aeschylus); Antigone (in the play of the same name by Sophocles); and Electra (in plays by Sophocles and Euripides).
The gods have also provided inspiration to many visual artists through the centuries. As an ideal of masculine beauty, Apollo figures prominently in artworks of all periods. The most famous representation of Apollo is the Apollo Belvedere, an ancient Roman sculpture copied from a Greek original, in the Vatican Museum in Rome. Many artists of the Renaissance and the Baroque Era (1600 to 1750) represented Apollo as well. The goddess Venus, equally renowned for beauty, has inspired many artists since ancient times. Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli copied an ancient sculpture in his famous painting Birth of Venus (after 1482, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy).
In literature and music the debt to mythological themes is equally pronounced. Antigone, a daughter of Oedipus, became famous in the play by Sophocles, which portrays the conflict between obedience to the laws of the state and to the higher laws of the gods. Among those who later used themes from her life are French playwrights Jean Cocteau (Antigone, 1922) and Jean Anouilh (Antigone, 1942) and German playwright Bertolt Brecht (Antigone, 1948). Electra, the unhappy daughter of Agamemnon who seeks to avenge her father's murder, has been the subject of plays by French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre (The Flies, 1943) and American playwright Eugene O'Neill (Mourning Becomes Elektra, 1931), and of a celebrated opera by German composer Richard Strauss (Elektra, 1909). It is no exaggeration to say that art, music, and literature throughout the world would be unimaginably different without the influence of mythology. See also Greek Mythology; Roman Mythology; Egyptian Mythology; Scandinavian Mythology; Ancient Middle Eastern Religions; Native American Religions.