Tag Archives: myth

Tale of a Cake

19 Oct

For as long as I can remember, my family and I would enjoy boxes upon boxes of mooncakes every year during the fall to celebrate the Autumn Moon Festival, which is officially on the date of August 15th of the Chinese calendar.  The Chinese calendar follows the phases of the moon, and the night of August 15th is said to have the brightest full moon of the year.  As with the story of Momotaro and all great myths, the myth to which this holiday is dedicated has taken on many versions, most of which are contradicting.  However, all of them involve a pill or elixir of immortality and tell the story of a woman who now lives on the moon with the power of immortality, a woman also referred to as the Moon Goddess of Immortality.  On August 15th, families gather together to eat mooncakes while admiring the moon at its fullest.

Today, there are many variations of mooncakes; however, the traditional moon cake contains lotus seed paste as well as an egg yolk, which closely resembles the full moon.  Some even have four egg yolks to represent the four phases of the moon.  Imprinted on the top of the mooncake crust are sometimes the Chinese characters for longevity and harmony, as they are important values for the Chinese family and characteristics which are greatly wished for.

After I left for college, my mother sends me mooncake whenever the Autumn Moon Festival comes around.  I like the new flavors that have been more recently invented, but my favorite is still the original lotus seed paste mooncake with egg yolk.

One thing about “myth” to remember

18 Oct

There is one characteristic of myth that may be so literal you forget about it–a myth is a story. This makes it different than, say, a ritual. Here is our friend the OED (you need to be logged in to a network to see the whole link):

1. a. A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon.
Myth is strictly distinguished from allegory and legend by some scholars, but in general use it is often used interchangeably with these terms.

Webster‘s defines it thus (I included all the sub-meanings):


[Gk mythos tale, speech, myth; perh. akin to Goth maudjan to remind, OIr smuainim I think, OSlav mysl thought, Lith masti to desire ardently]1: a story that is usu. of unknown origin and at least partially traditional, that ostensibly relates historical events usu. of such character as to serve to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural phenomenon, and that is esp. associated with religious rites and beliefs — compare EUHEMERISM, FABLE, FOLKTALE

2 a: a story invented as a veiled explanation of a truth:PARABLE, ALLEGORY

esp: one of Plato’s philosophical allegories

b: the theme or plot of a mythical tale occurring in forms differing only in detail

3: a person or thing existing only in imagination or whose actuality is not verifiable: as

a: a belief given uncritical acceptance by the members of a group esp. in support of existing or traditional practices and institutions

    »a myth of racial superiority used to justify discrimination«

b: a belief or concept that embodies a visionary ideal (as of some future utopian state or condition)

    »the Marxian-fostered myth of a classless society«

4: mythical matter : the whole body of myths

    »features distinguishing modern fiction from myth «

synLEGEND, SAGA: MYTH varies considerably in its denotation and connotation depending on the persuasion of the user. Often the word is used to designate a story, usu. fanciful and imaginative, that explains a natural phenomenon or a social practice, institution, or belief

Some of these definitions of myth assert a real thing, some a fake, some are critiques, and some are homages. But all of them refer to a story, something narrated, not just celebrated or commemorated. Momotaro is regarded as a myth because it takes the object–a peach–and puts it in a story, through which it becomes meaningful. Another myth could be a creation story (though some might argue that those belong, depending on the case, to religion or XXX belief system).

Class prep for October 14–Thursday

12 Oct

We will watch the Momotarō film in class. As you watch, and as you read, think about:

?: what elements seem to vary, between versions? What elements are a constant–and seem to resemble a structure, something fixed?

?: like Ryuji, Momotarō is a young peach. How do the qualities people usually look for in a child help him in his cause as a warrior?

Note: the NDL (national diet library) book is much better when viewed on line here.

Don’t forget to watch the Momotarō jazz opera [search for Momotarō in the blog search box]

No blog entry–blog entry is due on a “mythic or propagandistic food” on Tuesday, October 19.