After the Myths Went Home

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Silverberg, Robert. "After the Myths Went Home." Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy 37.5 (November 1969). Rpt. Donald Wollheim and Terry Carr. The World's Best Science Fiction 1970. New York City: Ace, 1970: 36-45. For translations and other reprints, see Internet Speculative Fiction Database, as of October 2023, here.[1] Audio version posted on YouTube 11 October 2023, and as of the 12 available here.[2]

Cited and discussed in Casey Fredericks's The Future of Eternity: Mythologies of Science Fiction and Fantasy]] (Bloomington: U of Indiana P, 1982): 1-2 and 193 n.1. Fredericks tells us the story is

set in the middle centuries of the twelfth millennium of our era. Mankind has already long been [1] bored with its technological power. For a century now these men for their own amusement have been able to call up from the past great figures of human history like Caesar and Cleopatra, or Freud and Marx. So Leor the inventor devises a new and more powerful machine that can recreate the great mythical personage of older mankind in physical form. Some of them are supposedly products of pure imagination, others are figures who were once real men but after their deaths were transfigured and assimilated to pre-existing archetypes and so become more than men. John Kennedy is one of the latter group, for his glorious young life and tragic early death caused him to fall into the same mythological category as Osiris, Attis, Adonis, and Baldur: he is a Dying God. [...] All the mythfolk were originally created by and for men; all display the marks of humanity, even the monsters.

Silverberg also plays with the paradise myth by altering the relationship between gods and men. This future Earth combines features of Eden (Eve says she feels right at home!), Olympus, and the Eddic Asgard — it is a tinseled playground in which men have finally become like gods [...]. (ch. 1, pp. 1-2)

If you know the formula "hybris, Nemesis, Até," you know this arrogance will not last. Fredericks continues, that "[...] it is as second-blass citizens that the various gods, heroes, and monsters move into this society of godlike men and are allowed a new lease on life" but only "as long as the mythfolk are entertaining." Soon enough, though, "men get bored again, and after half a century the mythfolk are gathered up [...] and stuffed [...] back into the machine." The last to go is Cassandra, who cries "Woe!" upon the people for banishing the gods et al. A citizen replies, "'The woes of Earth lie in Earth's past. We need [2] no myths.'" They do. Cassandra smiles "'stepped into the machine. And was gone. And then the age of fire and turmoil opened, for when the myths went home, the invaders came, bursting from the sky." And the people who had used and abused Leor's near-magical machine call upon the gods and heroes, "'But the gods are silent, and the heroes do not come.'" Fredericks tells us, "Thus concludes this tale, where even in a technologically accomplished paradise of the far future, gods and demi-gods are a necessity. Why?" Well these far-future people are decadent and lack imagination and as Cassandra says, "'they have no myths of their own'" (ch. 1, pp. 2-3).

Cf. and contrast the classic Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonis"[3] and the H. G. Wells eutopia Men Like Gods.[4]



RDE, finishing, 12Oct23