During a meeting with a person in the publishing industry today (it was informational, unfortunately, not about an impending contract), a question arose: why do mythmakers make myths?
The publishing industry person opined that authors such as Homer wrote what they wrote because the old morals had declined and they needed to be reiterated.
I said that wasn't quite it, but when I tried to answer why, I fell on my face. A fairly long time ago when I taught Classical Mythology regularly in a college classroom, I discussed a related question: what is the purpose of myth? What does it do for us and to us?
But the question of what personally was going on in the heads of those who created and transmitted the stories-- that's something a little different.
And, in a way, unknowable.
I find it likely, however, that storytellers tell because they believe the story is true and therefore worthy of dissemination.
The most ancient of authors in the Greek tradition, Homer and Hesiod, wrote with the inspiration of the Muses, and Hesiod himself wrote at the command of the Muses. Their famous words to him:
You shepherds of the wilderness, poor fools,
nothing but bellies,
we know how to say many false things,
that seem like true sayings,
but we also know how to speak the truth
when we wish to.
(all translations Lattimore)
The implication is that Hesiod's poem-to-come, the Theogony-- concerning the generation and genalogy of the gods-- is true.
They go on to give Hesiod a "staff of strong growing/olive shoot, a wonderful thing;" and they "breathed a voice" into him and "power to sing the story of things of the future, and things past." The olive tree, most valuable resource to Greek civilization, is an apt symbol of Hesiod's power to tell.
Then the Muses tell Hesiod
to sing the race
of the blessed gods everlasting,
but always to put themselves
at the beginning and end of my singing.
Here it appears that the Muses are interested in something millions of Internet users are also craving: fame, glory, reputation, to "go viral."
So there seem to be two motivations in Hesiod's mind: first, that the story to be told is worthy of being told, and that in telling it, he will make the Muses known and become known himself.
So at least in Hesiod's case, the motivation for telling a story is personal, and similar to the motivation storytellers have today.
Within the idea of "true" and "worthy" there are a thousand levels and nuances, including my acquaintance's idea that a message must be gotten across in order to improve folk. This is the job of the prophet and the satirist.
Also there is the idea of entertainment, of which Hesiod sings a little later on. It is the Muses who
bring forgetfulness of sorrows,
and rest from anxieties.
For me the idea of knowing, making known, and being known also has a utility beyond the message itself. Whatever is said, it is an attempt to pull together individuals into a group-- to point to the importance of community.
It is traditionally said that mythology tells a culture "who it is, where it has come from, where it is going." This is another way of saying that good stories bond us. Storytellers seem to want to be at the center of those bonds-- and a little lifted up.