We will explain the answers to the meaning of life depending on the mythology.
What is the point of life
As the only animals which are self-aware, humans have always asked impossible
questions. Why do we exist? Where did we come from? If we are doomed to inevitable death,
why exist at all?
These types of questions are the bedrock of every philosophical discipline that has ever existed. They are also the foundation of myth and religion. What is the meaning of life is the all-encompassing question that mythology attempted to answer—or at least to find some measure of peace with the question.
The ancient Greeks saw the origins of humanity in the grand conflicts between the gods.
Hesiod’s Theogony details endless battles among the original Titan gods and the gods of
Olympos were played out as all of these gods displayed curiously human tendencies—lust, love,
jealousy, anger, and favoritism. It was Prometheus who facilitated the first breath of life as the
mud of the newly formed Earth was animated. Prometheus also stole fire form the Gods, a crime
which symbolizes both the literal fire and the fire of knowledge and self-awareness.
These origin myths are familiar to the extent that there are elements one would recognize
from the Judeo-Christiam mythology. Breathing life into the earth, the story of the first crime
against the divine, and the bringing of knowledge all resonate with ideas most people know.
However, the Greek origins offer little to answer the question “What is the meaning of life.” For
the Greeks, life is something that came to be out of caprice and accident. Though the gods
clearly operate with deliberate intentions, there is nothing to give a sense of purpose. We have no
grand ideal of service to the gods and a coming state of redemption. Life simply “is.” For a
modern reader, this may be unsatisfying. We need a hard and fast answer to the question, but it is
an interesting perspective to examine. What if the whole of life is little more than a game played
by the gods, one of many games which have no other purpose than to please the gods.
As the Romans took over and assimilated much of Greek mythology, they offered their
own beliefs and ideas to the meaning of life. Whereas the Greeks valued an expression of the
Self over destiny, the Romans added a sense of idealism which included ideas such as fate to the
issue. With a divine fate superadded to our existence, life took on a meaning which required
discipline and resistance to our basic nature. We are different from the rest of creation because
we aspire to god-like ideals while recognizing that we are not gods. That fine line between living
a “virtuous life” and committing the crime of Prometheus was established. The meaning of life is
to be a virtuous citizen of the Roman Republic. For the ancient Romans, our birth and death is
determined by the three fates: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. The fates spun the thread of life
and measured it out to determine how long one’s life would be. They cut the thread at the time of
one’s death. Our lives are determined by the gods and the fates and the meaning of our lives is to
perform our works and days.
The Norse saw the world and the meaning of life in vastly different terms. For the early
Norse people, the people of Northern Europe, the world was as it is—life was infused with
enchantment and the work of the divine was in all things. While the Greeks and Romans saw
evidence of the gods in things of nature, for example, the Norse saw nature as divine in itself.
They were also a warrior culture and this changes the answer to the meaning of life.
The Norse Sagas, their mythological epics, often provide tales of battles in the heavens.
The primary goal is the glory of battle and victory. The Norse found meaning in the harsh
struggles of life, in the constant battle of man against nature, finding peace and meaning in the
fact that the battles are never truly won. We find everlasting comfort by taking our place at the
side of the gods in a perpetual state of battle, peace, and rest.
For example, one of the most famous texts in the literary works of both Norse mythology
and English Literature is the epic Beowulf. In this epic, the hero Beowulf comes to the aid of a
king to defeat a monster, Grendel, who has been terrorizing and killing the warriors of the king’s
clan. Beowulf uses his warrior strength and magic to defeat the monster. He takes his place as a
king and reigns peacefully for fifty years. Eventually Beowulf’s peaceful rule is interrupted by a
dragon. Beowulf slays the dragon but he dies in the process. It seems like a pointless tale from a
modern perspective, but to an ancient warrior culture, all the essential elements are in place. A
great warrior takes on a seemingly impossible task and is victorious. He is rewarded with a place
of honor in life. But the meaning of life for the Norse is struggle and he must find his destiny in a
final battle which will prove his greatness and send him to the afterlife. The meaning of life for
the Norse was struggle, glory in battle, and a final peace with honor.
The mythological record which would give us an answer to the meaning of life is varied
and inconsistent. One common element to them all is the idea that there are certain things we
cannot know. There seems to be an outer limit to the human capacity for knowledge. To go
beyond this is met with severe punishment as in the case of Prometheus who was chained to a
rock for all eternity for stealing fire form the gods. However, each mythological system provides
a way to grapple with the question “what is the meaning of life?” We are able to see a purpose, at
the very least. We are given some sense of what we are here to do. Whether the Greek expression
of selfhood in the form of the arts and philosophy, the Roman belief in duty as a citizen, or the
Norse belief in the virtue of struggle itself—the myths of the ancient world at least provide a
direction for us, if not a firm answer.