Myth [mith] noun
a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning
some being or hero or event, with or without a
determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation,
esp. one that is concerned with deities or demigods
and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of
1820–30; < LL mȳthos < Gk mŷthos story, word
What are some common myths?
A culture hero is a mythological hero specific to some
group (cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, etc.) who
changes the world through invention or discovery. A
typical culture hero might be credited as the discoverer
of fire, or agriculture, songs, tradition and religion, and
is usually the most important legendary figure of a
people, sometimes as the founder of its ruling dynasty.
The hero is sometimes said to be still living, but is
often instead a star, constellation, animal, or purely
spiritual in nature. A culture hero is generally not the
person responsible for the creation but the one who
completes the world and makes it fit for human life;
in short, he creates culture.
Do we have any
Paul Bunyan
Johnny Appleseed
Until the third decade of
the nineteenth century,
America had little real
literature to call its own.
 Fireside poets like
Longfellow, Oliver
Wendell Holmes, John
Greenleaf Whittier, and
William Cullen Bryant
represented a literary
coming-of-age for
These popular poets’
works were widely read
by the fireside in
American homes for
entertainment; and in the
classroom where
generations of Americans
memorized them.
 The poems usually
contained American
settings and subjects.
Wadsworth Longfellow was a
powerful figure in the cultural life of
nineteenth century America.
Born in 1807, he became a national
literary figure by the 1850s and a worldfamous personality by the time of his
death in 1882.
One of Longfellow's writing technique is the
backward glance.
People in the present look back into their distant pasts
and make a discovery. What had once been history —
political, conflicted, sad, and bloody — could now
be seen as imaginative myth: ordered, noble, and a
source of strength.
Longfellow wrote for a young nation ready to make
this backward glance. This technique is a key to
 Longfellow
 Longfellow
employed easy
on obvious themes
with mass appeal.
 He wrote poetry
 His poems are
with natural grace
easily understood.
and melody (bird).
 Above all, his tone
 Read or heard once
has a spirit of
or twice, his rhyme
optimism and faith
and meters are
in the goodness of
easily remembered. life.
 Longfellow
was among the first of
American writers to use native themes.
He wrote about American scenes and
landscapes, the American Indian (Song
of Hiawatha), and American history and
tradition (The Courtship of Miles
Standish, Evangeline).
 Henry
was born February 27, 1807, in Portland,
 Portland was a seaport, and this gave its citizens a
breadth of view lacking in the more insular New
England towns.
 The variety of people and the activity of the harbors
intrigued the young man and gave him a curiosity
about life beyond his own immediate experience.
The book which influenced Longfellow the
most was Washington Irving's Sketch Book.
◦ Irving was another American author for
whom native legends and landscapes
were sources of inspiration.
 "Every reader has his first book," wrote
Longfellow later. "I mean to say, one book
among all others which in early youth first
fascinates his imagination, and at once
excites and satisfies the desires of his mind.
To me, the first book was the Sketch Book
of Washington Irving."
After graduating from Bowdoin College In
May of 1826, he set out for Europe to turn
himself into a scholar and a linguist. He
stopped at small inns and cottages, talking to
peasants, farmers, traders. He traveled in
Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and England,
and returned to America in 1829.
At 22, he was launched into his career at
Bowdoin as a modern European language
professor. He had to prepare his own texts, at
that time none were available.
 In
1834, he was appointed a
professorship at Harvard and
traveled to Europe again to prepare.
This time with his young wife, Mary.
 The
journey ended in tragedy. In
Rotterdam, his wife died, and
Longfellow returned alone. He took a
room at the now historic Craigie
Craigie House
Seven years after he came to Cambridge, MA,
Longfellow married Frances Appleton. Craigie House
was given to Longfellow as a wedding gift.
 In
1854, he resigned from Harvard.
With a great sense of freedom gave
himself entirely to the task of his
own poetic writing. In June of that
year, he began The Song of Hiawatha.
 Who
was Hiawatha? The historic figure lived
among the Iroquois Nation.
 In the early 15th Century, about a hundred years
before Columbus undertook his voyage, chaos
and warfare reigned among the tribes.
According to Iroquois oral tradition, Hiawatha
was a solitary warrior: he lived in isolation
until called by the earth’s creator (God) to
promote peace among the tribes of the
Hiawatha became the founder of the Five
Nations of the Iroquois, from west to east
across New York state – Seneca (People of the
Great Hill), Cayuga (People of the Swamp),
Onondaga (Keepers of the Fire), Oneida
(People of the Standing Stone), and Mohawk
(People of the Flint). His internal
peacekeeping measures helped the Five
Nations grow and prosper.
In 1820’s Maine, Longfellow was exposed to a few local
Native Americans.
As a Harvard professor he talked with the young Ojibwa
writer and preacher Kah-ge-ge-gah-bowh (also known as
George Copway), who visited Boston in 1849.
Native American languages fascinated Longfellow, his view
was similar to many of his white contemporaries: the tribal
peoples were a vanishing race soon to disappear or be
absorbed into the dominant white society.
As a keen student of national epics, he was determined
to preserve “the ballads of a people” i.e. myth, before
they became lost forever.
The Song of Hiawatha was published on
November 10, 1855, and was an immediate
success. In 1857, Longfellow calculated that he
had sold 50,000 copies of it.
An 1890 edition featured illustrations by Frederic
Remington, and continued the public’s love affair
with the epic poem.
Hiawatha is the hero—not the antagonist.
Longfellow created poetical American mythology
using the legend of Hiawatha.
1890 Book Cover by
Fredric Remington
Inside Illustration—
 The
Song of Hiawatha adapts its meter from a
Finnish national epic Kalevala (call-e-vall-ah).
 The
22 cantos, or books, of Hiawatha’s song
tell the story of the childhood and young
adulthood of a god-like hero: strong enough to
wrestle monsters and demons, gentle enough to
woo and win the beautiful maiden Minnehaha.
 Her
name, says the poet, means “Laughing
As a background for the poem,
Longfellow consulted Henry Rowe
Schoolcraft's book on the Indian tribes
of North America and perpetuated an
error of Schoolcraft's that placed
Hiawatha among the forest tribes of
the northern Midwest as opposed to
New York state.
Despite its historical inaccuracies,
Longfellow's poem inspired the
public’s love for the natural beauty of
the Minnesota forest that continues
 Raised
by his grandmother, Nokomis, the young
Hiawatha learns the ways of the world from
forest animals, then teaches his own people to
plant corn and establish a civilization.
 He also teaches them picture-writing, so that
memory of their accomplishments will never
 The final cantos of the poem take on a somber
tone, that reflects the abolitionist Longfellow’s
unease with the country’s growing conflict over
slavery that would soon lead to the Civil War.
Famine strikes Hiawatha’s people,
Minnehaha dies, and soon the “Black
Robes” (Catholic French Canadian
priests) appear, marking the end of
Hiawatha’s culture.
 The hero paddles his canoe into the
sunset and disappears. The poem ends
like Kalevala, where the old and wise
central character (who represents
paganism) makes way for a new king
While The Song of Hiawatha was roundly praised on
both sides of the Atlantic after its publication,
criticism in more recent years has been considerably
less favorable.
Longfellow's choice to mimic the solemn, unrhymed
meter of the Kalevala has caused his poem to be
criticized by many, to the extent that some feel
Longfellow plagiarized the Finnish work.
However, the poem resonated with the public,
regardless of any negative press.
While the poem was sometimes mocked
by his contemporaries, it has been
subjected to increasing satire through the
years, even being lampooned in Marx
Brothers films and Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Keep the idea of stereotypes in mind as
you watch.
Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt--1937
The Logging-in of Hakawatha
F.X. Reid, 1987
First, he sat and faced at the console
Faced the glowing, humming console
Typed his login at the keyboard
Typed his password (fourteen letters)
Waited till the system answered
Waited long and cursed its slowness
(Oh that irritating slowness Like a mollusk with lumbago)
Waited for what seemed like hours
Till the operating system
Printed out the latest whinings
From the man called superuser Moaning that some third year
Played adventure games at
Moaning that the Disc was nearly
(Very nearly) full to bursting,
Growling that he wouldn't take it
Screaming that he'd get his own back
By deleting peoples' disc files.
1841 – 1904
What does a Czech composer
born in 1841 have to do with
Longfellow’s Hiawatha?
Dvořák composed his New
World Symphony while he
visited the United States
during 1892-1895. Parts of
the symphony are based
upon Hiawatha, a poem that
Dvořák read and
appreciated in Czech in his
native Bohemia.
1892—While in America, Dvorák takes
an interest in the music of AfricanAmericans and American Indians.
 He urges American composers to
compose in the spirit of the music
they hear around them.
 What is “American Music” in your
opinion? Do you think of Native
Americans when you think of
American music?
Also in 1892, a wealthy American philanthropist,
Jeannette Thurber, persuaded Dvořák to become
director of a National Conservatory in New York that
she (via her husband) was helping to finance.
America was embarking on its own quest for a
musical identity; ironically, Thurber and certain
New York music critics had decided that Dvořák
should create that identity for them. "He was a
master chef who had cooked up Bohemian music,"
says Dvořák scholar Michael Beckerman. "Now they
wanted him to cook up American music to a similar
 Dvorák
was so taken with the poem that he even
attempted (and abandoned) an opera of Hiawatha.
 Some
critics believe Dvořák’s Hiawatha is influenced
by Longfellow’s romanticized view, not genuine
Indian culture.
 However,
noted Dvořák expert Joseph Horowitz
discusses "the 'Indianists' movement [Dvořák]
helped to create," which produced "a huge repertoire
of Indianist songs, sonatas, and even operas, many of
which quoted actual Native American tunes.”
Listen to the Largo from Dvořák’s
New World Symphony:
p3JLSzsA&feature=related YouTube Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 "From the
New World" - 2. Largo ½
Beckerman "finds in the Largo of the New World
Symphony an elegy for the Native American, based on
more or less explicit allusions to Longfellow's
 “With
a little sleight-of-hand, he turned to the American
Indians for the equivalent of the Czech heroes and
legends that he'd drawn on in his Bohemian works."
Does s music seem inspired by this chapter of
Longfellow’s? How?
Are there any specific chapters of Hiawatha that
come to mind when you listened to the piece?
What about the written clues?
Now turn to chapter 16, Pau-Puk-Keewis. We are going to
listen to a dramatic interpretation of that chapter as
produced by Joseph Horowitz and Michael Beckerman.
Beckerman explains, “The intense, vigorous [music] portrays
the dance at Hiawatha's wedding of the magician Pau-PukKeewis, the hero's adversary and Antichrist figure; and the
finale… matches Pau-Puk-Keewis's headlong flight from
Hiawatha, who finally kills him. But most telling of all are the
associations that fill the famous slow movement.”
What is your reaction to the dramatic
interpretation of Hiawatha coupled with
Dvořák’s music?
Does it work? Are both the music and text
enhanced by one another?
Can you make a correlation with any popular
music? What about rap with singing, i.e. B.o.b.’s
“Several recent critics have suggested that Dvořák
misunderstood American culture. Of course he did. So
did everyone else. There can be no complete grasp
of a culture, since the very idea of culture is always
a combination of reality and illusion, a few hard
facts and the myths that hold them together.
Dvořák saw and heard what he did through a
combination of his specific experiences in the United
States and his predisposed preferences for certain
kinds of themes and ideas, which he brought with him
after decades of composing. But he certainly worked
fervently to imagine what an American music
might be.”
Page 26-28 in Lit book, From the Iroquois
Constitution by Dekanawidah (translated by
Arthur C. Parker).
How does IC explode common stereotypes about
Native Americans?
Why does the speaker use the imagery of the tree
to expand his point?
Based on this writing, is Longfellow’s Hiawatha
a good reflection of a Native America?
YouTube - WAR SONG.
 What
is your reaction to the song?
 How is this music different from
“American” music?
 Why do you think it is so different?
Can Longfellow’s Hiawatha
be seen as an example of
American mythology? Defend
or refute.
Is the character of Hiawatha a
culture hero? Defend or
Dvořák believed that Native American music was
the future of American music. Thinking of this
concept and Longfellow’s interest in Native
Americans, why do you believe this group has
been silenced?
“There can be no complete grasp of a culture,
since the very idea of culture is always a
combination of reality and illusion, a few hard
facts and the myths that hold them together.”
Based on this lesson, do you agree with
Beckerman? Why/why not?
 “There
can be no complete grasp of a
culture, since the very idea of culture
is always a combination of reality
and illusion, a few hard facts and the
myths that hold them together.”
Based on this lesson, do you agree
with M. Beckerman? Why/why not?
According to critic Margaret Atrov, "Until recently ...
the popular concept of Indian literature was shaped
not by the Indian and even not by his translator, but
by the white American writer. . . . There is no better
way to correct the misrepresentations that have
ingrained themselves in our folklore than to listen to
the genuine voices of the Indian peoples. Since their
poems are really songs meant to be chanted or sung
as part of various rituals, it is indeed the voices of the
Indians, ancient and authentic, despite the drawbacks
of translation, that we hear when we read them.” Do
you agree with Atrov’s idea of the authentic voice?
(You may use music as an example .)