What does mythology give us? What can we learn from it? It is something continuing from very ancient times. I want to know how actually learning about mythical stories helps.
Mythology serves many functions. We assume that originally it was a religious function, but it's hard to separate from the entertainment aspect. Before there were books, people likely sat around telling stories, and when humans started writing, myths were one of the subjects.
- Religious function
Stories of the gods and goddesses and of creation. Explaining natural phenomena. Commemorating cult heroes such as Gilgamesh and Theseus.
- Political Function
National myths are common, from those involving the founding of Rome, to the founding fathers (and mothers) of the United States. This is a strong feature of Chinese mytho-history, including the Mandate of Heaven as the rationale for the overthrow of the corrupt Shang Dynasty, and the founding of the Han Dynasty.
- Entertainment function
Mythology has some very good stories, ranging from adventure to horror to comedy. The Iliad and Odyssey are great examples of epic poems that originally were passed from generation to generation via oral tradition. Homer is called a bard because he would sing these poems in exchange for his supper. The Dionysia was a religious festival where plays about mythological figures were presented.
- Social Commentary
The Iliad has subversive elements, undermining the dignity of the gods and elevating the dignity of man. Aeschylus famous Oresteia is about civilization itself, (civil vs. natural law); Sophocles' Antigone is about civil disobedience; Euripides Trojan Women is an anti-war play.
Mythology has been used to explicate philosophy. Hesiod, a mythographer roughly contiguous with Homer, wrote about how to live, using the myths as allegory. Plato and Aristotle used mythological examples to explicate abstract concepts.