Every ancient culture created its own unique collection of myths, which are legends that recount the exploits of dynamic characters who struggled with antagonistic opponents, lost loves, and experienced personal triumph over common life obstacles. These characters, whether heroic or tragic, offer ancient and modern readers a method for understanding life, and provide comfort for those who suffer, knowing that great heroes suffered in life as well. The interest in mythology continues to exist in both ancient and modern legends, with universal themes that have evolved in every culture. Mythology from all cultures shares a common element that unites the purpose of myths, which is that each culture and religion draws on myths as the essential truths that dominate humanity and create reason and alleviate anxieties in this world. The ancients recognized stronger powers than those present in their world; they had theories about the creation of the world, death, the sun, rain, floods, drought, and evil elements. Recognition of the power behind these events and entities, led early cultures to create myths that provided answers to make sense of their universe and all that it entailed. Mythology is a compilation of legends with recurring themes such as oracles, prophecies, enchantment, voyagers, heroes, sorcery, and magic. Mythology evolved from the Egyptians, Iranians, Sumerians, Central Asia, Babylonians, Indus Valley, Nepal, and shamanistic practices of Siberia, the Middle East, and the Mesopotamian world, creating a cradle of legends that dominated the lives and religious beliefs of the people in these civilizations.
Surviving legends are fragmented, and in some cases can only be partially translated. Many of the dominant legends that have survived come from Greece and Egypt, recounting the gods, heroes, creation, and belief in the afterlife. These mythological influences continue in modern civilizations, as their many themes and heroes are reenacted in the visual arts and are reformatted in literature, such as Shakespeare's Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and the many tales of Herakles, Cyclops, Ulysses, and the Buddha. Mythology also continues in modern religious cults such as the cargo cults, Millerites, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many others that have used the power of literature to create legends that explain their world, their position in it, and the world to come.
The power of mythology is most evident in the dynamic response to the legends of these myths, religious ideals and beliefs that arose from myths, and methods of worship. New religious and spiritual practices were the direct result of mythology, and gave to the ancients a new level of control in which they ensured their destiny in this world and the next through actions of worshipping and honoring their gods. Mythology also revealed the reality of why situations that plagued people such as drought, death, and suffering were the result of meddlesome gods; the myths that surround nuisance gods provided new deities with a humanistic and entertaining quality. Some myths served as warnings, instructing people on how not to anger the gods and to appreciate blessings from the gods. In another ancient myth, Arachne was a very gifted woman, but arrogant and lacking in humility. The myth tells of Arachne's great skill in weaving, which she flaunts in the presence of the goddess Athene, who turns the young girl into a spider, thereby providing a lesson about humility.
Mythology in all its forms touches on issues of diversity and continuity in human nature, human existence, moral standards, death, the afterlife, and the path that one is to take to achieve a prosperous and fruitful life. Legends offer stories of heroes who suffered at the hands of mortals and immortals, such as Odysseus, Ajax, and Bota Ili, the wild, demonic woman of the Kedang people of east Indonesia, and others who were favored by the gods, such as Aeneas the Trojan hero and the favorite of the Romans, Hercules, Horatius who defended Rome against the Etruscan army, Feridun the ancient Iranian hero, and Yoshitsure the Japanese hero who overpowered the giant. The figures who were favored and who suffered provide guides for how to live a good life, as well as its opposite.
Mythology also includes sorcery, such as the magic spells in the myths of Merlin, and mythical creatures such as the Sphinx, Medusa, and Centaurs. Whether or not the reader believes in the people and events captured in myths, the stories provide action, mystery, and wonder that ensure their popularity and survival.