World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article




Mythology can refer either to the collected myths of a group of people—their body of stories which they tell to explain nature, history, and customs[1]—or to the study of such myths.[2]

As a collection of such stories, mythology is an important feature of every culture. Various origins for myths have been proposed, ranging from personification of natural phenomena to truthful or hyperbolic accounts of historical events, to explanations of existing ritual. Although the term is complicated by its implicit condescension, mythologizing is not just an ancient or primitive practice, as shown by contemporary mythopoeia such as urban legends and the expansive fictional mythoi created by fantasy novels and Japanese manga. A culture's collective mythology helps convey belonging, shared and religious experience, behavioral models, and moral and practical lessons.

As the study of myth, mythology dates back to antiquity. Rationalists in ancient Greece and China devised allegorical interpretations of their traditional stories. Rival classifications of the Greek myths by Euhemerus, Plato's Phaedrus, and Sallustius were developed by the Neoplatonists and revived by Renaissance mythographers. Nineteenth-century comparative mythology reinterpreted myth as a primitive and failed counterpart of science (E. B. Tylor), a "disease of language" (Max Müller), or a misinterpretation of magical ritual (James Frazer).

Some (recent) approaches have rejected a conflict between the value of myth and rational thought, often viewing myths, rather than being merely inaccurate historical accounts, as expressions for understanding general psychological, cultural or societal truths.


  • Etymology 1
  • Terminology 2
  • Origins 3
    • Euhemerism 3.1
    • Allegory 3.2
    • Personification 3.3
    • Myth-ritual theory 3.4
  • Functions of myth 4
  • Study of mythology 5
    • Pre-modern theories 5.1
    • 19th-century theories 5.2
    • 20th-century theories 5.3
  • Comparative mythology 6
  • Modern mythology 7
  • Etymology 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • Journals about mythology 12
  • Books 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15


The English term mythology predates the word myth by centuries.[5] It appeared in the 15th century,[7] borrowed whole from Middle French mythologie.[8] Both terms translated the subject of Fulgentius's 5th-century Mythologiæ, which was concerned with the explication of Greek and Roman stories about their gods. Although the African author Fulgentius's conflation with the contemporary African saint Fulgentius is now questioned,[9] the Mythologiæ explicitly treated its subject matter as allegories requiring interpretation and not as true events.[10] (The word mythología [μυθολογία] appears in Plato but was a general term for "fiction" or "story-telling" of any kind,[8] combining mỹthos [μῦθος, "narrative, fiction"] and -logía [-λογία, "discourse, able to speak about"].[11]) From Lydgate until the 17th or 18th century, "mythology" was similarly used to mean a moral, a fable, an allegory, or a parable.[8] From its earliest use in reference to a collection of traditional stories or beliefs,[13] it has implied the falsehood of the stories being described; remaining associated with sacred tales of the Greeks and Romans, though, it came to be applied by analogy with similar bodies of traditional stories among other polytheistic cultures around the world.[8] The Greek loanword mythos[15] (pl. mythoi) and Latinate mythus[17] (pl. mythi) both appeared in English before the first attestation of myth in 1830.[20]


In present use, "mythology" usually refers to the collected myths of a group of people but may also mean the study of such myths.[2] For example, Greek mythology, Roman mythology and Hittite mythology all describe the body of myths retold among those cultures, but landscape mythology describes the study of landscape used across various totemistic peoples. Alan Dundes defined myth as a sacred narrative which explains how the world and humanity evolved into their present form, "a story that serves to define the fundamental worldview of a culture by explaining aspects of the natural world and delineating the psychological and social practices and ideals of a society";[21] Bruce Lincoln defined it as "ideology in narrative form".[22] Many scholars in other fields use the term "myth" in somewhat different ways;[23][24][25] in a very broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story[26] or any popular misconception or imaginary entity.[27] Because of this pejorative sense, some opt to return to the earlier mythos,[21] although its use was similarly pejorative and it now more commonly refers to its Aristotlean sense as a "plot point" or to a collective mythology,[28] as in the worldbuilding of H.P. Lovecraft.

Mythology is now often sharply distinguished from didactic literature such as fables, but its relationship with other traditional stories such as legends and folktale s is much more nebulous.[29][32] The main characters in myths are usually gods, demigods, or supernatural humans,[33][34][35] while legends generally feature humans as their main characters,[33] but many exceptions or combinations exist, as in the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid.[36] Myths are often endorsed by rulers and priests and closely linked to religion or spirituality.[33] In fact, many societies group their myths, legends, and history together, considering myths to be true accounts of their remote past.[33][34][37][38] Creation myths, particularly, take place in a primordial age when the world had not yet achieved its current form,[33][39][40] but other myths explain how the society's customs, institutions and taboos were established and sanctified.[33][40] A separate space is created for folktales,[41][42] which are not considered true by the people who tell them.[33] As stories spread to other cultures or as faiths change, however, myths can come to be considered folktales,[43][31] sometimes even to the point of being reinterpreted as one, its divine characters recast as humans or as demihumans such as giants, elves, and faeries.[34]



One theory claims that myths are distorted accounts of real historical events.[44][45] According to this theory, storytellers repeatedly elaborated upon historical accounts until the figures in those accounts gained the status of gods.[44][45] For example, one might argue that the myth of the wind-god Aeolus evolved from a historical account of a king who taught his people to use sails and interpret the winds.[44] Herodotus (5th century BC) and Prodicus made claims of this kind.[45] This theory is named "euhemerism" after the mythologist Euhemerus (c.320 BC), who suggested that the Greek gods developed from legends about human beings.[45][46]


Some theories propose that myths began as allegories. According to one theory, myths began as allegories for natural phenomena: Apollo represents the sun, Poseidon represents water, and so on.[45] According to another theory, myths began as allegories for philosophical or spiritual concepts: Athena represents wise judgment, Aphrodite represents desire, etc.[45] The 19th century Sanskritist Max Müller supported an allegorical theory of myth. He believed that myths began as allegorical descriptions of nature, but gradually came to be interpreted literally: for example, a poetic description of the sea as "raging" was eventually taken literally, and the sea was then thought of as a raging god.[47]


Some thinkers believe that myths resulted from the personification of inanimate objects and forces. According to these thinkers, the ancients worshipped natural phenomena such as fire and air, gradually coming to describe them as gods.[48] For example, according to the theory of mythopoeic thought, the ancients tended to view things as persons, not as mere objects;[49] thus, they described natural events as acts of personal gods, thus giving rise to myths.[50]

Myth-ritual theory

According to the myth-ritual theory, the existence of myth is tied to ritual.[51] In its most extreme form, this theory claims that myths arose to explain rituals.[52] This claim was first put forward by the biblical scholar

  • The New Student's Reference Work/Mythology, ed. Beach (1914), at wikisource.
  • Leonard, Scott. "The History of Mythology: Part I". Youngstown State University.
  • Greek mythology
  • Sacred texts
  • Myths and Myth-Makers Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by comparative mythology by John Fiske.
  • LIMC Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, a database of ancient objects linked with mythology
  • The Power of MythJoseph Campbell on Bill Moyers's
  • Dreams, Visions, and Myths: Making Sense of Our World

External links

  • Stefan Arvidsson, Aryan Idols. Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, University of Chicago Press, 2006. ISBN 0-226-02860-7
  • Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)
  • Kees W. Bolle, The Freedom of Man in Myth. Vanderbilt University Press, 1968.
  • Richard Buxton. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
  • E. Csapo, Theories of Mythology (2005)
  • Edith Hamilton, Mythology (1998)
  • Graves, Robert. "Introduction." New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Trans. Richard Aldington and Delano Ames. London: Hamlyn, 1968. v–viii.
  • Joseph Campbell
  • Mircea Eliade
    • Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. Princeton University Press, 1954.
    • The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Trans. Willard R. Trask. NY: Harper & Row, 1961.
  • Louis Herbert Gray [ed.], The Mythology of All Races, in 12 vols., 1916.
  • Lucien Lévy-Bruhl
    • Mental Functions in Primitive Societies (1910)
    • Primitive Mentality (1922)
    • The Soul of the Primitive (1928)
    • The Supernatural and the Nature of the Primitive Mind (1931)
    • Primitive Mythology (1935)
    • The Mystic Experience and Primitive Symbolism (1938)
  • Charles H. Long, Alpha: The Myths of Creation. George Braziller, 1963.
  • O'Flaherty, Wendy. Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook. London: Penguin, 1975.
  • Barry B. Powell, Classical Myth, 5th edition, Prentice-Hall.
  • Santillana and Von Dechend (1969, 1992 re-issue). Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-87923-215-3.
  • Isabelle Loring Wallace and Jennie Hirsh, Contemporary Art and Classical Myth. Farnham: Ashgate (2011), ISBN 978-0-7546-6974-6
  • Walker, Steven F. and Segal, Robert A., Jung and the Jungians on Myth: An Introduction, Theorists of Myth, Routledge (1996), ISBN 978-0-8153-2259-7.
  • Vanda Zajko and Miriam Leonard, Lauphing with Medusa. Oxford: Oxford `University Press (2006), ISBN 978-0-19-923794-4.
  • Zong, In-Sob. Folk Tales from Korea. 3rd ed. Elizabeth: Hollym, 1989.

Further reading

  • Armstrong, Karen. "A Short History of Myth". Knopf Canada, 2006.
  • Bascom, William. "The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives". 'Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. Ed. Alan Dundes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 5–29.
  • Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch's Mythology. Whitefish: Kessinger, 2004.
  • Campbell, Joeseph. "The Power of Myth". New York: Doubleday, 1988.
  • Doty, William. Myth: A Handbook. Westport: Greenwood, 2004.
  • Dundes, Alan. "Binary Opposition in Myth: The Propp/Levi-Strauss Debate in Retrospect". Western Folklore 56 (Winter, 1997): 39–50.
  • Dundes, Alan. Introduction. Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. Ed. Alan Dundes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 1–3.
  • Dunes, Alan. "Madness in Method Plus a Plea for Projective Inversion in Myth". Myth and Method. Ed. Laurie Patton and Wendy Doniger. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996.
  • Eliade, Mircea. Myth and Reality. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.
  • Eliade, Mircea. Myths, Dreams and Mysteries. Trans. Philip Mairet. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
  • "Euhemerism". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Ed. John Bowker. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. UC – Berkeley Library. 20 March 2009 .
  • Fabiani, Paolo "The Philosophy of the Imagination in Vico and Malebranche". F.U.P. (Florence UP), English edition 2009. PDF
  • Frankfort, Henri, et al. The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1977.
  • Frazer, James. The Golden Bough. New York: Macmillan, 1922.
  • Graf, Fritz. Greek Mythology. Trans. Thomas Marier. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
  • Honko, Lauri. "The Problem of Defining Myth". Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. Ed. Alan Dundes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 41–52.
  • Kirk, G.S. Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
  • Kirk, G.S. "On Defining Myths". Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. Ed. Alan Dundes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 53–61.
  • Leonard, Scott. "The History of Mythology: Part I". Scott A. Leonard's Home Page. August 2007.Youngstown State University, 17 November 2009
  • Littleton, Covington. The New Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of the Theories of Georges Dumezil. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
  • Meletinsky, Elea. The Poetics of Myth. Trans. Guy Lanoue and Alexandre Sadetsky. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • "myth." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 21 March 2009
  • "myths". A Dictionary of English Folklore. Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. UC – Berkeley Library. 20 March 2009
  • Northup, Lesley. "Myth-Placed Priorities: Religion and the Study of Myth". Religious Studies Review 32.1(2006): 5–10.
  • O'Flaherty, Wendy. Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook. London: Penguin, 1975.
  • Pettazzoni, Raffaele. "The Truth of Myth". Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. Ed. Alan Dundes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 98–109.
  • Segal, Robert. Myth: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004.
  • Simpson, Michael. Introduction. Apollodorus. Gods and Heroes of the Greeks. Trans. Michael Simpson. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976. 1–9.
  • Singer, Irving. "Introduction: Philosophical Dimensions of Myth and Cinema." Cinematic Mythmaking: Philosophy in Film. Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States: MIT Press Books, 2008. 3–6. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.
  • Indick, William. "Classical Heroes in Modern Movies: Mythological Patterns of the Superhero." Journal of Media Psychology 9.3 (2004): 93–95. York University Libraries. Web.
  • Koven, Mikel J. "Folklore Studies and Popular Film and Television: a Necessary Critical Survey." Journal of American Folklore 116.460 (2003): 176–195. Print.
  • Olson, Eric L. (May 3, 2011). "Great Expectations: the Role of Myth in 1980s Films with Child Heroes" (PDF). Virginia Polytechnic Scholarly Library. Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University. Retrieved October 24, 2011. 
  • Matira, Lopamundra. "Children's Oral Literature and Modern Mass Media." Indian Folklore Research Journal 5.8 (2008): 55–57. Print.
  • Cormer, John. "Narrative." Critical Ideas in Television Studies. New York, United States: Charendon Press, 2007. 47–59. Print.


  • New Comparative Mythology / Nouvelle Mythologie Comparée,
  • Ollodagos,
  • Studia Mythologica Slavica,
  • Mythological Studies Journal,
  • The Journal of Germanic Mythology and Folklore,

Journals about mythology


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "myth, n. Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2003.
  2. ^ a b Kirk, p. 8; "myth", Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Johnson, Samuel. .p. 1345, A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers to which are Prefixed a History of the Language and an English Grammar"Mythology" in W. Strahan (London), 1755.
  4. ^ Johnson, Samuel. p. 1345, A Dictionary of the English Language. W. Strahan (London), 1755. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
  5. ^ Johnson's Dictionary, for example, has entries for mythology,[3] mythologist, mythologize, mythological, and mythologically but none for myth.[4]
  6. ^ Lydgate, John. Troyyes Book, Vol. II, ll. 2487. (Middle English) Reprinted in Henry Bergen's p. 216, Vol. I, Lydgate's Troy Book. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co. (London), 1906. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
  7. ^ "...I [ Paris ] was ravisched in-to paradys.
    "And Þus Þis god [sc. Mercury], diuers of liknes,
    "More wonderful Þan I can expresse,
    "Schewed hym silf in his apparance,
    "Liche as he is discriued in Fulgence,
    "In Þe book of his methologies..."[6]
  8. ^ a b c d Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "mythology, n." 2003. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
  9. ^ Hays, Gregory. “The date and identity of the mythographer Fulgentius” in Journal of Medieval Latin, Vol. 13, pp. 163 ff. 2003.
  10. ^ Whitbread, Leslie George, tr. Fulgentius the Mythographer. Ohio State University Press (Columbus), 1971.
  11. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "-logy, comb. form". Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1903.
  12. ^ Browne, Thomas. .Ch. VIII, Vol. I, Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenets and Commonly Presumed Truths Edward Dod (London), 1646. Reprinted 1672.
  13. ^ All which [sc. John Mandevil's support of Ctesias's claims] may still be received in some acceptions of morality, and to a pregnant invention, may afford commendable mythologie; but in a natural and proper exposition, it containeth impossibilities, and things inconsistent with truth.[12]
  14. ^ Shuckford, Samuel. xxi.pp. xx–, The Creation and Fall of Man. A Supplemental Discourse to the Preface of the First Volume of the Sacred and Profane History of the World Connected J. & R. Tonson & S. Draper (London), 1753. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
  15. ^ "That Mythology came in upon this Alteration of their [Egyptians'] Theology, is obviouſly evident: for the mingling the Hiſtory of theſe Men when Mortals, with what came to be aſcribed to them when Gods, would naturally occaſion it. And of this Sort we generally find the Mythoi told of them..."[14]
  16. ^ Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. On the Prometheus of Æschylus: An Essay, preparatory to a series of disquisitions respecting the Egyptian, in connection with the sacerdotal, theology, and in contrast with the mysteries of ancient Greece." Royal Society of Literature (London), 18 May 1825. Reprinted in Henry N. Coleridge's , Vol. II., p. 335.The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Wm. Pickering (London), 1836. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
  17. ^ "Long before the entire separation of metaphysics from poetry, that is, while yet poesy, in all its several species of verse, music, statuary, &c. continued mythic;—while yet poetry remained the union of the sensuous and the philosophic mind;—the efficient presence of the latter in the synthesis of the two, had manifested itself in the sublime mythus περὶ γενέσεως τοῦ νοῦ ἐν ἀνθρωποῖς concerning the genesis, or birth of the νοῦς or reason in man."[16]
  18. ^ Abrahamus Ecchellensis [Abraham of Hekel]. .p. 175], The Oriental Chronicle [Chronicon Orientale] in History of the Arabs [Historia Arabum Typographia Regia (Paris), 1651. (Latin) Translated in paraphrase in Thomas Blackwell's "Letter Seventeenth" in p. 269, Letters concerning Mythology. (London), 1748.
  19. ^ Anonymous review of Edward Upham's "The History and Doctrine of Buddhism, Popularly Illustrated; with Notices of the Kapooism, or Demon Worship, and of the Bali, or Planetary Incantations of Ceylon." R. Ackermann (London), 1829. In p. 44, Art. III No. XXIII,, Westminster Reviewthe . Rob't Heward (London), 1829. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.
  20. ^ "According to the rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, Enos, discoursing on the splendor of the heavenly bodies, insisted that, since God had thus exalted them above the other parts of creation, it was but reasonable that we should praise, extol, and honour them. The consequence of this exhortation, says the rabbi, was the building of temples to the stars, and the establishment of idolatry throughout the world. By the Arabian divines however, the imputation is laid upon the patriarch Abraham; who, they say, on coming out from the dark cave in which he had been brought up, was so astonished at the sight of the stars, that he worshipped Hesperus, the Moon, and the Sun successively as they rose.[18] These two stories are very good illustrations of the origin of myths, by means of which, even the most natural sentiment is traced to its cause in the circumstances of fabulous history.[19]
  21. ^ a b Grassie, William (March 1998). "Science as Epic? Can the modern evolutionary cosmology be a mythic story for our time?". Science & Spirit 9 (1). The word 'myth' is popularly understood to mean idle fancy, fiction, or falsehood; but there is another meaning of the word in academic discourse .... Using the original Greek term mythos is perhaps a better way to distinguish this more positive and all-encompassing definition of the word. 
  22. ^ Lincoln, Bruce (2006). "An Early Moment in the Discourse of "Terrorism": Reflections on a Tale from Marco Polo".  
  23. ^ Dundes, "Madness", p. 147
  24. ^ Doty, pp. 11–12
  25. ^ Segal, p. 5
  26. ^ Kirk, "Defining", p. 57; Kirk, Myth, p. 74; Simpson, p. 3
  27. ^ "myth".  
  28. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "mythos, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2003.
  29. ^ Bascom, p. 7
  30. ^ Bascom, p. 10
  31. ^ a b Doty, p. 114
  32. ^ Note, however, that myth, legend, and folktale are only a few of the categories of traditional stories, which can also include anecdotes and some kinds of jokes.[30] Traditional stories, in turn, are only one category within folklore, which can be understood to include other acts and objects such as gestures, costumes, or music.[31]
  33. ^ a b c d e f g Bascom, p. 9
  34. ^ a b c "myths", A Dictionary of English Folklore
  35. ^ O'Flaherty, p.78: "I think it can be well argued as a matter of principle that, just as 'biography is about chaps', so mythology is about gods."
  36. ^ Kirk, Myth, pp. 22, 32; Kirk, "Defining", p. 55
  37. ^ a b Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries p. 23
  38. ^ Pettazzoni, p. 102
  39. ^ Dundes, Introduction, p. 1
  40. ^ a b Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 6
  41. ^ Bascom, p. 17
  42. ^ Eliade, Myth and Reality, pp. 10–11; Pettazzoni, pp. 99–101
  43. ^ Bascom, p. 13
  44. ^ a b c Bulfinch, p. 194
  45. ^ a b c d e f Honko, p. 45
  46. ^ "Euhemerism", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
  47. ^ Segal, p. 20
  48. ^ Bulfinch, p. 195
  49. ^ Frankfort, p. 4
  50. ^ Frankfort, p. 15
  51. ^ Segal, p. 61
  52. ^ Graf, p. 40
  53. ^ Meletinsky pp. 19–20
  54. ^ Segal, p. 63
  55. ^ a b Frazer, p. 711
  56. ^ Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 8
  57. ^ a b Honko, p. 51
  58. ^ Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 19
  59. ^ Honko, p. 49
  60. ^ Roland Barthes, Mythologies
  61. ^ Campbell, Joseph (1991). Occidental Mythology. Arkana. p. 519.  
  62. ^ Campbell, Occidental Mythology p519
  63. ^ Campbell, Occidental Mythology p520
  64. ^ Campbell, Occidental Mythology p521
  65. ^ Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology p5
  66. ^ Boa, Fraser (1994). The way of myth : talking with Joseph Campbell (1st Shambhala ed.). Boston: Shambhala. p. 152.  
  67. ^ Guy Lanoue, Foreword to Meletinsky, p.viii
  68. ^ a b Segal, p. 1
  69. ^ On the Gods and the World, ch. 5, See Collected Writings on the Gods and the World, The Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1995
  70. ^ Perhaps the most extended passage of philosophic interpretation of myth is to be found in the fifth and sixth essays of Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic (to be found in The Works of Plato I, trans. Thomas Taylor, The Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1996); Porphyry’s analysis of the Homeric Cave of the Nymphs is another important work in this area (Select Works of Porphyry, Thomas Taylor The Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1994). See the external links below for a full English translation.
  71. ^ Segal, pp. 3–4
  72. ^ Segal, p. 4
  73. ^ Mâche (1992). Music, Myth and Nature, or The Dolphins of Arion. p. 8. 
  74. ^ Segal, p.20
  75. ^ Segal, pp. 67–68
  76. ^ a b Segal, p. 3
  77. ^ Boeree
  78. ^ Campbell, p. 22
  79. ^ Campbell, Joseph (1991). Primitive Mythology. Arkana. p. 4.  
  80. ^ Campbell, Joseph (1991). Creative Mythology. Arkana. p. 4.  
  81. ^ Segal, p. 113
  82. ^ a b c Littleton, p. 32
  83. ^ Leonard
  84. ^ a b Northup, p. 8
  85. ^ "mythology". Online Etymology Dictionary


Myth and religion
Mythological archetypes
Fu Xi and Nüwa represented as half-snake, half-human creatures

See also

The word mythology "exposition of myths" comes from Middle French mythologie, from Late Latin mythologia, from Greek μυθολογία mythologia "legendary lore, a telling of mythic legends; a legend, story, tale," from μῦθος mythos "myth" and -λογία -logia "study."[85]


With the invention of modern myths such as urban legends, the mythological traditional will carry on to the increasing variety of mediums available in the 21st century and beyond. The crucial idea is that myth is not simply a collection of stories permanently fixed to a particular time and place in history, but an ongoing social practice within every society.

Recent films such as Clash of the Titans, Immortals, or Thor continue the trend of mining traditional mythology in order to directly create a plot for modern consumption.

The basis of modern storytelling in both cinema and television lies deeply rooted in the mythological tradition. Many contemporary and technologically advanced movies often rely on ancient myths to construct narratives. The Disney Corporation is notorious among cultural study scholars for “reinventing” traditional childhood myths (Koven, “Folklore Studies and Popular Film and Television: A Necessary Critical Survey”, 176–195). While many films are not as obvious as Disney fairy tales in respect to the employment of myth, the plots of many films are largely based on the rough structure of the myth. Mythological archetypes such as the cautionary tale regarding the abuse of technology, battles between gods, and creation stories are often the subject of major film productions. These films are often created under the guise of cyberpunk action movies, fantasy dramas, and apocalyptic tales. Although the range of narratives, as well as the medium in which it is being told is constantly increasing, it is clear that myth continues to be a pervasive and essential component of the collective imagination (Cormer, "Narrative." Critical Ideas in Television Studies, 47–59.)

Although myth was traditionally transmitted through the oral tradition on a small scale, the technology of the film industry has enabled filmmakers to transmit myths to large audiences via film dissemination (Singer, “Mythmaking: Philosophy in Film”, 3–6). In the psychology of Carl Jung, myths are the expression of a culture or society’s goals, fears, ambitions and dreams (Indick, “Classical Heroes in Modern Movies: Mythological Patterns of the Superhero", 93–95). Film is ultimately an expression of the society in which it was credited, and reflects the norms and ideals of the time and location in which it is created. In this sense, film is simply the evolution of myth. The technological aspect of film changes the way the myth is distributed, but the core idea of the myth is the same.

In modern society, myth is often regarded as historical or obsolete. Many scholars in the field of cultural studies are now beginning to research the idea that myth has worked itself into modern discourses. Modern formats of communication allow for widespread communication across the globe, thus enabling mythological discourse and exchange among greater audiences than ever before. Various elements of myth can now be found in television, cinema and video games.

1929 Belgian banknote, depicting Ceres, Neptune and caduceus.

Modern mythology

Nineteenth-century interpretations of myth were often highly comparative, seeking a common origin for all myths.[83] However, modern-day scholars tend to be more suspicious of comparative approaches, avoiding overly general or universal statements about mythology.[84] One exception to this modern trend is Joseph Campbell's book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), which claims that all hero myths follow the same underlying pattern. This theory of a "monomyth" is out of favor with the mainstream study of mythology.[84]

Comparative mythology is the systematic comparison of myths from different cultures.[82] It seeks to discover underlying themes that are common to the myths of multiple cultures.[82] In some cases, comparative mythologists use the similarities between different mythologies to argue that those mythologies have a common source. This common source may be a common source of inspiration (e.g. a certain natural phenomenon that inspired similar myths in different cultures) or a common "protomythology" that diverged into the various mythologies we see today.[82]

Comparative mythology

Prometheus (1868) by Gustave Moreau. In the mythos of Hesiodus and possibly Aeschylus (the Greek trilogy Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus Pyrphoros), Prometheus is bound and tortured for giving fire to humanity at its creation.

In the 1950s, Roland Barthes published a series of essays examining modern myths and the process of their creation in his book Mythologies.

In his appendix to Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, and in The Myth of the Eternal Return, Mircea Eliade attributed modern man’s anxieties to his rejection of myths and the sense of the sacred.

Claude Lévi-Strauss believed that myths reflect patterns in the mind and interpreted those patterns more as fixed mental structures — specifically, pairs of opposites (i.e. good/evil, compassionate/callous) — than as unconscious feelings or urges.[81]

In the context of traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to have experienced, certain insights, sentiments and commitments. In what I'm calling creative mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own – of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhiliration-which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the force and value of living myth-for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.[80]

In his fourth volume however he coins the phrase, creative mythology, which he explains as:

Without straining beyond the treasuries of evidence already on hand in these widely scattered departments of our subject, therefore, but simply gathering from them the membra disjuncta of a unitary mythological science, I attempt in the following pages the first sketch of a natural history of the gods and heroes, such as in its final form should include in its purview all divine beings—as zoology includes all animals and botany all plants—not regarding any as sacrosanct or beyond its scientific domain. For, as in the visible world of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, so also in the visionary world of the gods: there has been a history, an evolution, a series of mutations, governed by laws; and to show forth such laws is the proper aim of science.[79]

Joseph Campbell's major work is The Masks of God I-IV. In the first volume, Primitive Mythology, he outlines clearly his intention:

Joseph Campbell believed that there were two different orders of mythology: myths that "are metaphorical of spiritual potentiality in the human being," and myths "that have to do with specific societies".[78]

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1873–1961) tried to understand the psychology behind world myths. Jung asserted that all humans share certain innate unconscious psychological forces, which he called archetypes. Jung believed that the similarities between the myths from different cultures reveals the existence of these universal archetypes.[77]

Many 20th-century theories of myth rejected the 19th-century theories' opposition of myth and science. In general, "twentieth-century theories have tended to see myth as almost anything but an outdated counterpart to science […] Consequently, moderns are not obliged to abandon myth for science."[76]

20th-century theories

Robert Segal asserts that by pitting mythical thought against modern scientific thought, such theories implied that modern man must abandon myth.[76]

The anthropologist James Frazer saw myths as a misinterpretation of magical rituals; which were themselves based on a mistaken idea of natural law.[75] According to Frazer, man begins with an unfounded belief in impersonal magical laws. When he realizes that his applications of these laws don't work, he gives up his belief in natural law, in favor of a belief in personal gods controlling nature — thus giving rise to religious myths. Meanwhile, man continues practicing formerly magical rituals through force of habit, reinterpreting them as reenactments of mythical events. Finally, Frazer contends, man realizes that nature does follow natural laws, but now he discovers their true nature through science. Here, again, science makes myth obsolete: as Frazer puts it, man progresses "from magic through religion to science".[55]

Max Müller called myth a "disease of language". He speculated that myths arose due to the lack of abstract nouns and neuter gender in ancient languages: anthropomorphic figures of speech, necessary in such languages, were eventually taken literally, leading to the idea that natural phenomena were conscious beings, gods.[74]

For example, E. B. Tylor interpreted myth as an attempt at a literal explanation for natural phenomena: unable to conceive of impersonal natural laws, early man tried to explain natural phenomena by attributing souls to inanimate objects, giving rise to animism.[72] According to Tylor, human thought evolves through various stages, starting with mythological ideas and gradually progressing to scientific ideas. Not all scholars — not even all 19th century scholars — have agreed with this view. For example, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl claimed that "the primitive mentality is a condition of the human mind, and not a stage in its historical development."[73]

The first scholarly theories of myth appeared during the second half of the 19th century.[68] In general, these 19th-century theories framed myth as a failed or obsolete mode of thought, often by interpreting myth as the primitive counterpart of modern science.[71]

19th-century theories

Conversely, historical and literary material may acquire mythological qualities over time, for example the Matter of Britain referring to the legendary history of Great Britain, especially those focused on King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, and the Matter of France, based on historical events of the fifth and eighth centuries, respectively, were first made into epic poetry and became partly mythological over the following centuries. "Conscious generation" of mythology has been termed mythopoeia by J. R. R. Tolkien[16], and was notoriously also suggested, very separately, by Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg.

Although Plato famously condemned poetic myth when discussing the education of the young in the Republic, primarily on the grounds that there was a danger that the young and uneducated might take the stories of Gods and heroes literally, nevertheless he constantly refers to myths of all kinds throughout his writings. As Platonism developed in the phases commonly called 'middle Platonism' and neoplatonism, such writers as Plutarch, Porphyry, Proclus, Olympiodorus and Damascius wrote explicitly about the symbolic interpretation of traditional and Orphic myths.[70] Interest in polytheistic mythology revived in the Renaissance, with early works on mythography appearing in the 16th century, such as the Theologia mythologica (1532).Myths are not the same as fables, legends, folktales, fairy tales, anecdotes, or fiction, but the concepts may overlap. Notably, during the nineteenth century period of Romanticism, folktales and fairy tales were perceived as eroded fragments of earlier mythology (famously by the Brothers Grimm and Elias Lönnrot). Mythological themes are also very often consciously employed in literature, beginning with Homer. The resulting work may expressly refer to a mythological background without itself being part of a body of myths (Cupid and Psyche). The medieval romance in particular plays with this process of turning myth into literature. Euhemerism refers to the process of rationalization of myths, putting themes formerly imbued with mythological qualities into pragmatic contexts, for example following a cultural or religious paradigm shift (notably the re-interpretation of pagan mythology following Christianization).

To ones who are even trying to change content of the myth according to probability would be found criticism in Plato Phaedrus (229d), in which Socrates says that it is the province of one who is "vehemently curious and laborious, and not entirely happy . . .".

The critical interpretation of myth goes back as far as the Presocratics.[68] Euhemerus was one of the most important pre-modern mythologists. He interpreted myths as accounts of actual historical events, distorted over many retellings. Sallustius,[69] for example, divides myths into five categories – theological, physical (or concerning natural laws), animastic (or concerning soul), material and mixed. This last being those myths which show the interaction between two or more of the previous categories and which, he says, are particularly used in initiations.

Pre-modern theories

Historically, the important approaches to the study of mythology have been those of Vico, Schelling, Schiller, Jung, Freud, Lévy-Bruhl, Lévi-Strauss, Frye, the Soviet school, and the Myth and Ritual School.[67]

Study of mythology

Campbell gives his answer to the question: what is the function of myth today? in episode 2 of Bill Moyers's The Power of Myth series.

There are two pathologies. One is interpreting myth as pseudo-science, as though it had to do with directing nature instead of putting you in accord with nature, and the other is the political interpretation of myths to the advantage of one group within a society, or one society within a group of nations.[66]

And yet the history of civilisation is not one of harmony.

The rise and fall of civilisations in the long, broad course of history can be seen largely to be a function of the integrity and cogency of their supporting canons of myth; for not authority but aspiration is the motivator, builder, and transformer of civilisation. A mythological canon is an organisation of symbols, ineffable in import, by which the energies of aspiration are evoked and gathered toward a focus.[65]

In a later work Campbell explains the relationship of myth to civilisation:

[63] "The fourth function of mythology is to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche, guiding him toward his own spiritual enrichment and realization."[64]

Lauri Honko asserts that, in some cases, a society will reenact a myth in an attempt to reproduce the conditions of the mythical age. For example, it will reenact the healing performed by a god at the beginning of time in order to heal someone in the present.[59] Similarly, Roland Barthes argues that modern culture explores religious experience. Because it is not the job of science to define human morality, a religious experience is an attempt to connect with a perceived moral past, which is in contrast with the technological present.[60]

Mircea Eliade argued that one of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior[56][57] and that myths may also provide a religious experience. By telling or reenacting myths, members of traditional societies detach themselves from the present and return to the mythical age, thereby bringing themselves closer to the divine.[37][57][58]

Functions of myth

[55] had a similar theory. Frazer believed that primitive man starts out with a belief in magical laws; later, when man begins to lose faith in magic, he invents myths about gods and claims that his formerly magical rituals are religious rituals intended to appease the gods.James Frazer The anthropologist [54]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.