Monday, April 25, 2011

Mythology Mondays - What Exactly Is A Myth?

It's been a while since I had time for Mythology Monday and when I was contemplating what I might do this week, I occurred to me that I wasn't sure exactly what constitutes a myth. According to a myth is:
"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, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature."
Some peoples came to see their own mythology as "true" stories whereas fables were considered to be fiction. A Greek mythologist, Euhemerus, who lived about 1700 years ago, first put out the idea that myths were based on actual events and people. According to Euhemerus, as these stories were based down, they were embellished until the characters become god-like beings. Whether or not the stories have any basis in reality, it's easy to see why people would have created these stories to explain things for which there was no other explanation.

Another theory is that myths have their basis in allegory, particularly for natural phenomenon or spiritual concepts. Yet another theory contends that myths were the result of "personification of inanimate objects and forces." 

Regardless of how "myth" is defined or what their genesis was, they make wonderful stories that have clearly stood the test of time. What do Shakespeare and George Clooney have in common? Mythology. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Greek mythology in writing him plays. Clooney starred in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" which was based on The Odyssey.


  1. I'm reading The Odyssey right now, written 7th/8th century BC. Homer wrote this one in Sorrento, which is where I'm travelling to in May. I'm so excited to explore all the history in So Italy. :)

  2. I loved this exploration of just what a myth actually is, because I have asked myself that on several occasions. My son also asked me that not long ago, and now I can point him towards this post! Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

  3. I love that you're prompting us to think more about what a myth really is! I think all too often people toss around the word without really understanding how we mean it. I also love the idea that myths have become allegories for the natural/spiritual (especially spiritual) occurrences that people of earlier ages couldn't fathom in other ways. That's what I believe! Thanks for a great update and posing some great questions!

  4. I think mythology was their comic books and comic books are American mythology. Tolkien set out to write English mythology with his Lord of the Rings series.

  5. I like this post...especially considering that my son had to write a mythology paper on Helios, the solar god :D

  6. I've always loved the Greek and Roman myths. Their plot and structure is so different from modern day stories that I find it hard to predict what will happen!