Post by Katy Jennison Post by Jerry Friedman Post by Dingbat
What is myth?
Any corrections to my response to the question, below, are welcome.
"I have read the Hellenic myths, Germanic myths and the
- Marc James
How are you using the term /myth/?
1) simply a sacred story and saying nothing about or truth or
2) something that didn't really happen?
Or some other literary or technical meaning?
FWIW, mythos could mean #1; it could also mean a hagiography.
Myth, in some contexts, could mean mythos.
Fable is the term used by some writers to mean #2.
Myth, in some contexts, could mean fable.
The meaning of myth, IMHO, has to be divined from the author's apparent intent.
Bill O'Reilly took umbrage at Richard Dawkins saying "Christian myths";
it seemed that Bill objects to using the word at all to refer to
traditional Christian stories, even with meaning #1.
I'd say "myth" always has a strong suggestion of falseness.
I'd say that was a category mistake, arrived at by assuming that
something which is not literally factual or historical must therefore be
"false". A myth is likely to be allegorical or aspirational or both,
and to incorporate a particular sort of truth, about the way the
relevant society understands itself or about how it sees its heroes or
about how it survived great hardship or disaster, or something else.
Okay, "myth" always has a strong suggestion of non-factuality, and
usually of not belonging to the speaker; myths are for other people.
Post by Katy Jennison
The word does, it's true, also get applied to contemporary falsehoods.
That's wrong, dammit.
If it's an error, it's an old one. These are the earlier OED citations
for the three forms of the word:
1753 S. Shuckford /Creation & Fall of Man/ Pref. xxi Of this Sort
we generally find the /Mythoi/ told of them.
1803 G. S. Faber /Diss. Myst. Cabiri/ I. 324 I cannot but be
persuaded that the poem of Homer at least is a mere mythos.
1865 J. S. Mill /Auguste Comte/ 27 A God concerning whom no
mythos..had yet been invented.
1825 S. T. Coleridge /Lit. Remains/ (1836) II. 335 This the most
venerable, and perhaps the most ancient, of Grecian /mythi/, is a
1841 R. C. Trench /Notes Parables/ 4 The Parable is different
from the Mythus, inasmuch as in the Mythus, the truth and that which
is only the vehicle of the truth are wholly blended together.
1850 Thackeray /Pendennis/ II. xxiii. 237 Conscience! What is
conscience?.. What is public or private faith? Mythuses alike
enveloped in enormous tradition.
1892 /Athenæum/ 24 Sept. 410/3 They consist of mythus and
tradition intermingled and intertangled.
1830 /Westm. Rev./ 12 44 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
1846 G. Grote /Hist. Greece/ I. i. i. 67 It is neither history nor
allegory, but simple mythe or legend.
1866 /Edinb. Rev./ Apr. 312 The celebrated mythe or apologue
called 'The Choice of Hercules', one of the most impressive exhortations
in ancient literature to a life of labour and self-denial.
1840 W. H. Mill /Observ. Gospel/ vi. 118 The same non-historical
region of philosophical myth.
1885 E. Clodd Myths & Dreams 7 Myth was the product of man's
emotion and imagination, acted upon by his surroundings.
1849 E. Bulwer-Lytton /Caxtons/ II. x. iii. 167 As for Mrs
Primmins's bones, they had been myths these twenty years.
1854 'G. Eliot' Let. 23 Oct. (1954) II. 179 Of course many silly
myths are already afloat about me, in addition to the truth, which of
itself would be thought matter for scandal.
1874 A. H. Sayce /Princ. Compar. Philol./ iv. 165 The pronominal
root is a philological myth.
(philosopheme: "A demonstration or conclusion in philosophy; a
philosophical statement, theorem, or axiom.")