The meaning of the word Myth

The meaning of the word Myth

(Read the article on one page)

The word ‘myth’ has generally come to identify any story that is believed to be a work of fiction; however, when analyzing myths and legends, it is important to understand the evolution of the word and how, using the word as it was originally understood, it is crucial to the unraveling of our human origins.

The word ‘ Myth’ originates from the Greek word mythos, meaning ‘word’ or ‘tale’ or ‘true narrative’, referring not only to the means by which it was transmitted but also to its being rooted in truth. Mythos was also closely related to the word myo, meaning ‘to teach’, or ‘to initiate into the mysteries’. This is how the word was interpreted by Homer—who is generally identified to have lived in the 7 th or 8 th century B.C.E.—when composing his great works, including The Iliad , in which he meant to convey a truth.

As the age of science and philosophy began questioning truth itself, the meaning of the word began to evolve. Early scientists and philosophers questioned the truth, or validity, of their traditional myths, thus birthing the skepticism that would forever change the meaning of the word. About 400 years later myths became limited to fictional tales of superstition or fantasy, symbolic stories. This is how the definition of the word ‘myth’ is still viewed—a story without proof.

However, a 400-year old story should not be assumed to be false merely because the proof or evidence to support it has not been found.  It is possible that myths were, in fact, a way for people to explain real—and perhaps perplexing—events using the knowledge and beliefs of their time.

In support of this theory, a number of events described in mythology, which were once considered mere fairy tales, have now been proven through archaeology to have existed. A famous example is the city Troy, which is central to Homer’s The Iliad . Long considered to be a city of Myth, Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of the actual site in 1868 elevated it to a place in history. Nevertheless, the remainder of The Iliad is still viewed as a myth and fantasy without any serious attempts being made to investigate whether or not there may be more truth behind the tale. 

Thus we can conclude that regardless of the age of a story, a lack of supporting evidence to its truth is not evidence of its untruth, as many stories labeled as myths may, in fact, be based in reality. Of course, it may well be the case that many myths and legends are merely fanciful and imaginative stories, though it does seem unwise to immediately discount all of them when investigating their origins through explorations such as anthropology, archaeology and other applied sciences could lead to major discoveries in the future elevating more ‘myths’ into the annals of history. 

By John Black

Comments

The word ‘ Myth’ originates from the Greek word mythos, meaning ‘word’ or ‘tale’ or ‘true narrative’, referring not only to the means by which it was transmitted but also to its being rooted in truth. Mythos was also closely related to the word myo, meaning ‘to teach’, or ‘to initiate into the mysteries’.

John,
Can you provide more info on mythos=myo=teach. Myo, from what I can find is muscle. Can you pls tell me your source. I need if for a myth presentation of my own. Thanks, Mike

ancient-origins's picture

Hi Mike,

Myth is related to the greek word root MN (Mystic, Mystery, etc). So Myth initially meant ‘word’, ‘advice’, ‘command’ but also ‘opinion’ , ‘suggestion’. Initially ‘Myth’ was anything that was said through speech and wasn’t writen. But later on ‘Logos’ or ‘Speech’ replaced the word ‘Myth’.

After that , Herodotus and others, used myth as a religious story that existed before History – just because it wasn't writen probably.

Here is a site in Greek that gives a very good history of the word:

http://www.diadrastika.com/2013/06/blog-post_721-6.html

John

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Jaisalmer Fort.
Sitting in the desert with its towering golden-hued walls and imposing bastions, the 12th century Jaisalmer Fort certainly makes an impact. This fort has two important titles - the oldest desert fort in the world and the second oldest of all of Rajasthan’s forts. Its historical value is also recognized, with one particularly chilling custom having taken place within its walls at least three times.

Ancient Places

Jaisalmer Fort.
Sitting in the desert with its towering golden-hued walls and imposing bastions, the 12th century Jaisalmer Fort certainly makes an impact. This fort has two important titles - the oldest desert fort in the world and the second oldest of all of Rajasthan’s forts. Its historical value is also recognized, with one particularly chilling custom having taken place within its walls at least three times.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article