One thing about “myth” to remember

18 Oct

There is one characteristic of myth that may be so literal you forget about it–a myth is a story. This makes it different than, say, a ritual. Here is our friend the OED (you need to be logged in to a network to see the whole link):

1. a. A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon.
Myth is strictly distinguished from allegory and legend by some scholars, but in general use it is often used interchangeably with these terms.

Webster‘s defines it thus (I included all the sub-meanings):


[Gk mythos tale, speech, myth; perh. akin to Goth maudjan to remind, OIr smuainim I think, OSlav mysl thought, Lith masti to desire ardently]1: a story that is usu. of unknown origin and at least partially traditional, that ostensibly relates historical events usu. of such character as to serve to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural phenomenon, and that is esp. associated with religious rites and beliefs — compare EUHEMERISM, FABLE, FOLKTALE

2 a: a story invented as a veiled explanation of a truth:PARABLE, ALLEGORY

esp: one of Plato’s philosophical allegories

b: the theme or plot of a mythical tale occurring in forms differing only in detail

3: a person or thing existing only in imagination or whose actuality is not verifiable: as

a: a belief given uncritical acceptance by the members of a group esp. in support of existing or traditional practices and institutions

    »a myth of racial superiority used to justify discrimination«

b: a belief or concept that embodies a visionary ideal (as of some future utopian state or condition)

    »the Marxian-fostered myth of a classless society«

4: mythical matter : the whole body of myths

    »features distinguishing modern fiction from myth «

synLEGEND, SAGA: MYTH varies considerably in its denotation and connotation depending on the persuasion of the user. Often the word is used to designate a story, usu. fanciful and imaginative, that explains a natural phenomenon or a social practice, institution, or belief

Some of these definitions of myth assert a real thing, some a fake, some are critiques, and some are homages. But all of them refer to a story, something narrated, not just celebrated or commemorated. Momotaro is regarded as a myth because it takes the object–a peach–and puts it in a story, through which it becomes meaningful. Another myth could be a creation story (though some might argue that those belong, depending on the case, to religion or XXX belief system).


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