An Introduction to Mythology

With the vast amount of stories people around the world have told to understand things around them, one finds that the stories have a lot in common. Many civilizations search for answers to the same questions, and what they come up with always teaches us something about who these people are, and what they value. But, what exactly is mythology? Well, Let’s find out.

Mythology is a complicated subject. It touches on literature, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and sometimes, even science. Many myths are extremely old, and often exist in multiple versions. Does that mean that only one of these versions is true? Not exactly. Myths come in many different forms, and it's important to understand that many of them were told orally and passed down through generations; some of them even predate the art of writing!

Another difficulty of mythology is that it is open to numerous interpretations. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what a myth is; is it a record of historical fact? Deliberate fiction? Ways of understanding incomprehensible events? Honestly, who knows? This is exactly the kind of thing scholars spend their entire lives arguing about. Mythology has been argued about and theorised over for over hundreds of years, and many myths can be read and understood in a number of ways.

Many often confuse myth with religion, though that is not wholly incorrect. The line separating religion and myth is rather blurry. To put it simply religion is a part of myth, but mythology is much more than just religion. Mythology is about finding a way to explain what can’t be understood; it is a way to instill values among civilizations. When one views myths primarily as stories or literary artefacts, it allows you to enjoy them and think about them apart from their value as structures of religious belief.

The fourth difficulty with understanding myths, is that most of them don’t have nameable authors, and when they do, like Homer or Virgil, these authors were only recasting older stories into a newer language. And, the final problem is that we don’t have an accurate definition of the word “myth”. This is especially tricky, given the way we use the word in contemporary English. Most of the time, when we say something is a myth, what we mean is that it is not true. This can lead one to believe that a myth is a story that is false, and it is not to be taken seriously.

But, myths have been taken seriously, not just by scholars, but by generations and generations of people who have heard these stories, and found something worth telling again. That isn’t to say that myths haven’t been questioned. Philosophers questioned the absurdity of Greek myths as early as 6th century B.C.E.

So, if a myth isn’t just a story that someone made up, or a word that we use to label something as false, then what is it?

Myth comes from the Greek word Mythos, which means word, or, more significantly, story. A myth is a special kind of story that has two primary characteristics: significance and staying in power. This means that the subject matter is about something important, something about how the world works, or how the world itself got going or how things came to be. These are stories that have survived centuries, sometimes millennia, and this is a testament to the deep meaning or functional importance of these stories to the people who hear and tell them.

Author: Anika Garg

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