What Is Myth?

Everyone knows what a myth is, right? It’s a story featuring centaurs, flying pigs or horses, or return trips to the Land of the Dead or Underworld.

 

Classic compilations of myths include Bulfinch’s Tales From Mythology and the lesser known Heroes of Greek Mythology, by Charles J. Kingsley.

“Obviously,” you might argue, a myth is a ridiculous story no one really believes. Maybe sometime, long ago, there were people naive enough to have believed in it, but now we know better.

Really? Once you start looking carefully at that so-called definition, it falls apart. Think about your own firmly held beliefs.

Perhaps you believe a deity spoke to a man through a burning bush (the story of Moses in the Hebrew Bible). Maybe he performed a miracle to make a tiny amount of food feed a multitude (New Testament).

How would you feel if someone labeled them as myths? You’d probably argue — and very defensively — they aren’t myths. You might admit you can’t prove them to unbelievers, but the stories simply aren’t as fantastic as myth (said with tones indicating disparagement).

A vehement denial doesn’t prove one way or another that something is or is not a myth, but you could be right.

The story of Pandora’s box is said to be a myth, but what makes that any different from:

A Biblical story such as Noah’s Ark, that is not necessarily considered a myth by a religious Jew or Christian.

 

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