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 About Mythology

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PostSubject: About Mythology   Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:32 am

The word mythology (from the Greek μυθολογία mythología, meaning "a story-telling, a legendary lore") refers to a body of folklore/myths/legends that a particular culture believes to be true and that often use the supernatural to interpret natural events and to explain the nature of the universe and humanity. Mythology also refers to the branch of knowledge dealing with the collection, study and interpretation of myths, also known as mythography. The study of myths from multiple cultures is called comparative mythology.

Myths are not necessarily the same as fables, legends, folktales, fairy tales, anecdotes or fiction,although the distinction between these categories is not always clear. Within the system used by folklorists, myth is one of the three major categories of traditional stories:

  • myths – stories traditionally considered true and sacred, set in the remote past, in another world or an earlier stage of this world, whose main characters are non-human
  • legends – stories traditionally considered true, set in the recent past of this world, whose main characters that are human; can be either sacred or secular
  • folktales/fairytales – stories traditionally considered fictional and secular, set at any time and any place, whose main characters can be either human or non-human

However, some scholars use the term "myth" more inclusively, to encompass legends and folktales.
Fairytales are often interpreted as secularized myths. When detached from the spiritual leadership of its society, a myth will often acquire the traits typical of fairytales.During the period of Romanticism, many folktales and fairy tales were perceived as eroded fragments of earlier mythology (famously by the Brothers Grimm and Elias Lönnrot). Mythological themes are also very often consciously employed in literature, beginning with Homer. The resulting literary work may take place in a mythological setting without itself being part of a body of myths (e.g. Cupid and Psyche).

In a scholarly context, the word "myth" may mean "sacred story", "traditional story", or "story about gods". Therefore, scholars may speak of "religious mythology" without meaning to insult religion. For instance, a scholar may call Abrahamic scriptures "myths" without meaning to insult Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
Many myths, such as ritual myths, are clearly part of religion. However, unless we simply define myths as "sacred stories" (instead defining them as "traditional stories", for instance), not all myths are necessarily religious. As the classicist G. S. Kirk notes, "many myths embody a belief in the supernatural [...] but many other myths, or what seem like myths, do not".As an example, Kirk cites the myth of Oedipus, which is "only superficially associated [...] with religion or the supernatural", and is therefore not a sacred story.[(Note that folklorists would not classify the Oedipus story as a myth, precisely because it is not a sacred story.)

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