Mythos - What It Means

Mythology has long been a favorite study for me. My doctoral dissertation was about the Greek myth, Prometheus. Everyone enjoys a good story. Humans are, by their very nature, story tellers. Yet, one has to wonder if that is all there is to mythology--stories of creation, of great deeds, and of the heroes who performed them?

Many believe there is much more to myth than mere phantasmagoria. I am one among those who hold the notion that myth is much more than mere story. Gods, goddesses and heroes have peopled the myths of all ethnic and cultural groups around the world from Africa to Asia, to Europe, to India, and to the North and South Americas.

The late Joseph Campbell did much to popularize and focus attention on myth and its implications for humankind and he looms large over other lights in mythology; the exception being Claude Levi- Straus.

But what is mythology? There are nearly as many definitions of mythology as there are of their meanings, and disagreements over their implications. Any overview of these definitions indicates a range from the simplistic to the complex. The etymology of the word "mythology" will be helpful.

The word comes from the Greek nouns mythos and logos, each originally having the same meaning. In its broadest sense, mythos meant anything uttered by mouth. Gradually it meant an account of something; a story that was understood.

In Attic Greek, mythos meant a prehistoric story of only the Greeks. Today, it applies to any civilization at any time, including our own. Logos meant the controlling principle of the universe and was manifested by speech.

Myth relates to a sequence of events whose importance lies not only in the events themselves, but in the implied meanings of those events. Mark Schorer author of "The Necessity of Myth" insists the term must also include such things as delusions and neurosis. Both of these psychological manifestations are easily found in the world's myths. I strongly suggest, and believe, there is much more than an exploration of delusion and neurosis.

Fifty years ago, Henry A. Murray in his Myth and Mythmaking claimed even a very loose definition of mythology would not include the current notion of a sense of falsehood or any other such pejoratives. The Murray statement holds true in this 21st Century.

Myth is much more than mere story, a world of make-believe. It is alive and well upon the land. Look around you. In your daily life, how many things are connected to mythology? What truths do the myths hold for contemporary mankind? What do they hold for you?


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