Created By: ArcadesSabboth on March 29, 2013 Last Edited By: LordGro on June 19, 2013

Myth

Sacred stories concerning gods, the first humans and the creation and shaping of the world.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
For the video game, see Myth.

(to be commented out: This page is NOT the place to give your opinions or discuss whether any particular myth or religion is true or false. Please respect the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement.)

Depending on context, "myth" can mean different things, but when it is used in the sense of the Ancient Greek mythos (μῦθος), then a myth may be defined as a traditional, sacred story or statement which traces the existence, history, and sometimes the destiny of the world and humanity to the actions of divine or other superhuman entities. Myths deal with such subjects as the creation and the shaping of the world, the origin of humans and animals, and the characters and competences of deities. Sometimes they touch on more philosophical matters like the meaning of life or the nature of good and evil.

Myth is related to Legend, although myths focus on gods and other powerful non-human beings, while legends have human protagonists and are usually not considered sacred. As many myths and legends assume the existence of intermediate beings (like demigods or avatars), the two genres are not sharply distinct from each other.

A complex of interrelated myths and legends is called a Mythology.

Like legends, myths arose in Oral Tradition, but have been recorded in Literature, Visual Arts, and sometimes Theatre since millennia.

Ever since the early Christians associated "myth" with Greco-Roman polytheism and used it in a way that implied "false belief", myth has acquired a derogatory secondary meaning of "widely believed falsehood"--a flavor it obviously didn't have with the ancient Greeks. As a heritage of this history, many people object to the word being used for their own beliefs, and in common usage the word "myth" is primarily connected with polytheistic religions. There is no universal agreement on what exactly the term means outside of that context, but it can hardly be overlooked that (for example) the Book of Genesis has all the characteristics of a myth.

People both within and between religious traditions differ in how literally or metaphorically they interpret and believe their myths. What generally distinguishes the mythic worldview from other ways of thinking is that it refers to a supposedly ancient, immutable and truthful tradition as its highest authority, rather than human reasoning or first-hand experience.

Because myths have large numbers of authors and are continually developed over centuries or even millennia, any given story is likely to come in multiple versions, making internal contradictions within a single mythology pretty much inevitable. Many religions (especially non-Abrahamic ones) do not have a canon that accepts some stories and excludes others. Because culture, religion, and theology change over time, myths are subject to a process of constant adaptation and re-interpretation; in other words, myths from different eras often handle the same subjects and characters in very different ways. This is why it's not a good idea assume a story is Older Than Dirt just because it's mythical.

A few types of myths as may be found across various cultures are the following:
  • Creation Myths: Myths telling about the origin of the world and its inhabitants, such as the gods (theogonic myths), the world (cosmogonic), humans (anthropogonic), or animals and plants (zoogonic).
  • Landscape Myth: Myth explaining how landscape (specific mountains, seas, lakes, islands etc.) came to be or received its present shape.
  • Primordial State Myth: The initial state of mankind, and how it was lost.
  • Transformation Myth: Myths about major, sometimes cataclysmic transformations of the world that occurred between its creation and the present.
  • Savior Myth: How a Chosen One saved mankind from big trouble.
  • Nature Myth: Myth that explains recurring natural phenomena, like the weather, seasons, or eclipses.
  • Eschatological Myth: The end of the world. This, for once, is (usually) not a story about the past, but about future events (i.e. a prophecy). However, some tell about the end of the previous world.

Non-narrative works about theology and cosmology are sometimes also considered to be myths, even if nobody turned them into a story yet.

When many myths, legends, and folktales are collected together by a particular culture or religion, the whole collection is a Mythology.

Examples of mythic narratives troped on the wiki:


Community Feedback Replies: 18
  • March 29, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    In this Trope Repair Shop thread, Oral Tradition is being split to remove the various associated genres into separate pages and give them better descriptions. This is the draft for the Myth genre.

  • March 30, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
    This is an index, right? I don't see anything in obvious need of fixing.
  • March 30, 2013
    DunDun
    Didn't someone recently create this exact page just a few days ago? How are the two different?
  • March 30, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    I launched Mythology. In the Trope Repair Shop we agreed that Mythology needed a separate page as an index for the Mythology works pages. Those contain works of multiple genres (myth, legend, folktales, wisdom literature, theology, devotional hymns, etc.) that can't all be subsumed under Myth. So we agreed to separate them.

    Mythology is more of a definition with an index (the definition would be shorter if we didn't feel the need for a whole paragraph to discourage the inevitable outrage at having The Bible listed there). Myth indexes a different set of works, and goes more into detail about the genre itself, how it is distinct from Legend, the types of Myths and their development over time.

    Also, a myth is a single story and its adaptations -- for example, the Greek myth of Kronos eating his kids. A mythology is, for example, all of Greek Mythology. It contains a large number of myths, plus many legends and so on.

    Though I just did some edits to the two pages to differentiate them a little more clearly.
  • March 30, 2013
    DunDun
    So, just to be clear that I understand this, Mythology is an index of mythologies, while this is an index of works within a mythology (i.e. the myths within a mythology). Thank you for explaining. Should myth narratives be separated by what mythology they're from in this index? Like:

    Now that I've written that, I suppose the answer is no; it'd defeat the purpose of Mythology as an index. Might as well keep the question in case I'm wrong.

    Or should these narratives be organized into what type of myth they are?
  • March 30, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    If we had lots of articles for individual myths, organizing them in some way would make sense. But I only know of the few that are up there now, so it seems kinda pointless. We could put the culture and "myth type" of each in parenthises, though.
  • May 30, 2013
    DunDun
    Bump
  • May 31, 2013
    UltramarineAlizarin
    The "Nature Myth" bullet can have a pothole to Just So Story, which is a folktale or myth explaining an aspect of nature.
  • June 3, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Hello! I'll pothole Just So Story.

    Dun Dun, do you still consider this is too similar to Mythology? Do you have a suggestion to make it more clearly distinct?
  • June 3, 2013
    DunDun
    If my previous understanding of this index/trope is correct, then no, I do not consider this too similar to Mythology. Sorry, I thought I made that clear in that 3-30 comment.
  • June 12, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Hello? Bump.

    Nobody has any criticisms or suggestions, yet nobody gives a hat either. Why?

    What does this need to deserve your hat?
  • June 13, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
    I assume that not enough people have interest in this topic.
  • June 17, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Bump.
  • June 17, 2013
    surgoshan
    Actually, myth isn't really a genre, it's a style that gets applied to genres, as when Virgil wrote a mythical history in the Aeneid or a biography of the mythical Romulus. The Bible varies between letters, poetry, and histories, many of which demonstrably follow the archetypes of first century mythologies (the gospels in particular are written in mythic structure).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythology

    What is a myth? Whatever the genre, it's a sacred, instructive, or ideological story that is regarded in its culture as true, as opposed to a fable which is the exact same thing but recognized as false.
  • June 17, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    The way we have been defining things so far, the Aeneid is a Legend rather than a myth, while the Bible is Sacred Literature but contains stories of several different genres, as you described (that's why only Genesis and Revelation are actually on the list of works, most of the other Biblical works aren't myth as we define it here). Although I could see putting the Gospels in Savior Myth, or in Legend.

    Out of the types that are listed in the description, what genre would you put them in instead? Science and History?
  • June 17, 2013
    LordGro
    @surgoshan: Why shouldn't myth be a genre? It is not merely a 'style'. You can't turn a Detective Drama or a Romance Novel into a Myth, try as you might.

    I agree with the rest of your post, but do you suggest any changes to the description? Everything you say in the last paragraph is mentioned in the draft, more or less.

    EDIT: I went over the description and did some shortenings and re-arrangement. It is still too long for my taste, though. Some of it (the "Because myths have a large number of authors etc" paragraph specifically) could go to Mythology instead.

    Also, not to appear as a nitpick, I removed "and science" from the enumeration "human reasoning, first-hand experience and science". All science is supposed to be based on reasoning and experience, so this is covered in the first two positions in my book.

    I am almost in favor of removing "Primordial State Myth" and "Savior Myth" from the list. These two sound very much as concepts taken straight away from Christianity, repectively Abrahamitic monotheism. I doubt that these are kinds of myths found in very many mythologies, and thus they may be too specific to deserve a mention here. The description should present the basics in a concise way, so I'd rather omit what is not really typical.

    And I'm not really sure how Myth relates to Just So Story. Isn't that what a myth is, a non-humorous Just So Story?
  • June 17, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Lord Gro! You're back!

    Hm... the Primordial State/Fall of Mankind concept does exist in Hesiod's ... Works and Days? And I know there's one Native American story that resembled that concept to me, darn that I can't recall the culture. The Maya myths of the gods creating previous versions of humanity, and them sucking and being replaced, is... OK, more of a creation of humanity story. So yeah, doesn't seem that universal.

    The savior thing, I see your point immediately. Although I see one thing that doesn't appear, the Culture Hero myth. Then again, I can see Culture Hero being instead a character archetype/trope. If it isn't troped yet, it ought to be.

    I do see removing the "Because myths have a large number of authors" paragraph. Do you think there's another way to say "just because it's a myth, doesn't mean the story is Older Than Dirt" here, or that it won't actually be necessary as long as Mythology says that? What about starting the paragraph at "Because culture, religion, and theology change" or would the article still be too long?

    Just So Story's description includes myths and Creation Myth, so it seems a valid connection to that trope/genre-as-written.

    Based on surgoshan's post, how about this for a better Laconic? "A sacred, instructive, or ideological story about important subjects like humanity and divinity."
  • June 19, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Surgoshan, thinking more about what you said, that myth is a style rather than a genre:

    If we look at mythology (including legends and folklore, which is more broad than what this draft currently calls myth) there are stories that cover creation of the universe, history of wars or tribes or institutions, adventure stories, stories about ancestors and foundings, and stories of lovers. These, I think, can be compared in broad outline to fantasy, history, biography, and romance.

    The reason I think they are separate genres is that I see a genre as more than just roughly the subject matter, but the way the story is told: the themes that it explors, the types of character archetypes and tropes used, having more or less detail, the number of authors and attitudes towards intellectual property, attitudes towards the historical/scientific view of what we call today literal/factual interpretation of events, whether it is a sacred or secular/profane story, whether it is overtly fictional or intended to be true, at least metaphorically. These differences even distinguish myths and legends from mythopoeia, which is told in the style of mythology, but is not actually myth or legend.

    For example, let's look at King Herod. I'm not familiar with the guy, but I know there is historical information about him, beyond what the Bible contains. In The Bible, Herod is a historical person, but in some ways he is also an archetypal antagonist character, who fulfills a role in relation to Jesus. If we look at all the historical sources together (including the Bible) to arrive at an attempted objective biography of the man, his deeds concerning Jesus won't be told as part of a sacred story. The events that appear in the Bible may differ little or not at all, but details totally irrelevant to the Bible story could be included (hypothetically, let's say his favorite pet was a miniature greyhound with one white paw, that he collected Hercules statues, admired Cicero, and was into the Stoic philosophy) because they give more insight into the person. The biography would not discuss the meaning of his actions for the salvation or damnation of humanity, or the fate of his soul, but rather attempt to work out as nearly as possible the dates and motives and places of his actions, and an outline of his life from cradle to grave, and his influence on all historical events and movements he intersected with. It would have relevance to a Biblical scholar, but wouldn't be primarily a work of theology.
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