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date: 04 February 2023



  • Emily Kearns


Aetiology in religion and mythology refers to an explanation, normally in narrative form (hence ‘aetiological myth’), of a practice, epithet, monument, or similar. Typically such explanations elucidate something known in the contemporary world by reference to an event in the mythical past; they are thus related to the traditions of first inventors (see Culture-bringers) and are quite often found in connexion with etymologies. Comparative evidence suggests that many aetiologies in the ancient world will have been of popular origin, while others could derive from the priestly traditions of individual cults, but it is very likely also that some literary aetiologies represent authorial inventions rather than pre-existing accounts. Aetiological accounts are frequent in classical literature. Implicit in a few Homeric passages (e.g. the tombs of *Sarpedon [Il. 16.666–83] and Phrontis [Od. 3.278–85]), they are seen in more developed form in *Hesiod, notably in the story of *Prometheus’ attempt to deceive *Zeus, explaining the unequal division of sacrificial meat between gods and humans.


  • Greek Myth and Religion

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