Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 25 January 2021

mythologylocked

  • J. N. Bremmer

Extract

Mythology is the field of scholarship dealing with myth but also a particular body of myths. Myth goes back to the Greek word mythos, which originally meant ‘word, speech, message’ but in the 5th cent. bce started to acquire the meaning ‘entertaining, if not necessarily trustworthy, tale’. The Romans used the word fabula, which was also used in modern discussions until c.1760, when the Göttingen classicist C. G. Heyne (1729–1812) coined the word mythus in order to stress the inner veracity of myth. No universally accepted definition of myth exists, but Walter Burkert's statement that ‘myth is a traditional tale with secondary, partial reference to something of collective importance’ gives a good idea of the main characteristics of myth.Let us start with the problem of tradition. *Homer already mentions the *Argonauts, the Theban Cycle, and the deeds of *Heracles. The presence in Linear B texts (see Mycenaean language) of the formulae ‘Mother of the Gods’ and ‘Drimius, son of *Zeus’ suggests a divine genealogy, and the myths of *Achilles, *Helen, and the cattle-raiding Heracles all seem to go back to *Indo-European times (and Heracles maybe further back than that).

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription