The Meanings of Mythology
Theories through History about Myth and Fable
Mythology and FableThe term myth comes from the Greek mūthos, meaning a word or a saying also as in a narrative, mainly spoken. Homer and Hesiod used it in the sense of story, without thereby implying anything about it being fiction or fact.
Actually, they as well as several pre-Socratic philosophers used it interchangeably with logos, a term later strongly connected to the idea of rational thought. Not until Plato is there evidence of the opposition between the two words, common thereafter. [Gerard Naddaf, 'Allegory and the Origins of Philosophy', Logos and Muthos: Philosophical Essays in Greek Literature (ed. William Wians), Albany 2009, 101.]
In Ancient Greece, Plato was the first to use the word muthologia, and did so with several meanings to it: the myths of a culture, collecting myths, telling them, making them, and studying them critically. [Naddaf 2009, 102.]
It was not until the 19th century the word myth was being used in literature, but the word mythology was widely used in previous centuries. [The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, edited by T. F. Hoad, Oxford 1986, 307.]
Instead of myth, the term fable signified the same, though mainly referring to the Greek myths as did the term mythology before the 19th century.
Samuel Johnson's Dictionary from 1755 has no entry for myth, but for mythological, mythologically, mythologize, and mythology. The word myth is not even mentioned. Instead the word fable is used, as in the definition of mythology:
System of fables; explication of the fabulous history of the gods of the heathen world. The modesty of mythology deserved to be commended: the scenes there are laid at a distance; it is once upon a time, in the days of yore, and in the land of Utopia. ['Mythology' in Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, London 1755, vol. 2, p. 1345.]
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