Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Myth

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Myth

When you hear the word 'myth', what type of myth do you usually think of? Perhaps Greek and Roman Mythology? But did you know that there are many other types of myths, like psychological myths, etiological myths, Chinese myths and Hindu myths?

But what happens in these different types of myths?

This article will look at the following topics concerning myths:

Myth meaning

Types of Myths

Features of Myths

Myths Stories/ Examples

Myth meaning

Myths have existed for centuries and are found in every culture, but what exactly are they?

Myth - Myths are symbolic narratives that may be used to explain the early history of a group of people. They explain the early history and origin of certain cultures or cultural practices, or the social and cultural evolution of a certain group of people.

In Ancient Greece, the myth of Persephone was used to explain the changing seasons. Persephone had to spend one-third of the year with her husband Hades, and two thirds with her mother, Demeter. This created the seasons.

Due to the importance of myths in different cultures, there are many different ways to interpret them. Myths can be explored through the lens of anthropology, sociology, religious studies or literature - to name a few!

There are different origins for myths. Some are formed to explain the origin of a group of people and are based on history. Other myths may have been created with the intention of entertaining guests. These myths would have been passed on orally (by the spoken word). The practise of writing down myths did not become popular until the nineteenth century.

Myths can be used to explore religious or cultural beliefs. In the Golden Age, myths were principally used to boost morale amongst the public. In other cases, myths would be used to explain events in the natural world. For example, this is seen in the Greek myth of the nymph named Echo, which explains how echoes of sounds began to be heard.

The Golden Age:

The term 'The Golden Age' came from early Roman and Greek poets who described it as a time in which human beings were pure and were living better lives.

As you can see, myths were also used as lessons and a guide for society. A myth would cover various subjects of human life such as birth, death, the hereafter, concepts of good and evil, what suffering means, animals, the origins of certain things, the beginning of the world and man, stories of gods/ god etc. This also meant that myths do not always have a happy ending. Like normal life, the myths show consequences and warnings of what’s to come as well as promises and celebrations of events.

Types of Myths

There are many types of myths. However, the main ones are historical myths, etiological myths, and psychological myths.

Historical Myths

Historical myths re-tell a story of the past but give it more meaning than what the event was about i.e., if the event even did take place.

In the Indian epic, 'Mahabharata' (300 BCE) by Vyasa, in the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandava brothers are symbolic of different values and are role models despite their flaws. The Kurukshetra is present in the Bhagavad Gita (100 CE) where one of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna, is visited by the Hindu God Krishna who tells him the purpose of life.

In Homer's Iliad (800 BCE), audiences were exposed to the story of the Trojan war. It showed great battles by strong characters like Achilles and Agamemnon.

Etiological Myths

The word ‘etiological’ comes from the Greek word ‘aetion’ which means reason. These myths describe how a particular thing was formed, why it is the way it is and its origins. As a result, etiological myths are often characterized as origin stories. They also explain how the world became the way it is now.

For example, in Norse mythology, it is believed that thunder is formed from Thor’s chariot rushing across the heavens. In a Chinese myth, the institution of marriage is explained through the goddess Nuwa who used to create humans and got tired of doing so so created marriage for people to get married and have children themselves (so, she wouldn’t have to create humans any longer).

Australian Aboriginal mythology explains how kangaroos developed a pouch through the story of the mother kangaroo who saves her son and a wombat from hunters. The wombat reveals to the mother Kangaroo that he is the Father of all Creatures and wants to reward her. He does this by putting bark on her stomach and creating a pouch. Now, she could use the pouch as a way of keeping her son safe.

Myth, Myth meaning, StudySmarterMany myths have been brought to life by art and sculpture, pixabay.

Psychological Myths

These myths are stories of the journey from the known world to the unknown world. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell believe psychological myths were told as it was a psychological need by individuals to balance their outside world with their inner consciousness of it. 1

Jung believed that myth was an important part of the human psyche that allowed it to find order and meaning in the world. Therefore, myths were not only used for teaching cultural values but also to create a structure in society.

These stories are often of heroes/ heroines going on a journey to discover their destiny or identity and solve a problem, at the same time being culturally relevant to the audience. Joseph Campbell calls the psychological myth type ‘the Hero’s journey.’ 1

An example of this is Prince Oedipus who leaves the home of his adopted parents after learning of a prediction that he would grow up and kill his father. He travels to another place where he ends up killing his real father who abandoned him when he was born. This would have shown the ancient Greek audience the futility of changing one’s destiny that was controlled by the gods and would lead them to fear, respect and be in awe of the gods.

The oldest myth in the world is a psychological myth explaining the individual’s journey to find their meaning in life and the inevitability of death. The Epic of Gilgamesh (2150 BCE – 1400 BCE) was created in Mesopotamia and came from Sumerian poems telling the story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, who eventually earns the status of a demi-god in the story.

In this myth, Gilgamesh is a haughty and proud king and the gods want to teach him a lesson. They groom Enkidu into an opponent for the king and the two engage in a fight. However, when neither can win they become best friends. Later on, Enkidu is killed by the gods after offending them and Gilgamesh, who is in great pain and grief after his best friend’s death goes on a journey to find the meaning of life/ immortality. Though he doesn’t attain eternal life, he learns a great deal from his quest and returns to the kingdom as a better King and man.

Other Types of Myths

Chthonic Myths

A chthonic myth deals with issues of destruction and death. Myths of the afterlife were used as a way to explain why people experienced harsh events in life or why children died before having the chance to grow up. Chthonic myths often featured an ‘underworld’ that could either be good or bad and from which only a few came back (which symbolised death and re-birth).

In Egyptian mythology, Ma’at was the goddess of the underworld and would choose who would enter there. When people passed, she would place their hearts on one side of a scale and on the other she would put her feather of truth. If the feather was lighter than the heart then the person would be sent to their second death.

There are myths about phoenixes in various cultures such as in Indian, Egyptian and Greek mythology. The phoenix is usually presented as a large bird or bright eagle linked to the rising sun. After living a long life, when a phoenix knows it will die soon, it creates a funeral pyre. When the fire destroys the old phoenix, a new phoenix is born.

Gods and Goddesses Myths

A lot of classical civilisations create myths featuring the lives and actions of gods and goddesses. The settings of these myths would take place in supernatural, otherworldly destinations such as heaven or the cosmos. It could also take place in mythological places such as Mount Olympus for the Greeks. These gods were personifications of human attributes like beauty and music or natural states like thunder or rain.

The interaction between these gods is used to reason the events of the world that the ancient people lived in. For example, in ancient Greek mythology, it was believed that the Trojan War began due to a disagreement between three goddesses.

Creation Myths

The purpose of these myths was not just to give culture an explanation of the beginning of society/ the cosmos but to create a meaningful background that linked to the present time.

In the Hopi story of the Spider Woman who created the first human beings from saliva and dirt, the fall of humanity is also described. It showed how human beings had free will to go against original creation and thus, shows how myths were also used as allegorical warnings and lessons about how society and individuals living in it should behave.

Myth, Myth meaning, StudySmarterZeus is a prominent mythical figure in Western Civilisation, pixabay.

Features of Myths

In Joseph Campbell’s work The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), he states that there are many similarities in characters, themes, narrative and purpose in myths from various cultures globally and also throughout history which he calls ‘monomyth.’ 1

As a result, there are similar features in all types of myths.

1. Myths include supernatural qualities and entities such as gods and goddesses, who often have supernatural powers. The characters can be non-human in other ways such as having the characters as animals or other-worldly beings.

2. Myths were like lessons and therefore, were told like they were facts. They were supposed to offer logical explanations of society which made people believe that these stories were true. The tone of the stories further added to the belief system. They were used as ways to explain the origins of certain things in the world.

3. The setting of myths was usually in very ancient places and were often set in places that were similar to the culture in which the myth was being told.

4. Myths were used to teach moral values to their audiences. The metaphorical language was used as a way to analyse and explore real-life events.

5. Conflict plays a key part in myths too. The duality between dark and light, good and evil etc. are present in many myths.

6. Change and metamorphosis is an important part of myths in which a hero goes through a life-changing journey and at the end of it has a different view of life or when a monster turns from bad to good.

Myths Stories/ Examples

'Theogony: Clash of the Titans' (700 BCE) by Hesiod

In Hesiod’s 'Theogony: Clash of the Titans, at the beginning of time darkness covers everything until Earth is created out of Chaos, with the sea, sky, mountains, moon, stars and sun being born from it too.

After this, Uranus and Earth together produce children called the Titans. Uranus was scared that one of his children would overthrow him and take his throne, so he put all his Titan children into the land of Earth. This doesn’t work, and his son Cronus who is the strongest Titan defeats him and becomes the leader of the world. He marries Rhea and together they have five children, two gods, Hades and Poseidon and three goddesses, Hera, Hestia and Demeter.

However, like his father, Cronus fears that one day his children would overthrow him and take his throne so when they are born, he swallows them. Later, Rhea, who is pregnant with her sixth child and fearing that it would be killed by its father like her other children, secretly gives birth to it on a mountain in Crete and hides her child there (who she names Zeus). She tricks Cronus and makes him believe that he swallowed the sixth child too by giving him a stone wrapped in clothes (which Cronus eats thinking it is the sixth child).

Meanwhile, the nymphs take care of Zeus and bring him up. When Zeus is grown up, he finds Cronus and tricks him into drinking a mixture which forces Cronus to throw up the things in his belly. When he does this, Zeus’s five siblings come out of his mouth now fully grown.

From this, the Titanomachy starts. This was the war between the Gods (with Zeus as the leader) and the Titans. This battle occurred for ten years, with the gods winning and throwing the Titans into the dark Tartarus which is far away from the world. After this, the gods engaged in battle with the Giants in the Gigantomachy for control over the world which the gods won again. In the end, Zeus becomes the king of the world and settles in Olympus with the other gods.

'Pandora’s Box' (700 BCE) by Hesiod

Zeus decides to take vengeance on Prometheus after Prometheus gives fire to the humans against Zeus' wishes. Zeus orders Hephaestus to form the first-ever human woman from water and soil, then each of the gods bestow this woman with a gift. For example, Aphrodite gives her beauty, Hermes gives cunning, Athena gives wisdom etc. The woman is named Pandora (which is Greek for ‘all gifts').

Zeus gives her a box and tells her not to open it under any circumstances. Then he sends her to Prometheus’s brother, Epimetheus. Prometheus previously warned Epimetheus to not take any gifts from Zeus. However, Epimetheus accepts Pandora. Pandora finds it extremely difficult to not open the box out of curiosity and ends up opening it. From the box emerge all the evils that enter the world such as war, hunger, death, sickness and hatred.

Myth - Key takeaways

  • Myths are ancient stories about the lives of a group of people in the past (what their cultural beliefs and practices were).
  • Myths were also used as lessons and a guide for society. A myth would cover various subjects of human life such as birth, death, the hereafter, concepts of good and evil, what suffering means, animals, the origins of certain things, the beginning of the world and man, stories of gods/ god etc.

  • There are loads of types of myths however the main ones are etiological myths, historical myths, and psychological myths.

  • In Joseph Campbell’s work The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), he states that there are many similarities in characters, themes, narrative and purpose in myths from various cultures globally and also throughout history which he calls ‘monomyth.’

  • Myths include supernatural qualities and entities such as gods and goddesses, who often have supernatural powers. The characters can be non-human in other ways such as having the characters as animals or other-worldly beings.


1. Joshua J. Mark, 'Mythology,' 31/10/2018, World History.

Frequently Asked Questions about Myth

Myths are ancient stories about the lives of a group of people in the past (what their cultural beliefs and practices were) and can also be about the natural events that were happening then; they also present concepts on moral issues and can feature supernatural creatures/ beings. 

An example of a myth is ‘Pandora’s Box’ (700 BCE) by Hesiod.

The difference between a myth and a folktale is that a myth is an ancient story describing natural, religious, and historical events in the past while folktales are fictional tales passed down through generations.

Greeks used myths to teach people about events they could not understand (such as earthquakes and illness) and to give them meaning in life (for example, living a virtuous life now will grant a life in heaven in the hereafter). 

Final Myth Quiz

Question

What are myths?

Show answer

Answer

Myths are ancient stories about the lives of a group of people in the past (what their cultural beliefs and practices were) and can also be about the natural events that were happening then; they also present concepts on moral issues and can feature supernatural creatures/ beings. 

Show question

Question

What was the purpose of myths?

Show answer

Answer

Myths were meant to move people in some way; they were a way to present logical arguments to people to explain natural events such as the moon cycle and sunrise and sunset. Myths were also used as lessons and a guide/ structure for society.

Show question

Question

What are some of the key themes present in ancient mythology?

Show answer

Answer

Birth/ death

Show question

Question

What are the three main types of myths?

Show answer

Answer

Etiological myths, historical myths, and psychological myths

Show question

Question

What are historical myths?

Show answer

Answer

Historical myths re-tell a story of the past but give it more meaning than what the event was about (if the event even did happen).

Show question

Question

What is an example of a historical myth?

Show answer

Answer

'Mahabharata' (300 BCE) by Vyasa and Homer's Iliad (800 BCE)

Show question

Question

What are etiological myths?

Show answer

Answer

The word ‘etiological’ comes from the Greek word ‘aetion’ which means reason. These myths describe how a particular thing was formed, why it is the way it is and its origins. As a result, etiological myths are often characterized as origin stories. They also explain how the world became the way it is now. 

Show question

Question

What are psychological myths?

Show answer

Answer

Psychological myths are stories of a character’s journey from the known world to the unknown world.

Show question

Question

Why do Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell's believe psychological myths came into existence?

Show answer

Answer

It was a psychological need by individuals to balance their outside world with their inner consciousness of it.

Show question

Question

What type of myth is the oldest myth in the world?

Show answer

Answer

Psychological myth

Show question

Question

What is a chthonic myth?

Show answer

Answer

A chthonic myth deals with issues of destruction and death. 

Show question

Question

What are myths based on?

Show answer

Answer

Tradition and cultural values

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Myth quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.