We explain what a myth is and what is the origin of this traditional story. In addition, its main features and some examples.
What is a myth?
A myth is a traditional story, sacred, endowed with a symbolic character , which usually recounts extraordinary and transcendent events involving supernatural or fantastic beings (such as gods or demigods, monsters, etc.), and that work within the framework of a mythology or a determined cosmogony (conception of the universe).
For example, the myths of ancient Greece responded to their religious culture and the way they understood the universe and explained its origin, so that their traditional heroes, gods, monsters and episodes, inherited orally (and then in writing) from Previous generations contained all that specific cultural burden.
Myths have no historical testimony, that is, they are not verifiable, although they are generally considered true or valid in culture . This is because they function as imaginary explanations of complex phenomena, and serve to transmit values , beliefs and concepts to future generations. Myths do not work outside such belief systems.
Since the entry into force of scientific values and enlightened thought , the term myth was charged with a pejorative sense, used to indicate that some belief or assumption was due more to the order of the imaginary or of faith, than to the fact Tangible and verifiable.
At the same time, the term is used at one time as a synonym for epic , grandiloquent, or to refer to the central and important accounts of a given community .
Origin of the myth
Myths generally have an oral and traditional origin, inheritance from the primary ages of cultures , in which it was necessary to construct a story and a narrative imaginary to “explain” the origin of things or certain codes of conduct . Precisely because of this, myths vary greatly in their transmission over generations and usually there are different versions of the same myth.
The great religious, political or existential events of humanity are usually accompanied by myths: from the creation of the universe, the foundation of Ancient Rome to the use of corn as the main food of certain pre-Hispanic American cultures, myths respond to fundamental human questions and They provide an imaginary and narrative accompaniment.
Characteristics of a myth
Myths are characterized, according to French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss, by:
- Narratively address humanity’s existential questions, such as the creation of things, the origin of traditions , death , birth, etc.
- To be starring irreconcilable contrary concepts, such as creation-destruction, life-death, gods-men, good-evil, that somehow define the philosophical poles of the culture that created them.
- In the end it provides a reconciliation of the irreconcilable opposites to calm the anguish or provide a sense of harmony, justice or peace .
Examples of myths
Classical Antiquity is full of myths that survived to this day. For example, the Greek myth of Orion, famous hunter and hero born in Boeotia , of which there are numerous variants and versions, tells that he was blinded by passion when contemplating the daughters of Pléyone, an oceanic nymph, so he dedicated himself to pursue them for seven years throughout Greece.
The Pleiades, named for their mother, begged Father God Zeus for their salvation and were elevated to the sky, where they went on to form the set of stars of the same name. Orion, frustrated in his desire, died much later due to a scorpion sting, and was also taken to the sky by the gods, so that he could continue his persecution up there. But they did the same afterwards with the scorpion that killed him, thus giving rise to both the constellation of Orion and that of Scorpio.
A small review of the most popular mythologies could include Judeo-Christian ( The myth of Eden , the myth of Noah’s Ark , the Myth of Moses and the forty years in the desert), the Greek ( Pandora’s box , Theseus and the Minotaur , Ulysses and the Trojan horse) or pre-Columbian mythology ( The Popol Vuh of the Maya , or The origin of the moon in Teotihuacan of the Aztecs).
Differences between myth and legend
The fundamental difference between myths and other popular stories lies in their key cultural function. While the myths offer narrative and fantastic explanations for events of great cultural or philosophical importance in their culture, such as the origin of the Earth or the constellations in the sky, as in the previous example, popular narratives offer rather traditional accounts of moral teaching, which work towards a final moral that seeks to transmit values.
In the case of legends, these usually narrate fantastic and explanatory versions of real and historical events (the legend of the Cid Campeador, for example), recognizable and often with real protagonists. On the other hand, the myths are not verifiable and are usually located in time immemorially ancient, since they usually point to original or foundational issues.
Finally, myths are part of complex frameworks of meaning in a culture, while a legend can simply narrate fantastically a given event in the history of a region.