Today people often use the word “myth” to mean an untrue story or false rumor. For example, if one person asked: “Is Friday the 13th an unlucky day?” another person might answer: “No, that is just a myth.” But the ancient Greeks did not use the word mythos (μῦθος) in this way. For the Greeks, a mythos was simply a story. It was not important whether the story was true or false; what was important was the fact that the mode of speech was that of a story. The Greek word logos (λόγος), on the other hand, means a rational explanation or analytical statement. These two words, mythos and logos, point to two different kinds of speech, corresponding to two different ways of thinking. One was not considered more important than the other; they were just different. If you put the two words together: mythos + logos = mythology. And “mythology” is the explanation or the analytical study of myths.
Thumbnail: A detail from a painting by Peter-Paul Rubens depicting the Roman god Saturn devouring his own son. 1636 CE. (Museo del Prado, Madrid)