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"Mythos" redirects here. For other uses, see Myth (disambiguation) and Mythos (disambiguation).
The ancient Roman poet Ovid, in his "The Metamorphoses," told the story of the nymph Io who was seduced by Jupiter, the king of the gods. When his wife Juno became jealous, Jupiter transformed Io into a heifer to protect her. This panel relates the second half of the story. In the upper left, Jupiter emerges from clouds to order Mercury to rescue Io. In the lower left, Mercury guides his herd to the spot where Io is guarded by the hundred-eyed Argus. In the upper center, Mercury, disguised as a shepherd, lulls Argus to sleep and beheads him. Juno then takes Argus's eyes to ornament the tail feathers of her peacock and sends the Furies to pursue Io, who flees to the Nile River. At last, Jupiter prevails on his wife to cease tormenting the nymph, who, upon resuming her natural form, escapes to the forest and ultimately becomes the Egyptian goddess Isis
This panel by Bartolomeo di Giovanni relates the second half of the Metamorphoses. In the upper left, Jupiter emerges from clouds to order Mercury to rescue Io[1][2]

A myth is any traditional story consisting of events that are ostensibly historical, though often supernatural, explaining the origins of a cultural practice or natural phenomenon.[3] Myths are often stories that are currently understood as being exaggerated or fictitious.[4] The word "myth" is derived from the Greek word mythos (μῦθος), which simply means "story". Mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths.[5] A myth also can be a story to explain why something exists.

Human cultures usually include a cosmogonical or creation myth, concerning the origins of the world, or how the world came to exist. The active beings in myths are generally gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, or animals and plants. Most myths are set in a timeless past before recorded time or beginning of the critical history. A myth can be a story involving symbols that are capable of multiple meanings.

A myth is a sacred narrative because it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it. Myths also contribute to and express a culture's systems of thought and values.

Academic usage[edit]

The term is common in the academic fields of mythology, mythography[6] or folkloristics. Use of the term by scholars has no implication for the truth or falsity of the myth. While popular usage interchangeably employs the terms legend, fiction, fairy tale, folklore, fable and urban legend, each has a distinct meaning in academia.

Popular usage[edit]

In popular use, a myth can be a collectively held belief that has no basis in fact. This usage, which is often pejorative,[7] arose from labeling the religious myths and beliefs of other cultures as incorrect, but it has spread to cover non-religious beliefs as well.[8] Because of this popular and subjective word usage, many people take offense when the narratives they believe to be true are called myths.

To the source culture a myth by definition is "true", in that it embodies beliefs, concepts and ways of questioning to make sense of the world.


  1. ^ "The Myth of Io.". The Walters Art Museum. 
  2. ^ For more information on this panel, please see Zeri catalogue number 64, pp. 100-101
  3. ^ Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1995. p. 794.
  4. ^ "[1]". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. 2016.
  5. ^ Kirk, p. 8; "myth", Encyclopedia Britannica
  6. ^ "Define Mythography at". Retrieved 19 January 2016. 
  7. ^ Howells, Richard (1999). The Myth of the Titanic. Macmillan. 
  8. ^ Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 1967, pp. 23, 162.