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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 worldview-based traditional story, collection or study. It is derived from the Greek word mythos (μύθος), which simply means "story". Mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths.[3]

Academic usage

Generally associated with the academic fields of mythology, mythography, or folkloristics; a myth is a story involving symbols that are usually capable of multiple meanings. The body of myths in a given culture usually includes a cosmogonical or creation myth concerning the origins of the world or how the world and its creatures came into existence. 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 and critical history begins.

A myth is a sacred narrative in the sense that it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it, and it contributes to and expresses systems of thought and values. Use of the term by scholars implies neither the truth nor the falseness of the narrative. To the source culture, however, a myth by definition is "true", in that it embodies beliefs, concepts, and ways of questioning and making sense of the world.

Popular usage

In popular use, a myth can also be a collectively held belief that has no basis in fact according to the speaker. This usage, which is often pejorative,[4] arose from labeling the religious myths and beliefs of other cultures as being incorrect, but it has spread to cover non-religious beliefs as well.[5] Because of this popular and subjective word usage, many people take offense when the narratives they believe to be true are called myths. This usage is frequently associated with legend, fiction, fairy tale, folklore, fable, confusing data, personal desire, and urban legend, each of which has a distinct meaning in academia.


  1. "The Myth of Io". The Walters Art Museum.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. For more information on this panel, please see Zeri catalogue number 64, pp. 100-101
  3. Kirk, p. 8; "myth", Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. Howells, Richard (1999). The Myth of the Titanic. Macmillan.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 1967, pp. 23, 162.