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The origin of the word myth seems to be a myth in itself. Myths have generally originated from a Greek history that used an oral tradition to explain events that occurred before the written word. Often supernatural beings or fictitious characters were used to explain popular ideas concerning phenomena’s of nature or the history of people. The myths that were carried on from generation to generation were often very imaginative in an attempt to spark the interest of young listeners. These would be told at social gatherings. The main purpose of a myth was to relay historical information among groups. Early myths often dealt with the origin of man, customs, religious rights, incidents involving the lives of gods, stories of culture heroes, adaptations of old world myths, or the retelling of biblical stories. The real meaning of the word myth, “a story or legend”(Webster’s p.972) was created as oral traditions that were told from generation to generation. Often as individuals told the stories, they were changed slightly in context or meaning. One cannot be certain, however, that historically based myths are not historically correct. Exaggeration due to personal vendetta was often the cause for discrepancies of factual or not factual information included in dialect from a mythical standpoint. An instance where this fact was the case is seen in the Old Testament.
Even, the Old Testament can be looked upon as being mythical, true, or false. From a religious perception, the Old Testament may be viewed as the history of Judaism and believed to be completely factual and true, but from a mythical standpoint
that selection may be fictitious in context. Mythology suggests that due to the fact that events were perceived and told from many different viewpoints, the Old Testament may not be factual and only a myth of Judaism. A modern day perception of the Old Testament suggests that, “the mythic elements in the Bible cannot be accepted by people living in a scientific age and therefore make incomprehensible or unacceptable the true message to which they are attached in the Bible” (OED p.177).
The definition of the word myth can best be found in a myth itself. “The Creation of Man by Prometheus” is an excellent example of a myth containing gods or superhuman characteristics, a lesson to be learned, and teachings or beliefs of the time period. This myth explains the creation of man in the minds of Greeks through super human characters such as the gods. How was man created in the minds of the Greeks? Prometheus used materials from nature (mud) to create a form similar to that of the gods, which can be seen today as the modern symbol of man. Another Greek goddess, Athena, then blew life into the sculpture. Man was now created. Prometheus then taught man how to survive and also taught them how to make fire. Zeus, the king of all gods and goddesses, was not happy with him giving man the gift of fire and punished Prometheus for the rest of his life. The Greeks in an oral tradition to explain this phenomenon, known as the origin of man (Hunt) then used this story.
Many cultures, for example, have a different myth to explain the origin of man. Native Indian myths suggest that the joining of sprits created man. The sprits also taught man how to survive. This myth is similar to that of the Greek version because in both versions the creation of man involved supernatural interaction. As in every culture,
the people of it have the individual they believe is responsible. Every culture has a myth explaining how man was created that they believe is correct based on their oral tradition. The Greeks believed that the Gods were responsible for this feat, while the Indians believed that spirits accomplished this task based on taught tradition. The purpose of these myths was to create answers to questions that could not be answered in those early times. The myths eased the minds of mortals and made mortals want to worship the spirits because the spirits held the only answers to their questions.
Answers to these basic questions were later discovered through modern science. As science evolved, cultures began to realize that there were answers to these questions and that their myths contained less evidence of being correct. Scientific knowledge was often very hard for orthodox cultures to comprehend because they had always been taught the beliefs of their culture, which was based on these myths.
As cultures have evolved and scientific evidence has become more evident and understandable, myths have become more as stories of entertainment than answers to questions. The meaning of ancient myths can be derived, but with the knowledge that scientific evidence provides, it is absurd to assume truth of myths because scientific evidence is much easier to believe and understand.
Present day myths deal with issues that have factual evidence that can explain why things do occur. These issues can also have a mythical side to them. The mythical side is present because a culture or society does not want to believe the facts that are known in an attempt to give reassurance to ones inner self. A modern example of a myth is the belief that one cannot achieve a pregnancy upon the primal intercourse
experience. Research has proven that this is not true, but many believe or are told that this is the case. These types of myths are used today to create reassurance for those believing them.
The word myth has been defined by scientific evidence throughout history. As scientific evidence has become clearer, early myths have become less clear to the present day human being. Even though early myths are becoming obsolete, they are still being studied to teach all aspects of life and culture past and present. Also, modern myths are being studied just as well to teach the aspects of the world today.
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