Theories in Mythology: Why is mythology so hard to define? How has your definition changed since you began to study the subject?

During the times of its conception and application, mythologies were intricately woven into the fabric of society.  It is to be noted that for primitive people mythologies were the predominant source of information and entertainment.  Hence, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the theoretical and practical sides of these stories.  In the context of this uncertainty, it is inevitable that various and often conflicting interpretations of the meaning and significance of mythologies are formed.  So no particular interpretation is universally acceptable.  This leads to definitions that are only valid within a certain social and cultural unit of organization.  At the time of its origins, human societies were largely feudalistic and paternalistic.  This reality is also reflected in much of the literature of these times, which were again component parts that comprise the mythology.

Every social order has had its ruling class.  And mythologies were frequently employed as a means of keeping the status quo.  Hence, the nobility, which is generally assigned the task of creating much of the mythology, did not adhere to principles of good scholarship.  They were given a free hand to twist and tweak the tales to suit the ruling interests.  This makes futile all attempts to arrive at a generally agreed definition for Mythology.


Rank, Otto. (2004). The myth of the birth of the hero: A psychological interpretation of mythology (Gregory C. Richter and E. James Lieberman, Trans.) Baltimore, M.: Johns Hopkins University Press. (Originally work published 1909)

Tylor, E.B., Primitive Culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion and art., 1871, Routledge/Thoemmes.

Hard, Robin., The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology (based on H.J.Rose’s original work), Routledge, 2003.