Dictionaries are always a useful place to start, even if only to provide a jumping-off point for disagreement and quibble. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a surprisingly short definition of the word ‘myth’. It states it is ‘a purely fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural persons, actions, or events, and embodying some popular idea concerning natural or historical phenomena’. It points out that as a consequence it can mean ‘a fictitious or imaginary person or object’, and that there is the subsidiary meaning in standard usage of ‘an untrue or popular tale, a rumour’. In this instance, the dictionary definition does not advance us very far, since its insistence on the ‘purely fictitious’ appears to override the complex interactions between life and story that seem the generating force of myth even while its inclusion of the ‘popular’ returns it to the common domain. Perhaps mythographers will provide us with more fruitful descriptions.
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