Myth, according to a well known formulation by Walter Burkert, “is a traditional tale with secondary, partial reference to something of collective importance” (1979: 23). Andrew von Hendy, who declares Burkert’s definition the “gold standard” in classical studies, offers a Marxist reformulation, so that myth “is traditional narrative with a high degree of ideological saturation” (2002: 269, 277). This definition accords with the fact that muthos, the Greek word that most closely approximates myth, also designates “story” generally, and, as we might expect in an oral culture, “speech” (its meaning of “fiction” is post-Homeric). It also allows us to sidestep the issue of distinguishing between “myth,” “legend,” and “fairytale” that is an enduring legacy of the Brothers Grimm among folklorists, but has no basis in ancient taxonomy (Detienne 1986; Calame 1991; Edmunds 1997; van Hendy 2002).
Corinne Ondine Pache
Cambridge University Press
Cook, E. (in press). The Mythological Background to Homer. In C. Pache (Ed.), The New Cambridge Handbook to Homer. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
The New Cambridge Handbook to Homer