How do we define the origin of mythology?

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Answered by: Lesli, An Expert in the Myths and Legends Category
A mythology is defined as a collection of myths, hence the name, of one religion and or cultural tradition. These myths are the customary stories of how that culture or religion transformed and adapted from its very beginning. Oftentimes these tales are supernatural in nature, involving fearsome gods, plucky heroes, brutal warfare and treacherous monsters. Today, many of these mythologies have been preserved or discovered; more than can be accurately listed. Also, as it is, the world of mythology, as with its sister fields of history and archaeology, is one of immense debate. Thusly, it is safe to say that, among those heated arguments, there is the matter of the origin of mythology and how it is defined.

Indisputably, history will never cease to make new findings, and so new pieces of mythos are bound to surface in future years. No, this is not a surprise to anyone who knows anything at all about these types of things, but by logic, some of these coming breakthroughs will most likely be older than anything ever seen before; Oldest Written Myth Ever Unearthed hitting the news, a rarity. With many a rara avis leading the world to believe that it started with this stone or that papyrus, perhaps that there wall of hieroglyphs, no one may ever know for sure where mythology really began. For now, there can only be theories based on what is already known.

For instance, most know the basics of Egyptian mythology; Ra, God of the Sun, and the Land of the Dead, or Isis and her trickery of him, just for starters. The myths of Egypt are thought to be some of the oldest. While the dates are scattered, chance has it that many were composed long before the Ancient Egyptians had begun writing. Moreover, many rituals draw on myths, occasionally revolving around a single myth entirely. There has been discussion about whether or not ritual itself could have been the catalyst for mythology, whether simply in Egypt or globally. However, the argument still stands that it may have, in fact, been the other way around; myth sparking ritual.

Of course, the most notable of mythologies, even more so than that of the Egyptians, has to be the Greek Mythos. The majority of Greek lore was initially transcribed over a period of three hundred years. The oldest stories can be credited to Homer, Hesiod, and The Homeric Hymns, all originally authored around 800 B.C.E. Some texts were dated back to 500 B.C.E. Still and all, they were derived from much older stories whose exact eras are unknown as no written versions exist for them. In the case of these myths, it took a total of four hundred years of revisions and adaptations for them to become what is considered today to be authentic Greek myth.

On an only slightly smaller scale, enter the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian poem some fifteen hundred years older than any of Mr. Homer’s work, and by extension, Greek Mythology itself. It is the story of King Gilgamesh of Uruk, and a wild man named Enkidu, sent by the gods to take the King away from Uruk so that he cannot oppress his people. Many make comparisons to the biblical story of Noah, as Gilgamesh learns of great flood by a man, Utnapishtim. The literature is assumed to have been written between 2000 and 1400 B.C.E. making it oldest of all western writings.

Yet, it may even be the truest of them. In the twenty-sixth century B.C.E. inscriptions were found affording credit to King Gilgamesh for building the Great Walls of Uruk, now Warka, Iraq. Recently, in April of 2003, a German Archaeological team claimed to have discovered his tomb. However, it cannot be accurately said that the first ever written account of one man’s incredible expedition constitutes the origin of mythology itself. It is hardly likely that the rest of the world read that one Mesopotamian poem and decided, simply because of it, to create their own.

Yes, it is the earliest recognized so far. Be that as it may, a boatload of other issues must be taken into regard. Indubitably, some myths were only meant to be bedtime stories; over generations, they were presumably adopted as genesis and merged into their respective mythos. Other myths, without a doubt, held real truth to the people whose culture it belonged to. Some may even have been fictionalized retellings of actual events. Then there remains the matter of ritual and myth; never any surety what opened the whole show. With no absolute records, there is no way to be certain about anything. All there can be is conjecture, which is, albeit, fun. All the same, guessing can only go so far.

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