Some people may think that mythologies are based on mistaken or inaccurate truths because most of them derived from people's imagination, but in fact, mythology is a “useful tool for societies to preserve their history, cultures and values.”
Myths are narratives that provide significance to our actions and conditions of existence. Myth is, however, a difficult concept to define (Kerényi, 89). The reason for this is that it has been the object of much theoretical speculation, and every author has found in it the objects with which he or she is most familiar. Linguists have found a world of signs and names, psychologists a product of the deepest parts of the human psyche, philosophers a primitive form of philosophy, sociologists and anthropologists the expression of the fundamental beliefs of a society, and so on.
In the face of this richness, it is surprising that political theorists have largely neglected the topic of myth. Political theorists often dismiss myth as a primitive form of thinking, which disappeared with modern politics. Political myth, in particular, has thus remained a relatively marginal topic.
The Genealogy of Myth
Common language tends to depict myth as a false account of reality, as in expressions such as “the myth of welfare” or “the myth of progress.” This approach is misleading and derives from a series of prejudices against myth that are rooted in the Western evolution of the concept.
Mythos is an ancient Greek word that means “word, speech.” As such, it was used as a synonym for logos, the word associated today with “reason.” It is only relatively late, around the fifth century BCE that the term mythos specialized in the sense of “narrative, tale (Bottici, 100).” It is when philosophers started to vindicate the difference between their professional activity and that of traditional poets such as Homer and Hesiod that the term logos began to specialize in the sense of “discourse, calculus, reasoning” and, as such, to be distinguished from “myth,” that is, “tale, narrative.” Still, the idea of the falsity of myth was not yet part of the primary meaning of the term. For instance, even Aristotle seems to value myths: In his Poetics, he says that mythoi are the constitutive elements of poetry, whose truth is even superior to that of history because the latter tells facts as they happen, whereas the former tells them as they could have happened according to the different human characters (Sorel, 13).
It is only with the affirmation of monotheism that myths came to be associated with paganism and polytheism and, therefore, with the idea of false and deceitful tales that are potentially dangerous. In a monotheistic world view, there is no space for the pluralism and polytheism of myth. It is not by chance that in Europe during medieval times, ancient, mythical material either fell into oblivion or, when possible, was read as an allegory of the superior truth of the Christian message.
The end of the middle Ages and the affirmation of modernity did not bring with it a better ...