Some Theories of Myth
or ways to "explain" myths

based upon G. S. Kirk’s The Nature of Greek Myths (Penguin, 1974)

Ancient Theories of Myth

1.) Allegory
2.) Symbolism
3.) Rationalism
4.) Euhemerism
5.) Aetiology

FIVE Modern Monolithic* Theories of Myth

1.) Aetiology
proto-scientific view of myth

2.) Nature Myth (Max Müller)
emphasis on comparative mythology

3.) Ritual Myth (Sir James Frazer and the Cambridge School)

4.) Charter Myth (B. Malinowski)
rise of anthropology

5.) Creative Era (Mircea Eliade)

*monolithic theory of myth = a universal or exclusive theory of myth, one which claims to explain all myths 

Two other modern (non-monolithic) theories of myth

Psychological approach

    dreams (Sigmund Freud

    collective unconscious (Carl Jung)

    archetypes (Joseph Campbell)

Structuralism (Claude Lévi-Strauss)

    emphasis on binary opposites

    synchronic not diachronic


Myths constitute an enormously complex and at the same time indefinite category, and one must be free to apply to them any of a whole set of possible forms of analysis and classification.
(G. S. Kirk’s The Nature of Greek Myths, Penguin, 1974, pg. 38)

This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at
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