A folklore genre, myth is a feature of every culture. Many sources for myths have been proposed, ranging from personification of nature or personification of natural phenomena, to truthful or hyperbolic accounts of historical events to explanations of existing rituals. A culture's collective mythology helps convey belonging, shared and religious experiences, behavioral models, and moral and practical lessons.
The study of myth began in ancient history. Rival classes of the Greek myths by Euhemerus, Plato and Sallustius were developed by the Neoplatonists and later revived by Renaissance mythographers. The nineteenth-century comparative mythology reinterpreted myth as a primitive and failed counterpart of science (Tylor), a "disease of language" (Müller), or a misinterpretation of magical ritual (Frazer).
Recent approaches often view myths as manifestations of psychological, cultural, or societal truths, rather than as inaccurate historical accounts.
The term mythology predates the word myth by centuries. It first appeared in the fifteenth century, borrowed from the Middle French term mythologie. The word mythology, ("exposition of myths"), comes from Middle French mythologie, from Late Latin mythologia, from Greek μυθολογία mythología ("legendary lore, a telling of mythic legends; a legend, story, tale") from μῦθος mythos ("myth") and -λογία -logia ("study"). Both terms translated the subject of Latin author Fulgentius' fifth-century Mythologiæ, which was concerned with the explication of Greek and Roman stories about their gods, commonly referred to as classical mythology. Although Fulgentius' conflation with the contemporary African Saint Fulgentius is now questioned, the Mythologiæ explicitly treated its subject matter as allegories requiring interpretation and not as true events.
The word mythología appears in Plato, but was used as a general term for "fiction" or "story-telling" of any kind, combining mỹthos and -logía . From Lydgate until the seventeenth or eighteenth-century, mythology was similarly used to mean a moral, fable, allegory or a parable. From its earliest use in reference to a collection of traditional stories or beliefs, mythology implied the falsehood of the stories being described. It came to be applied by analogy with similar bodies of traditional stories among other polytheistic cultures around the world. The Greek loanword mythos (pl. mythoi) and Latinate mythus (pl. mythi) both appeared in English before the first example of myth in 1830.