“MYTHOS” in Homer’s Iliad

I‘ve just started working through Homer’s Iliad in the Greek (I’m always amazed at what you find in the original language that isn’t there in translations) and right away I’ve come across an interesting item.

It’s the Greek word μῦθος/MYThOS, from which we get the English word ‘myth’. In ancient times it also generally meant ‘a fictional account’. But words don’t mean just one thing, they generally have a cloud of meanings — hence the list of meanings in the dictionary — called in linguistics the ‘semantic domain’ or ‘semantic field’. (See Wikipedia.)

In the opening section of the Iliad, Homer uses MYThOS to mean ‘a command’:

but harshly he drove him away with a strong order (MYThOS) upon him (1.25)

and

So he spoke, and the old man in terror followed the command (MYThOS) (1.33)

So even though MYThOS means ‘fictional account’ generally, Homer’s usage here would suggest that the connotation of MYThOS might include more authority and force than mere entertainment.


Translations are adapted from the Chicago Homer

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