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Chapter 1

What Is Myth?

This chapter introduces you to the style of presentation used in the book. You will see that there is a main text on the right, with definitions, cross references, and other study aids in the left margin. In addition, wherever possible, the discussions are based not on retellings of myths but on original versions. This allows you to enjoy and appreciate the literary style of the myths, and it makes your study of mythology more immediate—in many cases you are reading the same story heard by the original audience, not a watered-down version.

We start by defining mythology and explaining what a "contemporary" view of it is. Despite the widespread use of the word to mean fiction, mythology actually refers to stories that tell us about reality. One definition of myth that we introduce refers to it as "a traditional narrative that is used as a designation of reality."

In this chapter we show that the same story can provide a wide range of different kinds of insights into basic human questions, such as: What is it to be human? How do we fit into the scheme of things? How did our physical universe get to be the way it is? We illustrate these insights by examining the story of the Trojan War, as well as several other examples.

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