Arts & Culture

Blurring the lines: Mythology and History

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In Greek, idein means ‘to see’ and to eidenai means ‘to know.’ Mythology is a collection of tales that explain the past; these may have a basis in fact but are also embroidered to explain the present. History is an attempt to uncover and create a factual account of the past. The word ‘myth’ itself comes from the Greek ‘mythos,’ which originally meant ‘speech’ or ‘discourse,’ but which later came to mean ‘fable’ or ‘legend.’ Myths in the present world are defined as a story of forgotten or vague origin, basically religious or supernatural in nature, which seek to explain or rationalize one or more aspects of the world or society. Some myths describe actual historical events but have been embellished and refashioned by various storytellers over time, making it impossible to tell what happened. In this last aspect, myths have a legendary and historical nature. This is a classic myth: to give the moral that you must persevere in the face of adversity.

There are several epics which point to many events of past. And then there are the Holy Books which incorporates teachings in metaphors which evidently are referred to as mythological encounters. Here are a few instrumental ways for distinguishing between Mythology and History:

  1. Human History– When we say history in an academic sense, it is referred to as Human history, the documentation of Human civilisation. It does not cover the history of deities like Indra, Zeus, etc. and demons like Ravana, etc. Epics contain both Human history along with the history of both deities and demons. People don’t accept the history of deities and demons as the natural evolution of civilisation. Those are considered as a part of the mythology.
  2. Earthly events– History documents social, political, economic, cultural events or protocols present in past civilisations on earth, and does not cover the supra-cosmic events occurred in heaven or hell. Whereas, the Indian epics contain past events occurred on earth as well as from heaven and hell. Those are considered as mythology because it does not fit into normal human perception.
  3. Teachings– The purpose of history is to document the past events without any interpretation. For example, King Ashoka killed all in Kalinga, converted to Buddhism, and spread Buddhism throughout the world. However, history does not extend to incorporate Buddha’s teaching, because teaching is an interpretation to be covered in another stream of knowledge.
  4. Consistency– In any stream of knowledge, consistency is a challenge. Historical events are studied keeping the sequence of events, possibly with a period. Also, information should be consistent across all authors or books, so rational mind considers those as mythology.
  5. Miracles– History covers incidents. It does not cover accidental miraculous events. People do not accept these because there is no such scientific explanation of these events. We need to remove all supernatural events, characters from these two books, to be considered as history.
  6. Authenticity– Any stream of knowledge must be authentic, including History. For example, the existence of Buddha is known from various stone images, and writings present on stone. Writings from stones, discoveries from various monuments, the study of metals, soils give clues about the past.

It is in this backdrop that the struggle to place mythological creations on a par with history or objective truth is best understood, for any concession to the imaginary nature of mythology relegates it to an inferior status.


‘Pegasus in ancient art,’ Pegasus is an ancient horse-like creature that could fly. But we find its records from stone carvings which are accounted in history.
‘Pegasus in ancient art,’ Pegasus is an ancient horse-like creature that could fly. But we find its records from stone carvings which are accounted in history.


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Radhika Boruah

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A voracious reader of Mythology, embedded in a passionate Economics student who is also fanatically involved in Hindustani Classical Music. Tattoos and baking cakes are her muse. Ever reach out to talk at [email protected]

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