Odysseus Overcome by Demodocus' Song
, by Francesco Hayez, 1813–15
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 [μυθολογία] appears in Plato, but was used as a general term for "fiction" or "story-telling" of any kind, combining mỹthos [μῦθος, "narrative, fiction"] and -logía [-λογία, "discourse, able to speak about"]. 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.