Etiology, Fables, and Living Well

Note that no textbook is ever complete and no body of scholarship stops evolving except through neglect.  If you have thoughts, suggestions, or corrections please forward them to  

Etiology is the investigation or attribution for the reason why a thing is the way it is.  Many myths are etiological.  The first series of myths we explored were fundamentally etiological because they explained why the universe exists (with the exception of the vedic poem).  Other myths (sometimes called fables) explain why one should behave in a certain manner.  These myths help us consider the meaning of living well.  This is one of the most vitally important units we will come across because I want you, as a student, to start asking yourself: Am I living well?  Am I living a good life?


Pure etiological stories usually just ascribe a reason to why something exists in the manner it exists.  Why is the elephant's nose long?  Why are these the characters of the Chinese zodiac?  How did the leopard get its spots?  Etiology may also search for the truth behind why something is the way it is.  Modern science and philosophy practice the second sort of etiology while myths often have their origin in explaining things that were beyond the ability of ancient man to know with the tools at his disposal.  


Fables are often etiological in nature, however, they also contain morals or lessons about how we ought to behave.

Modern Fables and Myths

Myths and fables are still crafted every day.  People become mythologized like Wangari Maathai, Steve Jobs, or Michael Phelps.  Their accomplishments are lifted to a status of legendary.  This can have both good and bad ramifications for us as people.  As Hesiod shows, the Greeks attributed divinity to many of theirs heroes likely so that they never had to live up to their example.  On the other hand, sometimes we grow up with the hope that we surpass our heroes and sometimes we succeed.