The term mythistory has been part of the English vocabulary since at least 1730 albeit with a continually evolving understanding (Mali 9). John Foster stresses a view that mythistory “does not imply a blurring of the metaphysical boundaries between history and myth” (107). In many respects mythistory expresses a condescending view of revisionist or hagiographic history. A worthy example of contemptible mythistory is the incessantly repeated account that Christopher Columbus first proposed the Earth’s roundness. In actuality, the ancient Greeks had theorized a spheroid Earth and all enlightened thinkers of the fifteenth century accepted it as truth. What was not know was the Earth’s circumference and whether there were intervening continent(s) opposite Eurasia. At best, Columbus proposed a much smaller circumference than was thought probable and as a consequence, a skeptical dismissal of substantial land masses between Asia and Europe.
The mistaken beliefs surrounding Christopher Columbus do not rise to the level of imbuing him with deified supernatural power, but the generally stated account so profoundly misstates the historic truth as to substantively blur the lines of fact and fiction. Less elaborately, a loose recounting of a historical timeline or circumstances could be labelled “mythistory” by one with an alternate viewpoint. In this way mythistory can imply impeachable historiography.
Dennis Tedlock embraces a more sympathetic view of the term and has the distinction of being the first to suggest Popol Vuh as a form of mythistory (59). For the ancient Maya, mythistory likely would not have had offensive connotations as the Maya viewed history as a fluid entity of truth and tale. A useful understanding and application to Popol Vuh properly suggests the intricate blending of culture, religion, history, and tradition within Popol Vuh’s narrative content.
Foster, John. “Review Essay [of Joseph Mali, Mythistory: The Making of a Modern Historiography].” Journal of the Philosophy of History. 2.1 (2008): 105-118. Print.
Mali, Joseph. Mythistory: The Making of a Modern Historiography. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003.
McNeill, William H. “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians.” American Historical Review 91.1 (1986): 1-10. Rpt. of Mythistory and Other Essays. U of Chicago P, 1986. 3-22. Print.
Tedlock, Dennis. “Introduction.” Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. Revised ed. New York: Simon, 1996. 21-60. Print.
Woodruff, John M. “Introduction.” The “most futile and vain” Work of Father Francisco Ximénez: Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh. U. Alabama, 2009. Print.