- Explanations of sacrifice, as of other rites, are naturally not wanting among the peoples who have practised or still practise it; but they are often of the nature of aetiological myths and give no clue to the original meaning.
At the present time we are quite uncertain what is the ultimate cause of new growths; in all probability there may be one or more aetiological factors at play disturbing that perfect condition of equilibrium of normal tissues.
According to Roscher (in his Lexikon der Mythologie), who identifies the ciris with the heron, the story of Nisus and Scylla (like these of Acdon, Procne, Philomela and Tereus) was invented to give an aetiological explanation of the characteristics of certain birds.
The anecdotes told of Gaia Caecilia are aetiological myths intended to explain certain usages at Roman marriages.
While Theseus was in Crete, Minos, 1 The story of Theseus is a strange mixture of (mostly fictitious) political tradition, of aetiological myths invented to explain misunderstood acts of ritual and of a cycle of tales of adventure analogous to the story of the labours of Heracles.
It is impossible to trace a safe path through the complicated aetiological myths, the fragments of reshaped legend and tradition, or the adjustment of rival theologies.
It is doubtful whether the distinction drawn between pestis minor and pestis major has a real aetiological basis.
Five main cycles of story may be distinguished: (1) the foundation of the citadel Cadmea by Cadmus, and the growth of the Sparti or "Sown Men" (probably an aetiological myth designed to explain the origin of the Theban nobility which bore that name in historical times); (2) the building of a "seven-gated" wall by Amphion, and the cognate stories of Zethus, Antiope and Dirce; (3) the tale of the "house of Laius," culminating in the adventures of Oedipus and the wars of the "Seven" and the Epigoni; (4) the advent of Dionysus; and (5) the exploits of Heracles.
These are clearly aetiological, and invented to explain an existing custom, which the church had adopted from its pagan medium.
An aetiological myth is one which is regarded as having been invented ex post facto to explain some fact, name or coincidence, the true account or origin of which has been forgotten.