In the study of mythology, a mytheme is an irreducible nugget of myth, an unchanging element, not unlike a cultural meme, one that is always found shared with other, related mythemes and reassembled in various ways—"bundled" was Claude Lévi-Strauss's image— or linked in more complicated relationships, like a molecule in a compound. For example, the myths of Adonis and Osiris share several elements, leading some scholars to conclude that they share a source.

The cataloguer of folk tales Vladimir Propp considered that the unit of analysis was the individual tale: the unitary mytheme by contrast is the equivalent in myth of the phonemes, morphemes and sememes into which structural linguistics divides language: the smallest possible units of meaning within a language system.

In the 1950s Claude Lévi-Strauss first adapted this technique of language analysis to analytic myth criticism. In his work on the myth systems of primitive tribes, working from the analogy of language structure, he adopted the term mythème, with the assertion that the system of meaning within mythic utterances parallels closely that of a language system [1]. This idea is somewhat disputed by Roman Jakobson, who takes the mytheme to be a concept or phoneme which is without significance in itself but whose significance might be shown by sociological analysis.

Lev Manovich also uses the terms seme and mytheme in his book, The Language of New Media to describe aspects of culture that computer images enter into dialog with.


Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1955. "The Structural study of myth" in Journal of American Folklore, 68 pp 428-444


Pamela A. Genova, in Dictionnaire International des Termes Littéraires "Mythème/mytheme" (in English) A succinct view of Lévi-Strauss's use of mytheme.

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