1830, from Gk. mythos "speech, thought, story, myth," of unknown origin.
Myths are "stories about divine beings, generally arranged in a coherent system; they are revered as true and sacred; they are endorsed by rulers and priests; and closely linked to religion. Once this link is broken, and the actors in the story are not regarded as gods but as human heroes, giants or fairies, it is no longer a myth but a folktale. Where the central actor is divine but the story is trivial ... the result is religious legend, not myth." [J. Simpson & S. Roud, "Dictionary of English Folklore," Oxford, 2000, p.254]
General sense of "untrue story, rumor" is from 1840. Mythical first attested 1678.
The sense of "untrue story" didn't exist as the definition of "myth" until 1840, well after Leo's death. Thus, Leo never said that Christ was a myth in the "untrue story" sense. The quote is best translated as "It has served us well, this story of Christ".
The quote originates from a 16th century satire by John Bale called The Pageant of the Popes. The full quote is this: "For on a time when a cardinall Bembus did move a question out of the Gospell, the Pope gave him a very contemptuous answer saying: All ages can testifie enough howe profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us and our companie." Certainly this quote was written to make the Popes look bad but it was never spoken by Leo X himself. Plus, the original uses the word "fable" which also simply meant "story" at that time.
c.1300, from O.Fr. fable, from L. fabula "story, play, fable," lit. "that which is told," from fari "speak, tell," from PIE base *bha- "speak" (see fame). Sense of "animal story" comes from Aesop. In modern folklore terms, defined as "a short, comic tale making a moral point about human nature, usually through animal characters behaving in human ways." Most trace to Greece or India.
Edited by benjaburns, 23 July 2006 - 02:22 PM.