The concept of mythomania appeared in the academic psychiatric literature at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was introduced by Ernest Dupré (b. 1905), a specialist in "constitutions," in Pathologie de l'imagination et de l'émotivité (Pathology of the imagination and emotions; 1925) to refer, precisely, to the supposedly constitutional tendency of certain subjects to confabulate on the mental level and to simulate on the somatic level.
In his Manuel alphabétique de psychiatrie (Alphabetical manual of psychiatry; 1952), Antoine Porot devoted a relatively long article to this topic. He studied mythomania in children as distinct from mythomania in adults, recalling the three main types identified by Dupré—vanity-based mythomania, malignant mythomania, and perverse mythomania—and adding to these the particular form of errant mythomania, potentially associated with fugue states ("fables in action").
In children, Dupré described a sort of gradient ranging from quasi-physiological mythmaking activity to true mythomania, by way of lies, pretending, and fabulation. In adults, vanity-based mythomania was posited as being the most benign clinical form, the prototype of which is illustrated by Alphonse Daudet's Tartarin de Tarascon. However, according to Dupré this type of mythomania could also be observed in cases of debility, whereas the more serious, malignant, and perverse forms were described as occasionally going as far as delusional imaginings. In this author's view, whether mythomania was episodic or permanent, it was linked to a so-called primitive mentality, even though he believed that this disorder was more common among women and sometimes transmitted in a hereditary pattern that could affect several successive generations. According to him, mythomania was based on emotivity, exaltation of the imaginative faculties, and suggestibility, whereas Eugène Minkowski linked mythomania to the idea of "inconsistency" introduced by Pierre Janet.
The classical psychiatry of that era took an incidental interest in the connections among mythomania, simulation, and hysteria, but the climate of the times was more inclined toward the isolation of descriptive entities than toward structural reasoning. This perspective is obviously not that of psychoanalysis, which, accordingly, took relatively little interest in mythomania per se.
Michel Neyraut must be credited for taking a metapsychological approach to this disorder in "Á propos de la mythomania" (On mythomania; 1960). This study enabled him to show that a symptom can register within a variety of psychic functions, and that only an in-depth study of a subject's psycho-pathology from a threefold economic, topographical, and dynamic perspective can reveal the meaning and function of a symptom that seems relatively identical from one individual to another based solely on a surface behavioral description.
In addition, Neyraut's study retraced the history of this concept with regard to the development of psychoanalytic discovery itself, with its well-known central focus on the question of hysteria.
See also: Lie.
Daudet, Alphonse. (1872). Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon. n.p.
Dupré, Ernest. (1925). Pathologie de l'imagination et de l'émotivité. Paris: Payot.
Neyraut, Michel. (1960).Á propos de la mythomanie. L'Évolution psychiatrique, 4, 533-558.
Porot, Antoine. (1952). Manuel alphabétique de psychiatrie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.