Myths Legends And Historical Tales

The differences between myths, legends and historical stories are often murky. Each is based in some element of human experience, whether an ancient religious belief or an actual historical occurrence. Over time, as a story is retold, it may become embellished with some element of myth or legend, making it difficult to distinguish reality from fiction.

Defining Myths, Legends and Historical Stories

By definition, myths, legends and stories based on historical accounts all have very distinct characteristics:

  • Historical stories are detailed reconstructions of factual events. While authors may take literary license with their accounts, the basic facts remain intact, as well as an accurate sense of chronology.
  • Legends are narratives that people recount as true stories but that may contain exaggerated elements, unconfirmed details or otherworldly characteristics. Generally, legends are created by hearsay. As they are passed on by word of mouth, they acquire new twists and variations until it is difficult to discern fact from fiction.
  • Myths are stories once held sacred by ancient cultures. Myths often explain creation or relate tales of gods and goddesses according to a particular civilization ‘s belief system.

Although myths, legends and historical stories each have distinct definitions, in practice, it can sometimes be difficult to tell one from the other or even to distinguish what is true from what ‘s made up. After all, myths and legends wouldn ‘t be as compelling as they are if they didn ‘t contain some element of truth!

Distinguishing Myth from Reality

Every person has his or her own version of a story. That ‘s what makes it difficult to differentiate true tales from myths and legendsthey are all based on human interpretation and thus subject to our own omissions, flaws, exaggeration and bias.

For instance, historical facts, when told from different perspectives, may eventually take on legendary status. With time, as a story is carried down through generations, reality blurs and the tale becomes more of an example of collective imagination than an historical account.

Historians and researchers posit that many myths arise as simple allegories (symbolic representations) of common human experiences, such as love or bad weather. Over time, the myths transcend their simple, symbolical function and become real to those who continue to repeat them.

Myths often portray the gods as engaged in everyday human activities and rituals. The intermingling of the human and divine, fact and fiction, is what fascinates us about myths and legends, making them more believable, enduring contributions to our cultural lore.

The Stuff of Myths: Recurring Themes and Popular Figures

Many myths and legends often contain a host of popular characters that recur again and again, even across cultures. Gods, goddesses, heroes and heroines, devils, fairies, magical animals and giants have all appeared in stories throughout human history.

Here we ‘ll take a brief look at some of these characters and how they have captured the imaginations of both modern and ancient cultures.

Giants in History and Mythology

Giants appear in hundreds of myths and legends throughout history. Some are purely imaginary, while others are real human beings that have rare genetic conditions such as acromegaly, a syndrome that results when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormones.

Some of these so-called “human giants ” are documented to measure up to 8 feet in height. Well-known historical figures and fictional characters of giant proportions include:

  • Andre the Giant (May 19, 1946 – January 27, 1993), a French professional wrestler and actor. Andre was at least 6 feet 10 inches tall and believed by some to measure over 7 feet at his tallest.
  • Amalekites of Canaan, a Biblical giant
  • the Brobdingnagians, a fictional race of giants in Jonathan Swift ‘s novel, Gulliver ‘s Travels
  • The Daityas, a mythical race of giants in Hindu culture
  • the gigantes, a race of giants in Greek mythology that were said to be children of Gaea (the earth mother) and Uranus (god of the heavens)
  • Goliath, another famous giant from the Bible
  • Jack and the Beanstalk (English fairy tale, circa 1890)
  • Miss Marion, Queen of the Amazons, a British woman who became a popular attraction in London 1882. At eighteen years old, she was said to have stood 8 feet 6 inches tall.
  • Paul Bunyan, the pancake-eating giant of American folklore.

Almost every culture boasts a tale about giants. Most of them appear in myths as malicious and murderous creatures, while a few are helpful to ordinary humans. However, it ‘s not impossible to imagine that some of the ancient tales about giants might have been based on real human beings with genetic abnormalities, such as Andre the Giant.

Cat History and Mythology

Cats, both domesticated and wild, also commonly appear in ancient myths and modern legends. Since ancient times, cats have fascinated the human imagination and have been worshipped and revered for their wiles and mystery. At times, cats have also been treated with suspicion and associated with magic and witchcraft.

The ancient Egyptians may have been cats ‘ most ardent admirers. They believed that a lion provided nightly protection for the sun god Ra. Their largest tribute to cats, the sphinx, is a gargantuan statue depicting a lion ‘s body and a pharaoh ‘s head. Goddesses of Egyptian origin, including Mau and Tefnut, also acquired cat-like qualities. The sun god ‘s daughter, Bast, became the protector of all domesticated cats, as well as those who cared for them. The Scandinavian goddess Freya rode across the skies in a chariot pulled by two cats.

Other famous cats include:

  • The “Birman Breed, ” the sacred cats of Burma
  • Grimalkin, from Shakespeare’s MacBeth
  • Pyewackett, a cat popularized by the movie “Bell, Book and Candle. “

Cats also have religious connotations in many cultures, such as the cats with purported powers for transporting souls from purgatory to paradise. Even today, some cultures believe that cats are human beings reincarnated.