By definition, a Myth is a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.  Again, by definition, a Legend is a story coming down from the past, popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable.  Both of these help to define our view of history.  What is the historical basis of myths and legends?

Man has always craved entertainment.  In our current technology, radio, television, movies, and even the internet provide entertainment.  Before the advent of electronic media, there were books and printed materials.  Before print media was available to the masses, entertainment took the form of stories told ‘around the campfire’.  If some interesting and entertaining event happened, sharing the story with others is a form of entertainment.  To keep the story entertaining, some literary license is taken.  The story was embellished over time and as it was retold.  Again, as a form of entertainment, the story had to remain interesting.  Even in today’s world, the audience would rather than a new experience rather than ‘watching the same reruns’.

Before written documentation was commonplace with the general population, history was passed verbally.  To keep important history and events alive, it was important that they be remembered.  Adding the desire for entertainment, the historical facts were embellished (for the entertainment factor).  It is simple.  An entertaining story is easier to remember over a dull and boring story.  The need to remember was accomplished along with the desire for entertainment.

From simple to important events of daily life, history and knowledge was preserved through the evening stories.  Imagine sitting in a cave or simple dwelling.  Your group is relaxing around the evening fire partaking of a meal to end the day.  You had a good day of hunting and desire both the approval and admiration of those around you.  To entertain the group and for some level of self-fulfillment, you recall the events of the day.  As you tell your story, the prey might grow size.  The setting might grow in either danger or difficulty.  Soon you weave a story that legends spring from.  In time (and the retelling of the events, you might become nearly superhuman in stature.  At the basis of the legend is still the truth of a good day of hunting.

In time, a man of above average stature becomes a giant.  Strength becomes super-natural and the deeds morph to verging on the unbelievable.  A skilled or lucky individual might be seen as something more.  They might be seen as someone that is almost immortal.  At the base of the story, there is the truth of the original event.  In time, that single event becomes bigger, better, and more interesting.  The story becomes almost legendary.  As the story or deed grows, it becomes a myth or legend.

There is a common belief that most (if not all) myths and legends have some basis in fact.  Whether creation myths, flood myths, or legends of the mighty becoming elevated to immortal or even god-like status, there is proof or speculation of a true story at the base of the myth or legend.  Using the example of the flood myth, common in many cultures, new discoveries show the facts behind the myth.  At the end of the last major ice age massive ice dams blocked nearly ocean size lakes.  As the climate warmed, more ice melted adding to the size of the huge bodies of trapped water.  The water helped to insulate the ice below causing the ice dams to restrain the water.  When the ice dams finally melted, millions of square miles of land were flooded.  To anyone surviving the flood would have witnessed an event of global proportion.  As the event was saved and repeated to preserve the history, it is quite conceivable to describe flooding of the entire planet (even if there was some exaggeration).  From the story, history is preserved and a myth is born, a myth with basis in an actual event.

Whether an event of nature or an action of a person, legends and myths offer a glimpse to our history and may have truth at their core.  Even without the ‘hard’ evidence, myths and legend cannot simply be ignored as only entertainment without a factual basis, even the legend of Atlantis.

Leave a Reply.

    From the Author

    With all of the unanswered questions throughout the history of man, there must be answers even if the thinking is outside the 'box' of the main stream.


    June 2013
    May 2013