What is a myth?

The dictionary states that a myth is "a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, esp. one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature." Myths can be about many different ideas. They are stories told by people that can be an explanation of why some things exist or explain the origins of a particular event. Real people or non-living creatures and things can be portrayed in myths. Myths are usually stories that have been told over hundreds of years and are set in the remote past. They can change depending on who is telling them, this meaning that there can be various versions of a myth. They are just stories told, so the teller does not have to believe in them nor does the listener, but that does not stop the myth from being passed on from generations to generations.

paul%20bunyan.jpgAn example of a myth would be the stories involving Paul Bunyan. In the stories he was an usually sized, giant lumberjack with a big, blue ox named Babe. The tale of when Paul Bunyan had to find a watering hole big enough for Babe to drink out of is considered a myth. According to the myth, Paul could not find a watering hole big enough for the ox to drink out of, and so Bunyan had to go and dig one. This myth is considered to be how the great lakes were formed. This is a myth because it gives an explanation for the creation if a natural phenomenon and it involves non-existing things and the story changes depending on who is telling it.

What is a legend?

A legend, according to dictionary.com is “A non historical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” A legend is a story that people tell usually as if it were a himages.jpegistorical event. These historical events may or may not be real. They could just be elaborations of a historical event. Legends are usually based on a person that actually existed. They do not provide an explanation for something; instead, legends usually contain a moral lesson. Another thing about legends is that they usually never change; the story stays the same as it gets passed on.

An example of a legend would be the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. When George was younger, he chopped down the cherry tree in his yard, but he did not get in trouble because he told his father the truth about what he had done. This story therefore teaches us the importance of telling the truth. Over time, the legend has not changed; it is always a cherry tree that George cuts down. George Washington is a real person, but many people believe that it is possible that this event never happened, therefore making it a legend.


What is a folktale?

According to the dictionary, a folktale is a tale or legend originating and traditional among a people or folk, esp. one forming part of the oral tradition of the common people, and any belief or story passed on traditionally, esp. one considered to be false or based on superstition. A fo lktale is a made up story told to amuse the listeners. Usually a known folktale takes place in a far far away place and happened long time ago: “Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom...” These stories often contain magical objects and talking animals, kings and princesses, giants and dragons, fairies and sorcerers. A folktale can be told as a story, poem, play or song. Most frequently the made up story change as the years go by; people would a dd on what they want in the story. In reality there isn’t any “right version” of the story that can be told.
Example of a Folktale: Cinderella is one of the most recognized stories around the world. The themes from Cinderella are shown in many similar stories in a mixture of cultures. There may be over 1,500 versions. The tale always centers on a kind and brave woman who is treated badly after her mother died. The father is either dead or not present depending on the story. A magical/fairy godmother generally helps the brave woman overcome her greatest wish at the end of the story. Typically these tales are based off an article of clothing (mainly a shoe) that causes the brave woman to be accepted for her true kindness.

Commonalities and Distinguishing Factors:
Myth Vs. Folktale:

-Myths and folktales both generally have some sort of moral or ethical guidance on which they are based and are generally laced with lessons for the reader to walk away with.
-Myths and folktales both tend to incorporate certain levels of superstition and magical elements related to the subject matter.
-Myths and folktales both tend to vary depending on their point of origin versus the region in which they are being shared.

Distinguishing factors:
-Myths generally have lasted the test of time and have generally existed much longer than their folktale counterparts.
-Myths tend to rely more heavily on a religious nature based on a god or goddess point of morality; whereas, folktales tend to utilized a more secular root for their magic and superstitions.
-Though myths do vary from location to location, folktales change on a more radical level due to the fact that there is generally no agreed upon version of the story for a specific region; whereas, myths seem to have a regional constant and vary less and across a broader range (from region to region as opposed to town to town).

Myth Vs. Legend:

-Myths and Legends are passed through oratory
-Myths and Legends both promote hero like characters that outlive human capabilities.
-Myths and Legends both have certain elements of factual basis with certain characters and elements that may have actually existed.

Distinguishing factors:
-Myths are not accepted as historically accurate while quite often Legends find their roots in historical events.
-While myths can vary based on their point of origin or from whom they are being recalled, legends generally remain constant regardless of who is narrating the story

The Olympians: Myths, Legends, Or Folktales?

The stories about the Olympians can easily fall into at least two of the three categories; myths, legends, or folktales; however, they are most wisely placed as myths. The most strongly binding characteristic of the stories that ties them to the category known as mythology is the fact that they were used to explain to the common man the ways of the universe. Each of the Gods that make up the Greek Olympian league represent a different natural force. Poseidon for example is the God of the seas; while Demeter is the Goddess of the Harvest and natural growth. The stories also vary greatly from region to region throughout Greece, this characteristic is indicative of a style congruent with the definition of a Myth. The stories that were eventually recorded for future peoples and stored in libraries were initially orally communicated. These myths were passed from generation to generation across all of the Balkan peninsula and many other lands surrounding the Aegean Sea. Passing by oratory is very crucial element of somethings’ status as a myth vs. a legend or folklore. The old Greek myths can also be called such because of the fact that each Myth seems to focus on a particular person, deity, or hero. So because of the facts that the Greek stories were used to; explain phenomena, transmitted orally, spread over a large area, and focused on one hero or element seem to indicate that the Greek tales of old were myths as opposed to legends or folktales.

Retrieved on Sept. 9,2010

Retrieved on Sept. 13,2010