Myth vs. Legend

By Jaxson

Main Difference

The main difference between Myth and Legend is that the Myth is a type of traditional narrative and Legend is a traditional story of heroic humans. (Use ‘Mythology’ – Q9134 – for stories of Gods and fantastic creatures)

  • Myth

    Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives or stories that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually gods, demigods or supernatural humans. Stories of everyday human beings, although often of leaders of some type, are usually contained in legends, as opposed to myths.

    Myths are often endorsed by rulers and priests or priestesses, and are closely linked to religion or spirituality. In fact, many societies group their myths, legends and history together, considering myths and legends to be true accounts of their remote past. In particular, creation myths take place in a primordial age when the world had not achieved its later form. Other myths explain how a society’s customs, institutions and taboos were established and sanctified. There is a complex relationship between recital of myths and enactment of rituals.

    The study of myth began in ancient history. Rival classes of the Greek myths by Euhemerus, Plato and Sallustius were developed by the Neoplatonists and later revived by Renaissance mythographers. Today, the study of myth continues in a wide variety of academic fields, including folklore studies, philology, psychology, and anthropology. The term mythology may either refer to the study of myths in general, or a body of myths regarding a particular subject. The academic comparisons of bodies of myth is known as comparative mythology.

    Since the term myth is widely used to imply that a story is not objectively true, the identification of a narrative as a myth can be highly political: many adherents of religions view their religion’s stories as true and therefore object to the stories being characterised as myths. Nevertheless, scholars now routinely speak of Christian mythology, Jewish mythology, Islamic mythology, Hindu mythology, and so forth. Traditionally, Western scholarship, with its Judaeo-Christian heritage, has viewed narratives in the Abrahamic religions as being the province of theology rather than mythology; meanwhile, identifying religious stories of colonised cultures, such as stories in Hinduism, as myths enabled Western scholars to imply that they were of lower truth-value than the stories of Christianity. Labelling all religious narratives as myths can be thought of as treating different traditions with parity.

  • Legend

    Legend is a genre of folklore that consists of a narrative featuring human actions perceived or believed both by teller and listeners to have taken place within human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human values, and possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants, includes no happenings that are outside the realm of “possibility,” but may include miracles. Legends may be transformed over time, in order to keep them fresh, vital, and realistic. Many legends operate within the realm of uncertainty, never being entirely believed by the participants, but also never being resolutely doubted.The Brothers Grimm defined legend as folktale historically grounded. A modern folklorist’s professional definition of legend was proposed by Timothy R. Tangherlini in 1990:

    Legend, typically, is a short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified historicized narrative performed in a conversational mode, reflecting on a psychological level a symbolic representation of folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.

  • Myth (noun)

    A traditional story which embodies a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the forces of nature and of the soul are personified; a sacred narrative regarding a god, a hero, the origin of the world or of a people, etc.

  • Myth (noun)

    Such stories as a genre.

    “Myth was the product of man’s emotion and imagination, acted upon by his surroundings. (E. Clodd, Myths & Dreams (1885), 7, cited after OED)”

  • Myth (noun)

    A commonly-held but false belief, a common misconception; a fictitious or imaginary person or thing; a popular conception about a real person or event which exaggerates or idealizes reality.

  • Myth (noun)

    A person or thing held in excessive or quasi-religious awe or admiration based on popular legend

    “Father Flanagan was legendary, his institution an American myth. (Tucson (Arizona) Citizen, 20 September 1979, 5A/3, cited after OED)”

  • Myth (noun)

    A person or thing existing only in imagination, or whose actual existence is not verifiable.

  • Legend (noun)

    A unrealistic story depicting past events.

  • Legend (noun)

    A story of unknown origin describing plausible but extraordinary past events.

    “The legend of Troy was discovered to have a historical basis.”

  • Legend (noun)

    A plausible story set in the historical past, but whose historicity is uncertain.

    “The legend of Robin Hood/the legend of Prester John/the legend of Coriolanus.”

  • Legend (noun)

    A story in which a kernel of truth is embellished to an unlikely degree.

    “The 1984 Rose Bowl prank has spawned many legends. Here’s the real story.”

  • Legend (noun)

    A person related to a legend or legends.

  • Legend (noun)

    A fabricated backstory for a spy, with associated documents and records; a cover story.

    “According to his legend, he once worked for the Red Cross, spreading humanitarian aid in Africa.”

  • Legend (noun)

    A leading protagonist in a historical legend.

    “Achilles is a legend in Greek culture.”

  • Legend (noun)

    A person with legend-like qualities, such as extraordinary accomplishment.

    “Michael Jordan stands as a legend in basketball.”

  • Legend (noun)

    A key to the symbols and color codes on a map, chart, etc.

    “According to the legend on the map, that building is a school.”

  • Legend (noun)

    An inscription, motto, or title, especially one surrounding the field in a medal or coin, or placed upon a heraldic shield or beneath an engraving or illustration.

  • Legend (verb)

    To tell or narrate; to recount.


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