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Difference between Myth and legend/definition/characteristics

Myth and legend

Myths are stories about supernatural beings, such as gods or monsters, that serve to explain certain events or phenomena. Difference between Myth and legend

Legends, on the other hand, are stories of wonderful or imaginary events framed in a certain historical moment . Although they are used synonymously, they are not always interchangeable.

The legend and the myth, however, have certain similarities: both have passed from generation to generation through oral or written transmission, both are stories that seek to explain an event or phenomenon that is enigmatic or mysterious.

What are myths?

Myths make up the belief system or worldview of a people or culture , since the beliefs with which it has traditionally explained to itself the origin and reason of all things are poured into them. For this reason they are located outside of historical time.

Taken together, myths make up mythologies. Hence, there are different mythologies for each culture. There is Greco-Roman, Norse, Aztec, Mayan, Inca or Chinese mythology, among many others.

In Greek mythology, for example, the world began with a deep void called Chaos. Earth (Gaia) spontaneously emerged from Chaos and gave birth to heaven (Uranus). From there began the so-called “era of the gods”, in which the first deities are created, which are the ones that initiate civilization.

For its part, in Mayan mythology there is a series of stories and myths compiled in the Popol Vuh , a book that is considered sacred in that culture. There the emergence of the first gods is described, the creation of the first men of wood, then of clay and finally of corn, who are the ones that begin to reproduce and populate the world.

Characteristics of myths

Myths have their own characteristics that differentiate them from other types of stories:

  • It is a story of traditional origin: they are transmitted orally from one generation to another.
  • They have a foundational context : the stories and stories that make up a myth are located in a time prior to the presence of humanity.
  • They have a religious or spiritual charge (worship of gods, natural phenomena).
  • They are the fruit of imagination and creativity .
  • They address universal themes: the creation of the universe and humanity, human conflicts, love, violence, mourning, wars, etc. Difference between Myth and legend

Types of myths

Myths can be classified according to their thematic axes:

  • Cosmogenic myths : they are those that explain the origin of the universe, such as the origin of Gea, the Earth, in Greek mythology.
  • Theogonic myths : they explain the origin of the gods. In the Theogony of Hesiod the origin of the first generation of Greek gods is related,
  • Anthropogonic myths : they explain the origin of humanity, like the stories of the first corn men and women, in the Popol Vuh .
  • Foundational myths : describe the creation of towns or cities at the hands of a higher entity. In Roman mythology, Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, two twin brothers sons of a god (Mars) and a princess (Rhea).
  • Moral myths : they represent the struggle of good and evil, or contrary concepts.
  • Etiological myths : they explain the origin of plants and animals.
  • Eschatological myths : they announce the end of the world, generally through natural catastrophes that will end civilization, such as the Apocalypse, in the Bible. Difference between Myth and legend

What are legends? Difference between Myth and legend

Legends, on the other hand, are also stories that can include fantastic or wonderful elements , but they usually have a certain more or less recognizable historical basis, which, unlike myth, gives it a certain credibility. A classic example of legend is the Robin Hood stories .

Nowadays, in addition, there is urban legend, it is based on popular knowledge topics about whose reasons or motives are speculated. Urban legends would be that of the Walt Disney freeze or the investigation into extraterrestrial lives in Area 51, in the United States.

Legends features

  • They help to explain what is difficult to understand for a social group, but has at least one real feature or element.
  • They take place in an easily recognizable context , space or time.
  • They can be composed of a series of stories that revolve around the same character or event , as is the case with all the stories about the Cid Campeador or Robin Hood .

Types of legends Difference between Myth and legend

Historical legends

They explain events that occurred during warlike conflicts, such as wars or processes of conquest. In Spain, there is a legend of a nobleman called Guzmán el Bueno, who let the Moroccan invaders assassinate his son in order not to hand over the castle that they had entrusted him to defend. This made him worthy of the dominion of Sanlúcar by King Sancho IV, as a show of loyalty. Difference between Myth and legend

Urban legends

They are part of contemporary folklore and generally take place in a city context. Social networks have contributed to feeding or creating new legends of this type, since they are means in which information is shared very quickly.

In the United States there is an urban legend about an arcade game called Polybius, which supposedly existed in the eighties and left physical consequences for those who played it. With the massification of the internet and the culture of video games, the legend has regained strength in recent years and attempts have been made to recreate a similar game.

Local legends Difference between Myth and legend

They are those that try to explain events in a very specific place, such as the origin of the name of a street.

In Caracas, Venezuela, there is a corner called “El muerto”, which according to legend owes its name to a curious anecdote: during the Federal War (1859-1863), soldiers badly wounded and killed in combat piled up in the streets. One day, a gang in charge of taking the corpses passed by and one of the soldiers, who was believed dead, got up screaming that he was alive.

This caused the gang to run off in horror. Since then, the corner has been renamed “The Dead.

Rural legends

They are narratives that take place in a rural context, and since they are so specific they cannot be transferred to an urban context. In many parts of Latin America there are legends about goblins, fantastic animals or entities that terrorize the inhabitants, eat or steal livestock or take children away. Difference between Myth and legend

Etiological legends Difference between Myth and legend

They are stories about the origin of elements of nature, such as animals, plants, rivers, etc.

In Mexico, there is a legend about a sorceress who lived in what is now Baja California and who had killed almost all the indigenous people in the area. One of the members of the last family left alive managed to enter the cave and kill the sorceress. Then they set the place on fire, and from the ashes the Cerro Prieto volcano was formed.

Religious legends

They explain anecdotes related to saints or religious figures, or stories about the righteous and sinners.

The legend about the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico or the Virgin of Chiquinquirá in Venezuela, are part of the religious legends.

Eschatological legends

They are catastrophic stories about the end of the world or about paranormal events.

In Latin America there are many accounts of chance encounters with people who turned out to be dead. Even traditionally rural stories such as La llorona have been moved to an urban context.

Key Differences Difference between Myth and legend

Below we explain in more detail what is the myth and what the legend.

Myth Legend
Definition Stories of events or fantastic characters to explain an aspect of reality in a symbolic way. Fantastic characters or event stories to explain an event with a real context.
Chronology of the stories Before the appearance of humanity. Specific time and space.
Characters Fictional, symbolic. Real or based on real characters.
Origin of history Metaphysical. The gods transmit history to humanity. Testimonies of people transmitted orally.
Types
  • Cosmogenic myths.
  • Theogonic myths.
  • Anthropogonic myths
  • Foundational myths.
  • Moral myths.
  • Etiological myths.
  • Eschatological myths.
  • Historical legends.
  • Urban legends.
  • Rural legends.
  • Local legends.
  • Etiological legends.
  • Religious legends.
  • Eschatological legends.

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