What Is The Difference Between Myth, Legend And Fable
We often speak of myths, fables and legend, treating them as synonymous. Although both terms have a relationship and common elements they are in fact two different manifestations that serve to explain historical or religious aspects of a particular community or population. Want to know exactly what the difference is between myth, legend and fable? In OneHowTo.com we explain.
Myths, fables and legends are part of a community's oral tradition. They are narratives that serve to describe or explain specific episodes from one generation to the next, always stressing their cultural values.
However there is a difference between myth, legend and fable.
A legend is a folk tale created with elements of fiction based on a historical event, and which, over the years, has been enriched with fanciful features. It is often used to explain historical events or a community's defining moment.
A characteristic feature of a legend is that it is nourished over time through word of mouth, which is why the same legend can be altered in different populations as it adapts to the circumstances of each community. A legend usually also has a literary element, so you can purchase books detailing these stories.
A good and representative example is the legend of the Trojan horse.
By contrast, a myth is a narrative which also has elements of fantasy, usually starring supernatural and heroic characters, but instead of trying to narrate a historical event it seeks to explain the origin of the world, natural phenomena or certain religious rituals linked to the community or civilization in question.
Mythology groups together all myths of a given community or civilization. Among the most famous mythologies are those of Greek, Roman or Norse origin.
Among the most popular myths we can mention Pandora's box, which belongs in the Greek mythology; the myth of Excalibur, King Arthur's famous sword or the myth of creation of the Popol Vuh, which corresponds to Mayan civilisation.
A fable is usually a tale where animals are given human qualities and intended to give a moral or ethic lesson. Though fables are usually adressed to children, fables have been used since Ancient Grece to spread certain attitudes or lessons such as 'Aeosop's Fables'.
Some of the most well-known fables include the Tortoise and the Hare, the Jungle Book and the tales of Hitopadesha. There are also more recent fables such as George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Once you have defined each genre, the differences between myth and legend are:
- A legend is based on a historical event but over time has been enriched with elements of fantasy. A myth and a fable have no real or historical basis, being only a fantasy story.
- Legends intend to narrate a historic event, in a folklore like manner and extended by word of mouth. Myths meanwhile try to explain the origin of the world, explaining natural conditions or events that are beyond our understanding. Fables are explained to teach certain moral behaviours.
- The legend includes historical characters that really existed. The myth stars heroic fantasy characters, as does the fable.
- The legend may have a literary tradition, as do fables while myths, although they may be collected in a book, do not have a literary genre.
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