Odin Speaks: The Legend versus the Myth

Arf. I am Odin. When I speak, you listen, for I am all-knowing and wise.

OdinOnce again, I stumbled across a curious fact while reading some of my more unconventional fare (more specifically, while I was reading a couple books on Atlantis). Apparently, there is a distinction between a legend and a myth. Both are stories, of a sort. A Legend is based on some historical fact; it contains some kernel of truth; however, whatever truth it contains has been buried by an avalanche of distortion and historical debris that has been produced by the many intervening years between the telling of its story and the events that inspired it. A decent example of a Legend is the Legend of Atlantis, told by Plato. A number of the details of the story have been confirmed (specifically a handful of Athenian details), so it seems that some of the story is based on a truth that has been obscured by time.

In contrast to the Legend is the Myth. A myth is also a story concerning events from the deepest mists of time. However, a myth usually involves the activities of some supernatural force: like a hero, demigod, or god. They are heavily filled with symbols and interpretative meaning, but they were never intended to be taken as factual. For example, the Greek Myth of Phaethon’s disastrous attempt to drive the sun god Apollo’s chariot is an excellent example of a myth.

The skeptical lune lurking inside me, however, is not so sure that that distinction can be easily verified. Are we sure Phaethon’s chariot ride is just symbolic? It could (if we stretch the bounds of credulity) involve some half-alien hybrid who got a turn riding his father’s spaceship. That’s not likely, but it’s possible (that’s the problem with having a training in philosophy: just about anything goes—except contradictions—or, alternatively, nothing goes; it’s usually one or the other: Will the sun rise tomorrow? The scientist says, “Of course it will.” The philosopher says, “I don’t know.” It’s the difference between deductive logic, and inductive reasoning. Certainty and probability.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts for today. Woof.

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