Admittedly, history is written and viewed from the perspective of famous historical legends and cultural heroes, known for achievements that inspire generations after generation. Conversely, when these biblical heroes and cultural champions are tested against hard historical evidence, they crumble instantly.
The list of historical heroes is lengthy and exhaustive to cover. However, certain historical legends have captured the imagination of future generations, centuries after their purported existence.
- Historical Legends: Robin Hood
The infamous historical legend Robin Hood allegedly believed in “We, the people” or “For the people, by the people”. As the legend is posited, Robin Hood stole from rich, aristocratic individuals of the society and gave the loot to underprivileged individuals of society.
Robin Hood is alleged to have dwelled in Sherwood Forest. His archery skills were fine-tuned to perfection, using it for charitable endeavors. He was dressed in green overalls and a Scottish hat. But, what is the historical evidence of Robin Hood, apart from big-screen adaptations and children’s tales?
The fact of the matter is that historians have painstakingly undertaken efforts to trace Robin Hood through the sands of time. Their Indiana Jones-esque adventures have brought them to a dead-end in actuality.
No historian has yet been able to pinpoint the existence of Robin Hood, Frair Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlet and Maid Marian in contemporary history, which puts him in 14th-15th century. He has appeared in broad range of ballads and poems dating back to this time-period.
The contradictory accounts propose Robin Hood to be the following of these:
- A peasant-turned bandit having a huge detestation for Sheriff of Nottingham
- Supporter of King Richard
- Adherent of Knights Templar
- Earl of Huntingdon turned outlaw
Lost through the annals of time, Robin Hood sounds a-la a feel-good mythical legend. He is one of the most popular historical legends among children.
- William Tell: Non-existent Historical Legend
A famous 13th century character, supposedly have shot an apple over a child’s head successfully. The character hails from Switzerland, where the common populace has swallowed the legend since childhood.
During 13th century, when Switzerland was occupied by Austria, an Austrian official named Albrecht Gessler ordered the citizens of Village Uri to kneel under his command. William Tell stands up in defiance against him. As a punishment, he orders him to shoot an apple kept over his son’s head. If he failed to strike the apple at first attempt, they would both be subjected to death. He was to stand 120-paces far from his target.
Succeeding in his first attempt to shoot the apple with his first arrow, William Tell told Gessler that if his arrow had hit his child, he would have shot the second arrow to Gessler’s crotch region. Gessler was furious and imprisoned William Tell in a dungeon. But William Tell escaped miraculously and went on to kill Gessler
William Tell eventually inspired the entire nation, culminating into formation of independent Switzerland (phew).
Historians mutually agree that neither William Tell nor Gessler ever existed. In actually, this mythical tale is plagiarized from a 10th century Viking Toko. The Viking Toko was instructed to shoot an apple over his child’s head when he was running downhill. The problem was that Toko was stoned for bulk of his existence.
The first written historical evidence about William Tell appears in 1568, exactly 250-years after the events aforementioned. The alleged events of William Tell occurred in 1307, resulting in laying siege to Austrian castles and ousting Austrians from their homeland. In reality, these castles had been destroyed decades before this incident.
However, a huge chunk of population (60%) still believes in existence of this historical legend William Tell, whereas his insignia is still present on Swiss export products. In conclusion, historical legends such as Moses, Jesus and William Tell merely exist to inspire humans to exceed their limits and break invisible chains.
- Carolyn Keene
An author so famous with the teenage demographic, she has sold over 100-million copies of her crime-fighting genre single-handedly. Actually, children/ kids all across the world may have started reading fiction genre, all thanks to cheap paperbacks released under by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew) and Franklin Dixon (Hardy Boys).
With over 300 cheap paperbacks under her belt, Carolyn Keene was a teenage Sherlock Holmes detective, solving out tame mysteries with deduction and trial-and-error. The prolific author was profiled by magazines and even invited to attend Authors Guild.
If Carolyn Keene had existed in actuality, she would be 100-years old by now. In certainty, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys teenage thrillers were all products of Edward Stratemeyer publications. These novels were written by swarm of ghostwriters, with each new release appearing on a weekly basis.
How could Franklin Dixon/ Carolyn Keene write new novels each week?
The Stratemeyer Company ran into business difficulties when ghostwriters started to demand credit for their publications. Stratemeyer embarked on a threatening spree.
- In 1930, Walter Karig demanded credit for authoring 3-Nancy Drew books. Stratemeyer Syndicate denied claims of his existence entirely.
- Earlier publications were penned by Mildred Wirt Benson who had signed NDA agreement, which didn’t mention television adaptations. She demanded recognition when a televised series was launched in the 1970s, resulting in Stratemeyer threatening to sue her.
Due to the controversy surrounding Stratemeyer Syndicate, they finally admitted that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym for Harriet Stratemeyer all along, which stirred a lawsuit where Mildred testified authoring many of Nancy Drew publications. Thus, the reign of these ghostwriters eventually came to an end. Do they constitute as historical legends?
- Cowboys: Inspiring Western Classics
Since our childhood, cowboys have been depicted in cartoons such as Bugs Bunny by Warner’s Bros and Tom and Jerry. In addition to that, cult classic Wild West Hollywood blockbusters have stamped cowboys as actual living entities.
Cowboys have become a pivotal ingredient of American culture; it could be its defining traits. Cowboys are tall, facing danger 24/7, against odds with barren lands and treeless plains, bringing criminals to justice sometimes, at other times, they had flimsy moral values. As a result, cowboys became a cultural legend, symbolizing American West as a folk-hero. Clint Eastwood may have popularized the cowboy fandom to biblical heights, seemingly fearless and highly skilled with a gun.
The myth of cowboys has its humble origins in Texas. Cattle thrived in this environment with no outlaws or enemies bounty-hunting. After civil war, there were approximately 5-million cowboys, their reign extending from 1866-1886.
In essence, cowboys were just ordinary men far from normative dwelling, working with cattle in treeless, barren lands. One-fourth of these men were blacks. These were courageous men, spirited horsemen, tasked with moving cattle for long, arduous distance (1000-2000 miles) to main markets amid hot weather, stampedes, drought, lighting and cloudbursts, robbers and rattlesnakes whilst napping in a hostile terrain, the cowboys eventually surpassed strength of most canonical heroes.
The actual cowboys are far dull from their portrayal in popular culture. It is difficult to distinguish legend from reality. Cowboys exist but for different purposes entirely. In actuality, cowboys are simply found doing menial farming work which doesn’t exactly sounds so glamorous. They simply work with cattle and understand animals as their predecessors did.
A subject of fierce debate is pinpointing the existence of Homer, the author of Odyssey and Iliad. The debate is two-fold where one camp argues about his existence, whereas other camp argues about the strength of historicity.
According to Greek scholars, the author of epic poems is placed around 850 B.C, whereas another segment places him in 1102 B.C. The modern scholarly camp doubts both accounts of existence. According to Plato, Homer was leader of Greek culture. It is highly improbable that he was the author of both Odyssey and Iliad.
According to records, Homer was a blind individual hailing from an island called Chios. It is asserted with assurance that the poems of Homer were penned by multiple authors. Since they were standardized at a later date, it puts the existence of Homer in jeopardy.
For thousands of years, his poems have been appreciated in western culture. The poems have been shaped by multiple authors during various time-periods. The scholars indicate the marked/ dramatic changes of wording and pace from one stanza to another. Furthermore, the Greek language used by Homer is misplaced for the written Greek of his time. To this day, Homer remains one of the most influential historical legends of all time.
- King Arthur: Almost Existed
The legendary emperor of Britain King Arthur is alleged to have protected the kingdom in the early 6th century against the Saxons. More so, he was assisted by the Knights of Round Table. This is the complete myth understood. Also, his lack of existence is just as alarming for historians.
King Arthur has been distorted and twisted through the annals of time, penned by multiple authors. The first mention is found in publication written during 830 by Nennius. However, King Arthur fought against Anglo-Saxons and maintained the peace of Britain during 5th century.
The focal interest of mythical literature now called Matter of Britain, King Arthur is either portrayed as a brave warrior fending off enemies against Britain, or in other case, he is shown to be fighting of Merlin, the evil magician.
As per the legend, his empire comprised of Ireland, Iceland, France, and of course, Britain. Helping along was Sir Lancelot in protecting the realm of King Arthur.
The mythical character is helped along with his mythical wife named Guinevere, his father named Uther Pendragon, the magician Merlin and lastly a magical sword called Excalibur, the holder of which was the rightful king of United Kingdom.
Even though, historians are conflicted regarding the historical exactitude of King Arthur, there is still no concrete consensus between opponents and proponents. It could be reasonably assumed that King Arthur was a figment of medieval imagination.
As far as Arthur is concerned, it is possible for medieval people to attach legends to an ordinary man named Arthur making him amongst the most inspirational historical legends for future generations.
They seem all fine and dandy on paper, but that’s what their original motive was, to inspire commoners. To that end, these historical legends have accomplished their primary purpose.