Myths and Legends Galore! So what exactly is the distinction between a myth, a legend and an epic? Along with your definitions, please give some examples of each.
Dictionary.com defines a myth as "a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, esp. one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature" ("Myth"). A legend is "a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical ("Legend"). An epic is "... a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style ("Epic"). Examples of myths include the Greek myths of the gods like Zeus, Hera, Mercury, etc. An example of a legend would be the legend of Wyatt Earp, a gunfighter from the "Old West." An example of an epic is Beowulf.
In answer to Post no. 2 Thank you for your reply. Now can anyone tell me - do all three of these fit under the category of folklore tradition (first passed down orally only)? Could some relatively modern literary work such as 'Lord of the Rings' be considered a 'legend' of sorts as well? If so, at what point does a popular book pass over into the domain of 'folkore' or will it always be considered outside of this category (since it is first a literary work)? Who decides?
Yes, all three types mentioned in post number 1 fit under the oral tradition category. As far as whether or not a modern literary work could be considered a legend, the answer would be no. One key component of the oral tradition is the way the stories are handed over through time and another is that they are anonymous. Homer took anonymous stories that had been around for hundreds of years and recorded them. Modern works that have been written by an author would not fall into the oral tradition and, therefore, always be outside of this category. Think of urban legends. They are passed around by word of mouth, and they always have happened to someone's friend's cousin's girlfriend (pretty anonymous). Still, people believe that the urban legend happened or could happened.