arthur

Legend

Legend – A legend is a folk tale based upon a historical incident. Legends are not fantastic, but they may stretch the limits of our understanding of history. Tales of miracle-workers are legends, for example, as is the improbable career of King Arthur. Tangherlini defines a legend as:

A short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified historicized narrative performed in a conversational mode, reflecting on a psychological level a symbolic representation of folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.

Legends transform over time, progressing from real historical accounts into anecdotes and then into the realm of the quasi-fantastic. They accrue allegorical meanings as time progresses, so that a decent ruler (Arturo, a Roman duke in south England after the retreat of the legions) becomes a divinely appointed savior character (Arthur, celebrated by every French and German troubadour of the Middle Ages.

This transformation is natural, helping to keep the legend fresh. This transformation also differentiates legend from the stricter genres of history, anecdote, and biography, on the one hand, and from the looser genres of fable, parable, and fairy tale. All of these genres may rely upon folk tales for their construction—even today, historians and anthropologists often search out folk accounts of various historical episodes. But the legend, of these forms, most closely shows the transformation of the real into the symbolic—the simply repeated story (anecdote) into the myth.

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