Legend: Originally, a written account of the life of a saint; now, a story, often handed down through oral tradition, typically detailing the adventures of a human cultural hero but sometimes addressing the allegedly remarkable attributes of a place. Legends are distinguished from myths, traditional anonymous stories, originally religious in nature, told by a particular cultural group to explain a natural or cosmic phenomenon. Although a legend may exaggerate — perhaps even wildly — the exploits of its hero, it is likely to be grounded in historical fact and to rely less on the supernatural. Legends often grow up around figures such as national founders, outlaws, and warriors.
The term legend is also used in connection with urban legend, a type of contemporary folklore typically involving an apocryphal, often cautionary tale that varies locally and is frequently circulated on the Internet.
EXAMPLES: Ancient Greek legend has it that the sixth-century B.C. poet Sappho, who taught girls the arts on the island of Lesbos, threw herself into the sea due to unrequited love. Countless legends surround quasi-historical figures such as King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and Robin Hood, as well as clearly historical figures such as Rob Roy MacGregor, a seventeenth-century Scottish folk hero; George Washington, an American founding father and the country’s first president; Annie Oakley, a late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American sharpshooter; and Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara, a twentieth-century Latin-American Marxist revolutionary. Place-related legends include those surrounding the lost continent and city of Atlantis, the golden city of El Dorado, and the Bermuda Triangle.