Myths are just myths, right?
We love stories and sharing them with each other. Myths are stories that have survived the test of time – being passed down over hundreds of years by word of mouth around campfire for entertainment, or through generations as family tradition.
The origins of many myths are forgotten over time even as the mythology itself persists, but not all stories’ beginnings have been lost or forgotten.
Some stories have bases in real life events, even if the surviving myths have ended up wildly different from their humble origins.
We’ve got a few fun facts to share on the origins of some of the mythology stories you know and love.
The Lost City of Atlantis
We’ve all heard of the lost city of Atlantis and wondered where it was, where it went, and whether or not it was ever there at all.
The Atlantis myth originated around 360 B.C. from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who wrote of a highly advanced utopian civilization created by beings which were half god and half human. Plato said Atlantis existed 9,000 years before his time and was structurally made up of concentric islands separated by wide moats and linked to a canal that penetrated all the way to the center.
The islands were said to be bountiful and had gold, silver, and other precious metals along with tons of rare and exotic wildlife. There was a stunning capital city on the central island and they were known as a great naval force.
Atlantis was then cataclysmic ally annihilated after the citizens became greedy, petty, and immoral, which made the gods angry – they sent down fire and earthquakes to sink Atlantis into the sea as punishment.
We’ve been wondering where in the world Atlantis used to be located (if real) ever since. Some have placed Atlantis in the Mediterranean, some say it was lost in the Bermuda Triangle, others say it was off the coast of Spain, and some even say it is or it is under Antarctica. Honestly, all the places in the world have been suspected to be hiding the remnants of what was once Atlantis at one point or another.
While few, if any, scientists believe in the actual existence of Atlantis, the myth is not entirely illogical – there have been devastating volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes throughout earth’s history. Perhaps a natural disaster happened to wipe out Atlantis and left no trace.
The Myth of the Mermaids
Imagine: sea-weary sailors with tired eyes falling in love with enchanting women (who are also half fish) with voices so beautiful men would jump overboard or crash their ships into rocks.
The mermaid appears throughout storytelling history as Babylonian god Oannes, the ancient Greek Odyssey’s infamous sirens, Hans Christian Andersen’s or the Disney adaptation’s The Little Mermaid, and more.
There are oodles of myths telling stories of mermaids, sirens, and similar creatures wreaking havoc on lovelorn men that are easy to dismiss as fictional, but what of the people who claim to have really seen a mermaid while out at sea? Christopher Columbus in 1492 had a mermaid sighting at sea, and people today still have their mermaid sighting stories.
Turns out, there really is something to the mermaid myth – the sailors weren’t hallucinating mermaids, but they were distorting the image of what they really were seeing.
There’s an explanation that what sailors were really seeing lounging around on the rocks were manatees. Think about it: the humble sea cow is a mammal, has a tail, is frequently found sunning itself on rocks near the ocean or swimming around, and at a certain angle could plausibly appear to be a curvaceous woman – especially if you’re chronically deprived of sleep, entertainment, and female company.
If you have eyesight as poor as mine and you’ve been staring at nothing but ocean, sky, and blue for weeks on end, can you guarantee you wouldn’t mistake a manatee for a vaguely mermaid-shaped blob yourself? The scientific name for the manatee is even Sirenia, reminiscent of the mermaids of myth.
The more you know.
The Truth Behind Vampires
Vampires, like mermaids, have been part of our world’s mythology ever since stories started being told. There’s something about a lurking, blood-sucking, semi-immortal being of darkness that freaks us out, and we love telling scary stories.
Vampires have had many different incarnations and characteristics over the years. Some turn into bats, some into wolves, some are seductive or hypnotic and can put their victims in a thrall, some of their bites cause pleasure while others cause pain, and they almost always have fangs (some retractable, some not).
Some vampires are repelled by garlic, some burned by silver, some can’t enter unless invited, some can’t interact with anything religious or hallowed at all (crosses, churches, blessed objects, holy water). Some don’t show up in mirrors or cameras, and some don’t have a shadow. Some vamps are killed by stakes to the heart, and others must be decapitated. Some are burned by sunlight, some are weakened, and some die. Some sparkle.
One thing stays the same among vampires – they drink blood.
Many of the storied characteristics behind vampires largely stem from epidemic contagious sicknesses that decimated populations way back when. Think of the plague in the Middle Ages: the disease commonly left behind contagious bleeding mouth lesions on those affected – you can imagine how the sight would conjure the thought of a vampire.
Another disease linked to vampirism is porphyria. Porphyria is a blood disorder that can cause severe blisters on any skin that’s exposed to sunlight, which would’ve contributed to the afraid of or harmed by sunlight part of vampire mythology.
Rabies and other contagious diseases played a role too. Anything that could be transferred through the blood or saliva (biting). Rabies is terrifying and makes the afflicted basically go mad – that could easily be retold as evil in a story. There are also people who self-identify as vampires and occasionally or even regularly consume blood. Weird.
The Lotus Eaters of the Odyssey
Take a look back to the episode of The Odyssey in which winds are accidentally released that blow the ship off course to a strange island of the lotus eaters. Eating the lotus plants makes the sailors forget about their journey to return home – all they want to do is stay on the island and continue to eat the lotus.
Some say the “lotus” is representing strong wine or opium, but others say it’s the plant Diospyros lotus, a fruit of which the name translates as fruit of the gods. The fruits are round and yellow with succulent flesh that people say tastes like a cross between a date and a plum. However, the main contenders for the storied lotus are the Ziziphus lotus, a jujube that has been reported to have psychoactive properties, and the blue variety of water lily (Nymphaea caerulea) along the Nile which is known as a narcotic that induces a state of peaceful apathy.
There are other tales of adventurers who get delayed on (or even fail) their quests because of temptations and eating things they should not eat. The idea of the myth persists.
The Real Cyclops
Another myth with roots in The Odyssey, a cyclops is typically depicted as a giant, irritable, one-eyed creature that stomps or throws rocks when angered – Polyphemus is the man-eating giant in particular.
In Greek mythology, the cyclopes were either sons of Uranus and Gaia and brothers of the Titans, or they were sons of Poseidon (like Polyphemus). The cyclopes were builders, blacksmiths, and craftsmen, or herdsmen and shepherds respectively.
Get this: cyclopes are real. Unfortunately, the stories of real cyclopes are far more tragic than in the stories. Cyclopia is a real disorder babies can be born with in which the eyes fail to separate into two different eye holes, leaving one eye in the middle of the head. The disorder also causes brain complications, nose issues, and respiratory problems and very few born with cyclopia survive.
The myths of cyclopes probably developed in part from those one-eyed babies – the large size later being added on to make the “monster” more terrifying. Inspiration may have been taken from large bones found through discovery by storytellers.
The Scoop Behind Where 5 Mythology Stories Started
From long-lost cities to blood-sucking beasts, the original stories behind many myths have evolved past their initial inspirations and become an enduring part of storytelling traditions across the world.
Even now, our myths and stories are constantly evolving as we retell them again and again.