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I have a world where the average lifespan of 90% of the population is 120-150 years old and history is almost solely maintained in writing (so there are not really many visual recordings of past events).

Learning history is not particularly important for the vast majority of people either and there is no uniform way history is taught to children (if it's taught at all), only an elite few really study and/or maintain historical records. However, some of these elite few, the spiritual leaders of the world, do share history and historical lessons to the masses.

Given these parameters, is it safe to assume that a specific event happening around 1000 years ago could be considered "legend" or "lore" in the sense that even though people may be familiar with the story, the details are fuzzy and some don't even really think it happened (or perhaps think it's just a parable)?

I guess this would partially depend on the scope of the event, so let's say that it's a worldwide natural disaster, a flood that reshaped the continents in a matter of 2 days. 1000 years later, people know of the story of the flood and that's how the continents came to be how they are now because it's told by the spiritual leaders... but most people don't really believe that a 2 day worldwide flood really happened, as that seems impossible. Surely it's a parable or an exaggeration of what really happened.

Hopefully that example helps.

Edit: A couple of the answers made me realize that giving information on birth rates in this fictious place would help with answering the question.

To answer this:

People in this world tend to have children between the age of 30 and 50, mostly because women can strictly control when they conceive and men can control the gender, given this, there's no accidental births (or it's really rare) and so people tend to only have children when they've settled down and know they can take care of them (afford it) and don't tend to have that many children in general (although exceptions exist of course).

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    $\begingroup$ Noah's flood probably was some localized event affecting ~1% of earth's population at that time, but now legend has it to be global; (although 'legend' is problematic here: the fact that it is now so widely known has to do with the written tradition, which is anathema for true legend) - if its just about 'when does oral tradition become murky', you'll have to define how murky - my father and i got into an argument about a vacation we had 35 years ago, and when we finally found the receipts, it turned out we were both wrong :-D ... i.e. that got murky without even being orally transmitted... $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Feb 23 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ In Bolivia, where Che Guevara was murdered, he is revered as a kind of saint. There are records of this at least since 1997, 30 years after his death. $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ It seems to me, from the answers I'm receiving, the general consensus is "it can be if you want it to be" depending on the surrounding factors I put in place in addition to the ones I laid out in the original question. $\endgroup$
    – Olandir
    Feb 23 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Olandir you are talking time and generations.. but a proper answer to this question is very much dependent on culture, and whether you have autocratic government. When true history gets obfuscated for some reason and your world has a lot of story tellers, you'll get more legends.. and younger legends.. irrespective of age. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 23 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ You're way overthinking this. Googling the definition of legend ("a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.") would immediately answer your question. The stuff about age, gender, reproduction is completely irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Feb 23 at 19:50

12 Answers 12

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Yes, depending on the circumstances

The actual number that's important here is not lifespan, but rather the time period for a generation. Legends only happen with the retelling of information from one generation to another, thus the story goes from "Great King" to "Amazing King My Dad Told Me About Who's Much Better Than This One" to "Awesome King My Dad Told Me His Dad Told Him About Who Would Never Have Lost To Whoever Conquered Us" to "We Culturally Appropriated This King That All The Peasants Won't Shut Up About And He's Ours Now". You see? It has to do with the transfer of information.

The time period for a generation is given to be 25 years. In your species, it might be higher - or not, depending on the physiology. If the women have the same fertility period as humans, it will be the same, despite the advanced lifespan. If they can still have children well into, say, their 70s, then the generation will increase, perhaps to 45. If they don't start being capable of childbirth until, say, 40, than the generation significantly increases - maybe to 60. Now, take whatever number you end up with and divided the 1000 by that. That gives you the number of generations.

Next, there's one other factor - the transfer of information. Legends happen when information is loosely transferred (i.e. through song, play) rather than strictly transferred (i.e. 4k video saved onto multiple hard drives). So, if you have a sufficient number of generations, a loose method for telling stories over prone to exaggeration, and/or a highly superstitious population that believes in demigods, you have a simple siege turn into an epic of legendary proportions in a mere 800 years! (Trojan War: 1300 BCE. Illiad and Odyssey: 500 BCE)

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    $\begingroup$ Positing 150a lifespan and 20a generations: Kid:10a, parents:30a, grandparents:50a, great-grandparents: 70a, g-g-grandparents:90a, g-g-g-grandparents: 120a, Why would the great-great-great-grandparents not be telling the current kids stuff from their distant childhood? why do you think it is always just the next generation? $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Feb 23 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ Even today, culture is influenced by what grandmothers tell their grandchildren. The grandmothers of today remember what their grandmothers told them. So, our culture is influenced by events 150+ years ago. (That is why the Civil War is popular.) In your world, it is likely that culture would be influenced by events 300+ years ago. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Feb 23 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ I edited the question to add birth rates. i didn't realize the importance until reading some of the answers. $\endgroup$
    – Olandir
    Feb 23 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ Re: "Trojan War: 13 BCE. Illiad and Odyssey: 5 BCE": I think you're missing a few digits here? (13 BCE and 5 BCE are only eight years apart, and both are several hundred years after the Iliad and Odyssey are thought to have been written.) $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Feb 24 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ To be precise: The Trojan War is traditionally dated to the 12-13th centuries BCE (depending on who you ask); the Illiad and Odyssey are believed to have been written ca. the 8th century BCE. This represents a time period of 400-500 years, and is clearly more than enough time for fact to fade into myth. For a more recent example, consider Robin Hood - there are several plausible candidates for a historical Robin Hood in the mid-1200s CE, and the first stories about the character start to appear a mere two centuries later. $\endgroup$ Feb 24 at 11:28
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The 'mythologizing' of people and events is less a function of time than of the loss of information. People and events become mythological when two things happen:

  • Small humanizing details are lost to memory. Things like specific facial features, mannerisms, hair color are forgotten; accounts of idle conversations, minor activities, and everyday life events are dropped as lacking meaning.
  • Specific 'important' qualities are magnified, reified, or even replaced with idealized conceptions. Thus a person might be conveyed as excessively beautiful, strong, or austere; an event might be described with grandiose or mystical terms.

The process of mythologizing means replacing real-world things with archetypal representations. It's a bit like that old-time movie technique of smearing vaseline on the camera lens: small flaws and peculiarities are obscured, and the people being filmed take on a glossy, etherial glow.

In regions with low literacy and largely oral transmission of information, mythologizing can occur quite quickly. Both Christ and Buddha took on mythological characteristics within two or three hundred years of their lives. In more technological, literate eras the process of creating a myth becomes far more difficult, because too many of the all-too-human details of a given person can be culturally retained. There are structured efforts to create myths in the modern world — that's the essence of propaganda, which strictly controls available information to paint a person, thing, or event in a glowingly flattering light — but as often as not that effort ends up in demonization. For the obvious example, Hitler tried to coerce the world into viewing him as an archetype of the perfect race and ended up as an archetype of pure evil. But in any case, a thousand years is more than enough time to create a mythology, assuming relatively low technology and literacy. The Arthurian legends coalesced in a time-scale that was only slightly longer than that.

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    $\begingroup$ mythologizing occurs in real time even now for anything contentious, look at the case of Rittenhouse, despite video evidence of the events being freely available there are already 2 competing myths about what happened that day and about his thoughts and motivations $\endgroup$
    – mgh42
    Feb 24 at 1:33
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I say no on any meaningful scale, let me tell you why. I hope you don't mind I will use rulers in place of events, as the book keeping is bit more consistent, but I think it would apply to events as well.

The first historical ruler of Bohemia was Bořivoj (about 852-890 A.D.) the first. He is a historical figure, with several period texts mentioning him. His father on the other hand is legendary, not because he accomplished great deeds, but because frankly we are not certain who it was. Often a name Hostivit(?-870?) appears, but it is mentioned by one chronicler who combined legends with history, and some frescas, which include other legendary characters. From this example 1,152 years was enough for someone to pass into legends.

On the other hand if we look to ancient Mecedonia (Alexander the Great lineage), we can get to Amyntas the first of Macedon who ruled between 547 – 512 / 511 BC. Herodotus names five other kings who came before him, but there are no other historical references[1] to them, are by all accounts they are legendary. Sooo thats 2569 years for someone to become a legend.

Then again if we look in the direction Who is the oldest historically confirmed ruler? Apparently there is some debate, but since here we at least know name I will write

Me (or Ishib)-baragesi of Kish, Akka-Inannaka of Umma and a certain HAR.TU (exact pronunciation unknown) of the city of PA.GAR (modern Tell Agrab). They probably ruled around 2700-2600 B.C.E."[2]

To me this implies that all rulers we know about and came before them are by definition legendary. I say this gives us an upper bound of 4722 year for someone to be legend.

But what is the lower bound? I honestly cannot find a definite answer. Both Poland and Denmark seems to place the last semi historical ruler somewhere around 900AD and since this coincides with Christianization an proper record keeping. This would put our lower bound at 1122 let. We could cheat a little and say that since we know next to nothing about Aztecs prior to about 1400 we could argue for 622 years, but here we are cheating a bit and it doesnt matter anyway.

If we say that the life expectancy of your people is 2-3times higher then ours, and a rate of legendification to stay the same. Then we would expect the earliest legends to occur sometime around 1244 - 1866 years back, but rally more like 2000 - 3000 year back.

This really got away from me, I will stop now

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm going to be perfectly honestl. I only understood this in part, but I do appreciate the time it must have taken for you to expond upon the topic $\endgroup$
    – Olandir
    Feb 23 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ He's basically saying the same thing as @TedWrigley. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Feb 23 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ Amyntas was the first non-legendary macedonian ruler for a long time, so measuring from now doesn't provide any time bound in either direction. The question to ask would be "since when were his predecessors considered legendary"? $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ I would think that Scorpion I would be the oldest confirmed ruler - he was the first Pharaoh of Egypt (or some part thereof) that we have contemporary evidence for (including his tomb), and he lived somewhere in the ballpark of 3250 BCE. We certainly don't know much about him, but he existed. Whether that counts as legend or not, I couldn't say. Or you could look at Narmer, about 100 years later, who is much better attested. $\endgroup$
    – Bobson
    Feb 23 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ Ugh, about that lower bound... Even in the relatively well-documented Europe we have plenty of legendary (or at least, semi-legendary) pseudo-historical figures much more recent than 1122 years. For example, the foundation of Wallachia (one of the principalities which eventually united to form modern Romania) is attributed to the semi-legendary Radu Negru, around 1290. In Germany, the poet Tannhäuser who lived in the 13th century became a fully legendary figure, complete with lore, as early as th 16th. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 23 at 22:27
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It can be as short as 200 years with no issue. Take, for example, John Henry and Paul Bunyan. Their time-frame goes back to the late 1800s, but the tales of their feats are absolutely considered legend. Once the adults who were present have died, unless there is excellent recording of a person's life, as with the founding fathers, or with leaders like presidents or kings, their stories can be handed down and distorted fairly quickly to aggrandize their feats.

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There are people today who think that the Moon landings did not happen, despite overwhelming evidence that they did. So the standard "some people" is problematic.

In one part of my family tree, I can reliably trace four generations. For the fifth generation, there is the name and date of birth, but other details are fuzzy. Another part of my family tree can be traced back well into the 16th century. The key to that were low-level "spiritual leaders" -- Lutheran pastors in the family tree who recorded not just the bare minimum dates (baptisms, weddings, burials) in the church books, but added additional detail on their family that helped to navigate musty records. My family tree is important to me, but not on the global scale. So this provides a lower bound on the ability of a literate society to preserve minor details.

So it would be a culture clash between those who believe something to be historical fact, and those who consider it myth.

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Curiously, I just used the following example in another answer

What's a legend? Rod Serling, famous for the introduction to the old TV show "The Twilight Zone," is known around the world for saying the words, "Imagine, if you will..."

Just one problem, he never said it. And the last episode of that original series aired in 1964, just 57 years ago — a far cry from your 1,000 year limit.

As several have said already, legends occur because information is lost — or not checked frequently enough to keep the perception of history pure.

Robin Hood... King Arthur... George Washington cutting down a cherry tree and uttering the words, "I cannot tell a lie..." It's not that hard for something true to be misrepresented or false to be propagated.

So, can you do it with a 1,000 year block?

Yes

All you need is for the living memory of the event to be spread too thin in the population. After that, the youngsters will begin telling those who witnessed the event that they don't know what they're talking about because the popular perception has more believers than those who know the truth.

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    $\begingroup$ As implied by this answer, conversion to "legend" status will also be helped a lot with popular fictionalised accounts - there are already some people who are surprised to learn that the film Titanic was based on a real event. For events of a similar era where scant "hard evidence" is available, the popular fictionalised account may be the only widespread re-telling that remains, and perhaps importantly, the details added into the fictionalised account for dramatic effect will be given equal status to the "real facts" by later generations who know neither before seeing the work. $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Feb 24 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Steve You are absolutely correct. Consider Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Putin's speech made reference to historical claims that caused historians to howl - but he knows (just as most world leaders know) that if you promote a fiction long enough, so long as it's an enjoyable fiction, it eventually supplants the truth. Unless the OP's 150-year-old people have fantastic memories, they'll start believing the fiction as they forget the past. If you think about it, how easy is it to embellish the memories of your own past? Answer: really easy. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 24 at 16:33
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Myths and Legends can be created in real time even in the modern world where the internet allows factual video evidence of events to be available to anyone. For real world examples you can look at holocaust denial, moon landing conspiracies or even flat earth, biblical creationism.

Depending on who you ask you will get two very different stories about Kyle Rittenhouse, even though there was videos of the events in Kenosha uploaded in real time as people are often too lazy to find the evidence and will just repeat what they were told about an event

If enough people, and particularly those responsible for teaching children, decide that they like an alternative version of the facts then that will become the default truth and the real facts will be relegated to historians futilely telling people that they are wrong

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A legend is

a non historical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical (Dictionary.com).

or

very old and popular story that may be true (Collins)

or

a very old story or set of stories from ancient times, or the stories, not always true, that people tell about a famous event or person (Cambridge).

So any historical story or event that is very POPULAR amongst the people (may be true or false) can be called a legend.

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    $\begingroup$ A well-documented event that's widely agreed to have actually occurred isn't a legend, it's history. There are many popular historical figures who definitely existed, and they just that - historical figures, not legendary figures. Popularity alone does not make a legend, it also requires unverifiability. The signing of the Declaration of Independence, for example, is a popular historical event, but it's not a legend. $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ "well-documented" is not in this answer. "unverifiable" is and that's the distinction. "popular" is in two of the three definitions listed. In the one it's not listed, it's implied : "a very old story or set of stories from ancient times [popular enough to have been told otherwise you'd've never heard of it]" - may be true or false : "unverifiable" e.g., The Legend of Atlantis. - "An event" is a legend when it meets the definition of the word, IDC how old it or you are, or, how or when you make babies. +1. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Feb 24 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Nuclear Hoagie Legend has more than one meanings. If you click on the references, you will find up to 9 meanings. There is legend as 'Story' as 'Fame' as 'Explanation' and many more. I am telling legend as 'Story'. You are telling legend as 'Fame'. Thanks Mazura $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Feb 24 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ @imtaar There are indeed many meanings of "legend", but the OP is using it in the sense of unverifiable events. The question is "Is it safe to assume that a specific event happening around 1000 years ago could be considered "legend" or "lore" in the sense that even though people may be familiar with the story, the details are fuzzy and some don't even really think it happened (or perhaps think it's just a parable)?" Popularity alone does not make a legend in this sense. A "sports legend" who was just inducted into the hall of fame, for example, does not qualify here. $\endgroup$ Feb 24 at 16:25
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It entirely depends on the attitude of the people toward history. In early modern times, there are records of people calling things ancient that had happened in living memory.

Now, that you have writing indicates that they are not going to come up against the limit of about 150 years for accurate oral transmission. But if studying history is not big, there is going to be a lot of vagueness in their knowledge except for practicing historians.

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In a society that was, and remained, broadly literate, and with temporally progressive worldview (i.e. having a concept of events proceeding from one to the next in an orderly fashion), through the event no, they'll have written records and a fixed date for the event; it will be a matter of History. For an event to become legend or myth you need a break in hard copy records, a period of oral history where the record of the past becomes what peoples grandparents told them their grandparents told them while sitting around the fire at night. Those stories start as memories of what happened not a concrete record of the event, then they change a little at each retelling. After a couple of generations they stop being recollections and become folktales a little later they become legends and then as S.M. Stirling put it "some smart arse with an axe to grind "proves" it never happened at all".

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Is that timeframe long enough? As others have shown, yes - it's feasible, even probable with the right conditions.

However as a counterfactual, consider the oral history of indigenous Australians (link: The Oldest True Stories in the World), successfully identifying landforms all around the continent which were submerged at the end of the last ice age over 7,000 years ago.

This sort of achievement most likely requires the civilisation to be illiterate as written works are less able to keep up with changing language use and are more fragile (at least prior to mass media and printing presses).

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  • $\begingroup$ "The oral history of indigenous Australians successfully identifying landforms all around the continent which were submerged at the end of the last ice age over 7,000 years ago": Can you give one example of a submerged land form which was discovered based on the data provided by the fairy tales told by indigenous Australians? A submerged mountain, a drowned river bed... You know, like Schliemann discovering Troy based on the data provided by Homer's Iliad. (At least, about Troy, people had always known approximately where it had been; the district being actually called the Troad...) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 29 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP The article I linked to has 21 examples from all around Australia, representing numerous distinct indigenous "nations" / language groups. $\endgroup$
    – Bungo
    Nov 30 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ The article you linked does not have even one single example of any submerged landform, let alone 21. It has only one example, and that is an island which, being an island, is obviously not submerged: all we can say for sure is that the island has a name in one of the indigenous languages. Of course it has a name. (Yes, the article includes a map. Not clear what it is supposed to represent, given that the names on the map are clearly English.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 1 at 1:12
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Yes, though that is significantly longer then required

I give you John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK).

Who is he? Why one of America's most beloved presidents, whose loss we all regret. While he was alive, the white house was like... a royal court, Chamelot! and he, its king. He was faithful and true to lovely wife/Queen Jacqueline. His death ushered in the 'post heroic' era in America and set us on the path to division, tearing at the fabric of our democracy.

There are people alive who knew John F. Kennedy personally who believe the legends/myths surrounding the man. Or perpetuate it to further their own agenda... Either way the JFK of america's imagination, and the JFK that really lived were very different people.

You don't even have to be dead

Just look at anyone with a cult of personality... Donald Trump for example. Is half of what his supporters believe about him true? Nope, he is not the savior, he does not excrete gold, and he is not as smart as he thinks he is... What about his detractors?... again, a lot of what they say about him is also wrong, or greatly exagerated, he is not the devil given human form.

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