Real Or Legend? Find Out If These Figures Existed Or Are Mere Myth

There have been many notable figures throughout history, with some ground in mythology and fictional folklore. From King Arthur and Robin Hood to Mulan and Homer, historians question whether these legends were real people or nothing more than amazing bedtime stories.

Some of these upcoming famous figures were real– others never existed at all.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a man who steals from the rich to give to the poor. The legend has been depicted numerous times throughout history and is thought to be one of the best-known tales of English folklore.

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20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Dating back to the late 13th century, there have been accounts of many people going by the outlaw’s name, with historians believing the name was an alias for bandits. Others believe the myth was based on Fulk FitzWarin, a nobleman who rebelled against King John.

William Tell

William Tell is a folk hero in Switzerland, a man who assassinated Albrecht Gessler with nothing more than a crossbow.

France, Paris, Baritone Henri-Bernard Dabadie (1797-1853) playing William Tell, 1831
DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini via Getty Images

The existence of Tell has been debated for years, dating back to 1607 with historian François Guillimann writing, “I followed popular belief by reporting certain details in my Swiss antiquities [published in 1598], but when I examine them closely, the whole story seems to me to be pure fable.”

Helen Of Troy

Beautiful enough to start a war, Helen Of Troy has been depicted in lore throughout history.

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

While she has been seen in movies and written about in books, historians and scholars doubt the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta and the daughter of Zeus and Leda actually existed due to lack of evidence.

Sun Tzu

While many people believe the great Chinese military leader Sun Tzu to be a real person, there is one question amongst scholars — his novel, The Art Of War. Pretty much the guidebook on how to wage war, there is no sound evidence proving Sun Tzu actually wrote it, even though it has been long said that he did.

Sun Tzu
Unknown Author/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Unknown Author/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Sun Tzu never promoted the book, leaving many to believe the author, Sun Tzu, is nothing more than a pen name.

Homer

A great poet and author, Homer penned some great epics, including the Iliad and the Odyssey. Often considered one of the most influential writers of all time, many have since wondered if he existed.

Homer
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One thought is that Homer wasn’t a single person but rather a group of scholars. Others believe he was actually a blind woman. Figuring out Homer’s true identity has become known as the “Homeric Question.”

King Solomon

According to both the Christian Old Testament and Hebrew Bible, King Solomon was the wise and wealthy monarch of the United Kingdom of Israel.

King Solomon
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

According to biblical archeologists, while there has been no evidence of his lavish wealth, the man most likely existed in some way, shape, or form.

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Chapman, who earned the nickname Johnny Appleseed was a real man who existed in history. Known for bringing apple trees to parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ontario, and Indiana, Chapman became an American legend.

Johnny_Appleseed_photograph
Unknown Author/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Unknown Author/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

According to historical accounts, Chapman was kind, generous and wanted nothing more than to educate people on conservation.

Rosie The Riveter

Rosie The Riveter was an American icon during World War II. Depicting an American woman doing her part in the war effort, Rosie wasn’t actually a real person.

We Can Do It! Poster by J. Howard Miller
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Instead, she represented the whole of American women, working in factories and shipyards while the men were off on the front line fighting in the war.

Midas

Midas and his touch that turned everything to gold have been a staple in Greek mythology for centuries. While there are many sources on the Phrygia King, no one is certain of the dates he actually lived.

Illustration of King Midas Seeing Daughter Turning into Gold by C.E. Brock
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1957, a gravesite was found and was thought to be the resting place of Midas. However, his death in the seventh century BC didn’t correlate with the site. It’s believed it belonged to his father.

Jack The Ripper

An unidentified serial killer who went on a spree in England in 1888, Jack The Ripper was so elusive he might well have been a myth. His MO — going after ladies of the night.

Jack The Ripper
Paramount/Getty Images
Paramount/Getty Images

While his victims all met their end in the same way, Jack the Ripper was never found or identified, leaving his identity for interpretation. Many people believe multiple people are responsible for the murders.

Pythagoras

The Greek philosopher known as Pythagoras is thought to have lived from 570 BC until 495 BC. Having brought many mathematical theorems to light, including the Pythagorean theorem and the theory of Proportions, historians agree that a man named Pythagoras did exist.

Illustration of Pythagoras Holding Book
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

What they disagree on are his influences, education, and teachers.

Confucius

Confucius was a great Chinese philosopher who made the Golden Rule “Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself.”

Portrait de Confucius
API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Interestingly enough, according to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, his most famous work, The Analects, has many inconsistencies and improbabilities. It has historians questioning if he wrote his words and beliefs down.

Sherlock Holmes

According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed human literary character in film and television history. That being said, the legendary consulting detective is fictional and did not exist in real life.

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MovieStillsDB/Columbia Pictures
MovieStillsDB/Columbia Pictures

He is based on a real person, though. Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the character of Sherlock on Scottish surgeon Joseph Bell.

Tokyo Rose

Tokyo Rose was a radio personality who spread English-language Japanese propaganda throughout the South Pacific and North America during World War II. While many people thought she was a real person, the legendary Tokyo Rose was so much more.

800px-JOAK_microphone_&_Tokyo_Rose,_National_Museum_of_American_History
Saige/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Saige/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The name actually represented multiple women who were spearheading the network and propaganda efforts.

Betty Crocker

Betty Crocker has inspired millions to cook, but she is nothing more than a character that was thought up in the 1920s and first commissioned as a portrait in 1936.

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Auckland Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Auckland Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Portrayed by numerous actresses throughout history, including Adelaide Hawley Cumming, Crocker has been described as a cultural icon in America, albeit a fictional one.

Paul Bunyan

The folk tale surrounding Paul Bunyan and his best friend Babe the Blue Ox has been told for centuries. His tale originated orally amongst American loggers before becoming children’s books.

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Blank Archives/Getty Images
Blank Archives/Getty Images

According to historians, while Bunyan didn’t exist, he could be based on numerous people, including French-Canadian lumberjack Fabian “Saginaw Joe” Fournier or D. Laurence Rogers. That being said, people have stated that they knew Bunyan and his crew!

King Arthur

The tale and legends of King Arthur are well-known to many worldwide. But the question remains if the King of Camelot was a real person. According to medieval historians, he was a real figure, in a sense.

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

During the late fifth and early sixth centuries, a man named Arthur led British troops into battle against the Saxons. According to modern historians, though, the legend known as King Arthur is nothing more than that, a legend.

Moses

While Moses is considered an important figure in Judaism, there is little evidence that the man existed outside of religious texts. It is thought that a Moses-like figure existed in the 13th Century BC, just not the one depicted in the Bible and Quran.

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Motion Picture Associates
Motion Picture Associates

Historians agree that one aspect of his story is his actions, such as turning water red and parting the Red Sea, were nothing more than environmental phenomena.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is one of the more well-known playwrights in history. But there are some who believe that he never existed. Around 230 years after his death, people began speculating if it was actually Shakespeare that wrote works such as Romeo and Juliet.

The Bard
Stock Montage/Getty Images
Stock Montage/Getty Images

Some of the authors people believe to have actually penned the works include Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, and Christopher Marlow.

Joaquin Murrieta

Known as the Robin Hood of the West, Joaquin Murrieta was a legendary outlaw during the time of the California Gold Rush. While many historians question Murrieta’s existence, John Rollin Ridge wrote a novel based on the legend’s life, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit.

JoaquinTheMountainRobber
Thomas Armstrong/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Thomas Armstrong/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Johnston McCulley has even said that he based his character Don Diego de la Vega, aka Zorro, on the life of Murrieta.

Mulan

The folk heroine Mulan has been depicted in multiple mediums throughout history, first in The Ballad of Mulan and again in various television shows and movies, including the Disney film.

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Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

While there is no proof that a woman named Hua Mulan existed, many believe she is based on another warrior, Wei Hua Hu. Real or just a myth, the female warrior known as Mulan symbolizes bravery and courage to many people around the world.

Alan Smithee

A director named Alan Smithee is credited with many television series and films, including The Twilight Zone episode “Paladin of the Lost Hour.” The director is credited as Alan Smithee when, in reality, it was directed by Gilbert Cates (pictured above).

8th Annual Art Directors Guild Awards - Show
Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic
Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic

Smithee is not a real person but rather a pseudonym for a director wanting to disown their work! There have been various variations of the name over history, including Alan and Alana Smithy.

Donald Kaufman

Donald Kaufman, the twin brother of celebrated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, is credited as a writer for Adaptation. They were actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film.

Noam Galai/Getty Images
Noam Galai/Getty Images

The amazing part is that Donald is not real; he is nothing more than a figment of Charlie’s over-active imagination.

Carolyn Keene

Carolyn Keene is best known for the Nancy Drew book series. However, she isn’t the actual author. The name is nothing more than a pen name given to numerous ghostwriters hired by Edward Stratemeyer, such as Mildred Wirt.

KD/BOOKS Washington Post Studio DATE: 4/1/04 PHOTO: Julia Ew
Julia Ewan/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Julia Ewan/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

Each writer was granted $125 per book and, according to their contracts, gave up the rights to their work.

Ann Taylor

Ann Taylor is the name of a once-popular retail chain in North America. While it seems as though the chain was named after the founder, this is not the case.

Ann Taylor store in Scarsdale, New York...
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Jb Reed/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There might be someone named Ann Taylor in the world, but they have no connection to the store. Ann Taylor was actually founded by a man, Richard Liebeskind, who wanted the brand to sound like a woman from New England.

Mavis Beacon

Mavis Beacon came into people’s lives when computers were becoming a normal part of everyday life. A typing teacher, Mavis Beacon, seemed personable and welcoming, even though she was only ever seen onscreen.

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The Software Toolworks/Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing
The Software Toolworks/Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

As it turns out, no one ever saw or will ever see Mavis because she is nothing more than artificial intelligence designed for the computer program.

James S.A. Corey

Fans of the sci-fi book series The Expanse are most likely familiar with the author, James S.A. Corey. The thing is, Corey isn’t a real person but rather a pen name used by the series two authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

1280px-James_Corey_aka_Ty_Franck_and_Daniel_Abraham
Elf/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Elf/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The two authors have also penned numerous Star Wars stories, including Honor Among Thieves.

John Henry

The legend of John Henry was originally told through the song “Ballad of John Henry.” He’s also known as the “steel-driving man” who died from exhaustion after racing a steam drill to see who could work faster.

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Ken Thomas/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Ken Thomas/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Historians do believe there was a man named John Henry who worked in the tunnels but, according to researcher Scott Reynolds Nelson, Henry passed away due to complications from silicosis, which is a lung disease, and not exhaustion.

Sybil Ludington

Known as the female Paul Revere, Sybil Ludington road 40 miles to warn New Yorkers that the British were on their way. As a 16-year-old female, Ludington’s story was not told until more than a century after the fact.

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Anthony22/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Anthony22/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Due to the lack of modern accounts, many historians find the story of Ludington hard to believe and more fictitious than truthful.