DRAGONS ENGULFING the sun, gods releasing anger onto people, or the moon and the sun fighting in an intense battle─these myths all explain the existence of an eclipse. Before science was used to explain certain phenomena, humans used stories to explain nature’s mysteries based on their experiences and beliefs. These explanations created folk tales that have been passed down to the present day, allowing people to reflect upon their own cultures. Etiological folklore especially serves as a way of understanding how our country was molded and brought to existence.
The Origin of Korea
In Korea, parents tell their children the famous story of “Dan-gun,” the founder of Korea’s first kingdom. One day, a tiger and a bear approached Hwan-ung, a god sent to live on earth, in hopes that he would turn them into humans. Hwan-ung agreed, but only if they completed his challenge: to stay in a dark cave for 100 days, eating only garlic and mugwort. If they could manage to survive, he would make them human. The tiger ran out after a few days, but the bear was able to withstand the 100 days in the cave*. Hwan-ung turned the bear into a human and named her Ung-nyeo. She wished for a child and eventually she gave birth to Dan-gun, who later became the ruler of Old Joseon, the first Korean kingdom**.
Although the tale of “Dan-gun” is a myth, it characterizes Koreans as those who persevere just like the bear despite hard situations. It relates back to the Japanese colonial era where Koreans stood with national pride and perseverance against the Japanese. Along with this, Koreans still celebrate the National Foundation Day also known as Gae-cheon-jeol, as it traces back to their country’s origin. “Dan-gun” serves as a mode to trace back to Korea’s historical and cultural roots as well as celebrate national pride.
The Origin of Barcelona
Barcelona has many conflicting myths on how it got its name. However, many believe that Barcelona got its name from Hercules. Hercules sailed the Mediterranean Sea with nine ships, but one day a storm came and led his last ship astray. Jason, the captain of the Argonauts, ordered Hercules to find the missing ninth ship. Hercules eventually found the boat stranded on a hill called Montjuïc. The ninth ship was found with all the crew members still alive, so Hercules set out to build a city facing the hill and named it after their ninth boat, “Barcanona,” Barca for boat and nona for ninth***. This later became Barcelona as we know it.
The Origin of the Philippine Islands
The Philippines is known for its copious number of islands. However, it once was a single island before it became an archipelago, which makes many wonder how that came to be. One of the most common myths explains how once a prehistoric bird grew restless of flying above the same land. The bird wanted to fly away from the land to discover the other side of the world. However, since there was only one piece of land, the bird had to come back to rest. Then suddenly, the bird thought of an idea. It went to the water and whispered that the sky was displeased because of the way the water imitated the sky. Upon hearing this, the water became angry and huffed large amounts of water that formed waves as high as the sky. Taken aback by the water, the sky became furious as the bird began to explain that the water held grudges against the sky because the sky made decisions on its color by itself. The sky shattered sparks of lightning that struck the water and the land. The fighting raged on with waves splashing towards the clouds and thunder booming across the landscape, causing the land to soften and fracture into pieces. The sky and water soon realized what they had done and tried to bring the broken pieces back together, but 7,000 fragments of land were already spread far across the horizon. These fragmented pieces became the islands of the Philippines****.
The Origin of Rome
Rome, well-known for its mythology, has its own etiological myth. Rhea Silvia, daughter to the king, was forced into celibacy by her uncle Amulius who just took the throne. However, Silvia became pregnant with twins, Romulus and Remus. Amulius, angered by this news, threw the twins into the Tiber River where they were eventually rescued by a wolf. The twins were nursed by the wolf until they were found by a shepherd. While growing up, the twin brothers decided to create a city where they first encountered the wolf. However, Romulus and Remus fell in dispute about the location of the city and Romulus ended up killing Remus. Romulus founded the new city on Palatine Hill and named it Rome after his own name*****.
The Origin of Egypt
Egypt similarly is known for its popular mythology. In Egypt, there is a city named Unet, also known as Hermopolis, located in northern Egypt. While the ancient Greeks believed that it was Hermes who created the land, the ancient Egyptians believed it was the eight gods, the Ogdoad, who founded the city. The Ogdoad were comprised of four pairs of gods. Each pair portrayed the male and female of four different energy sources: water, time, darkness, and air******. However, the clash of these powers led to an overwhelming flow of energy. This eruption gave birth to the sun and caused a chunk of land, located in Hermopolis, to rise above the sea*******.
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Etiological myths are foundational stories of how countries were created and ruled that are told in all parts of the world. Whether it is about how the nation came to be, how the land was made, or how the people were like, folklores create a tie which influences our esteem and identity.
****Bright Hub Education
******Ancient Egypt Online
*******Ancient Egypt: The Mythology