Memories are often more vivid than the experience. That much I know is true. That winning basket, shot, or home run all those years ago now seem like a distant memory or a glorious past. And now, imagine the effect magnified over the centuries, boasts turn into tall tales, tall tales into myths, and myths into legend.
Euhemerism began early, seemingly out of skepticism for the mythology the Greeks used to explain the phenomena of the material world. Euhemerus, whose work only survives in quotes and fragments, was said to have been a historian and geographer in the Hellenistic age, who wrote about the region around Arabia and theories on the nature of popular myth and religion of the time. He was said to have posited the origin of the Greek Gods as ancient kings, likely a natural development seeing Alexander and his successor kings deified or deifying themselves in the eastern/Egyptian fashion. It seems like Euhemerism was accompanied closely by its polar opposite, apotheosis, possibly inspiring earth other.
Once an exercise in cynicism, Euhemerism seems to have become an exercise in the reverse. The world, now more cynical than ever, has driven some to search for any kernel of truth in our glorious past. Whether it be the exploits of the heroes of the Wild West, hidden treasure from the Age of Piracy, Gilded Cities of the America’s, and the Holy Grail of them all(well, other than the Holy Grail), Atlantis. Aside from the stuffy meticulousness of academia, the public’s belief in any of these tales might have possibly been snuffed out by the outrageous portrayals in Hollywood. While the less sharp minds of the audience might take the stories as face value, the rest of the jaded souls accept them for what they seem to be, tall tales so fantastic one might wonder if there was any truth to begin with.
Yet a for a few souls, either desperate, romantic, or crazy enough to live out their dreams, it’s open season. Millions have been spent hunting for Atlantis, Bigfoot, Eldorado, and the Grail, and . For some, the claustrophobia of a shrinking world propels them forward, or unrealistic dreams of unimaginable riches. It might be that the hubris mankind has in our perceived understanding of the world scares some. But for those who think like me, the idea that there was a person, event, or structure fascinating enough to inspire legends is comforting enough, that the world still had magic in it, or that it ever did.
So perfectly summed up in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Explorer:
Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges —
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and wating for you. Go!
… Have I named one single river? Have I claimed one single acre?
Have I kept one single nugget ? No, not I!
Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker.
But you wouldn’t understand it. You go up and occupy.
Indeed it seems so hard to explain to some why it is that the urge to explore and prove to the world that something is indeed out there. If the drive to find the next lost city was just fame and glory, a lot more would be in the business. Instead, people seem to be pouring their extra time, money, and energy into these searches driven by what can only be described as passion. A fateful few might even pay the ultimate price. While some are looking for validation in wild beliefs, most are just satisfied in finding the kernel of truth that fueled the dreams of thousands.
Ironically, these myths can launch legends of their own. During the Heroic age of Exploration, the exploits of explorers like Percy Fawcett inspired legends of their own, and became fuel for explorations to come. One might say the entire genre of Pulp fiction was born as a direct result.
For those adventurers and wannabes like myself, there must be an element of chasing fantasies, in hopes that the mundanity of life could be balanced with the excitement of discovery and glory.