The history of the world is stacked with remarkable personalities, and their deeds uplifted generations to come. Many inspiring people lived before us, including famous warriors, scientists, artists, and symbolic persons. However, sometimes history is very vague with its sources. Hence, here are the top ten people from the past that we are not sure ever existed.
10. Uncle Sam
We all know Uncle Sam as a top-hatted grey-haired man pointing at us in the army draft propaganda posters. Good old Uncle Sam was for a long time considered just a mascot made for recruitment purposes. However, this inspiring guy was actually made after a real man.
Uncle Sam was a nickname for a businessman who supplied army provisions during the War of 1812. There was a joke among the soldiers that food was provided by Uncle Sam, referring to the army rather than the distributor. As the nickname spread, Uncle Sam became a familiar figure, and his appearance was used to boost American army morale.
9. John Henry
The story about the superhuman railroad worker seemed too good to be true. And it was. In the post-civil war age, the railroads were built, and America slowly became an industry giant. During that time, the John Henry ballads sprang out. This former slave was famous for his strength and size, and the legend said he challenged a steam drill to race. John Henry emerged victorious before dying soon after.
The legend praises the grit and determination of John Henry, but it is challenging to find any historical evidence of his existence. The Legend of John Henry seems to be a composite of stories about people who embody fearless spirits. Strong will and determination are something that America wanted to project on the Citizens with the help of myths like this.
8. Betty Crocker
We all know and love Betty Crocker for a good reason. We all think of her as the classic kitchen goddess who knows everything about baking cookies, cakes, and brownies. Unfortunately, the real Betty Crocker didn't exist at all but was a mascot.
In 1921 the Washburn-Crosby Company, now known as General Mills, invented Betty Crocker to answer their customers' questions about cooking. Betty sounded like a cheery and wholesome American name, and Crocker was after one of the board members. Betty even had a very successful radio show about cooking, with a different accent in every state.
7. William Tell
William Tell is the most famous Swiss hero; his most remarkable deed is splitting an apple on his son's head in half. The famous archer got an order from the despot to shoot an apple on his son's head as a punishment. Swiss people consider this heroic deed a spark that began the Swiss revolution in the 14th century.
However, although the event was supposed to happen in 1307, researchers didn't find any trace of the historical William Tell. Furthermore, the myths and legends began to spread during the 16th century, some 150 years after. Thus, it seems he was just a tale to inspire the Swiss people before becoming the world's bankers.
Mulan is one of the greatest Chinese folktale heroines. She was so popular that even Disney made a movie about her in the 90s. According to the legend, Mulan took over her father's place and went to war. She became a brilliant warrior and tactician, contributing to the Chinese victory against the Mongols.
In the myth, Mulan hid her real identity and proved herself as a soldier and a leader while pretending she was a man. Unlike many famous badass Chinese women, Mulan's existence has never been confirmed. Consequently, the story of Mulan might have been a fabrication to promote the idea of equality between men and women.
Homer is a blind poet who lived during the Trojan war era. He wrote iconic literary works such as Iliad and Odyssey, which are precious documents about ancient Greek culture. Despite Iliad and Odyssey undoubtedly existing, the same can't be said about the writer. Scientists and historians have argued for centuries if Homer really lived.
The main reason for skeptics is the sheer size of the Iliad and Odyssey. They both consist of around 700 pages, a huge amount for someone to remember by heart. It is more probable that Homer was a symbolic figure created as an amalgam of many authors. Iliad and Odyssey were probably written much earlier than scientists believe, and Homer is just a name given to many of the contributors.
4. Sun Tzu
This ancient Chinese wise man is considered the author of one of the most popular strategy books. The book is called "The Art of War," and it is believed that it was written in the 4th century, but no one knows for sure. Despite being this ancient, this book is a favorite among contemporary generals and businesspeople.
However, scientists and historians are still unsure if Sun Tzu existed. Some people think the "Art of War" is a compilation of Chinese wisdom from many authors. Just like Homer, Sun Tzu is probably a made-up figure, attributed as an author.
3. Robin Hood
The Legendary British folk hero Robert of Loxley, also known as Robin Hood, is famous for his fight against Norman invaders. He was leading the Merry Men of Sherwood, who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Unfortunately, this legendary outlaw might have been a fictional character made out of spite for the Norman rulers.
According to the historical sources, there were a couple outlaws in the records: "Robehod" and "Rabunhod." However, no one knows who they were and how they got their name. The stories about outlaws who fight against the oppressor are fairly popular worldwide, and Robin Hood is no exception.
Pythagoras is considered one of the founding fathers of geometry. The famous Pythagoras theorem is a foundation of modern math and one of the rare things from primary school we use every day. However, some historians consider that Pythagoras wasn't the first to discover the square over the hypotenuse.
Other historians go even further, claiming that Pythagoras didn't even exist. Yet if he did, he left next to no records written by himself, which is very unlikely. The historical sources about Pythagoras were mostly written by his not very reliable followers. Therefore, he still remains one of the most secretive ancient people.
1. King Arthur
Arthur Pendragon is a legendary English king who was a founder of the British state, taking it over from savage tribes. King Arthur ruled the kingdom called Camelot, a land of peace and prosperity protected by Knights of the Round Table. It is one of the earliest British tales and one of the rare legends that survived Norman rule.
The thing is, the whole story about King Arthur might be fictional. The King Arthur myth was popularized around 800 AD, inspiring the epic poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. The Legend of King Arthur might be inspired by the real leader of the British army in the 5th or 6th century. The Real King Arthur's existence is still a mystery, but it goes for sure that he was inspired by real people.
It is quite unusual to realize that your favorite historical person is not real. Yet, there are many reasons for that. Some of the legendary people from history were based on real individuals. Others represent the amalgamation of many various people. Nevertheless, being fictional doesn't prevent them from being inspiring figures.
Who's your favorite historical figure that turns out to be fictional? Which people would you add to the list?
Cover photo: GregMontani/Pixabay
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