Legendary progenitor

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A legendary progenitor is a legendary or mythological figure held to be the common ancestor of a dynasty,[1] people, tribe or ethnic group.


Masculinity, femininity and "ghenos" or lineage linked to legendary progenitors were fundamental concepts of family identity in the Etruscan and Ancient Greek eras. The Greeks demonstrated the principles of family functionality in the mythological lives of Zeus, Hera, Hestia and Hermes. These included communal dining, and "charis" a form of charity that Vittoro Cigoli and Eugena Scabini described as being "deployed to oppose the core of violence inherent in the family relationship". Etrusco-Roman culture, developed from the Greek where each "gens" (family or house) had their own deified hero, prince or demi-god along with various household deities. The expansion of family trees to include heroic or legendary ancestors was used to boost social status and amass personal finances. Rome's patriarchal families, along with later European dynasties engaged in power struggles, such as that to be elected Pope based on this change in family culture.[2]

Peoples from all over the world have supposed themselves descended from various different eponymic or mythical progenitors. The Italians claimed ancestry from Italus, Lydians from Lydus, Phoenicians associated with Phoenix, Sicilians legendary progenitor was Siculus, Pelasgians revered Pelasgus, Dorians traced lineage to Dorus, Aeolians were linked to Aeolus and Hellenes looked up to Helen. Legendary progenitors also gave their names to places, Memphis was alleged to have been built by Menes and Ninevah by Ninus.[3]

In later times, place names in Britain were given the names of legendary chieftains or Anglo-Saxon Kings. Isaac Taylor suggests that "minute fragments of historic truth have been conserved". He notes however that the "greatest caution must be exercised as to the conclusions which we allow ourselves to draw. The traditions are generally vague and obscure and the personages whose names are associated with these sites have often only a mythical, or, to speak technically, an eponymic existence."[3]


In Armenian mythology Hayk the Great or The Great Hayk, also known as Hayk Nahapet, is the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation. His story is told in the History of Armenia attributed to the Armenian historian Moses of Chorene (A.D.410 to 490).[4]

In various Greek myths, Melampus is the legendary progenitor of a great, long line of seers. Along with his brother Bias, they became kings of territory in the Argeian and was acknowledged as a leader in Homer's Odyssey. His grandson is recorded as the prophet Theoklymenos.[5]

Niccolò Machiavelli discussed how in Ancient Rome, Aeneas the Trojan and Romulus were alternately said to have been the city's legendary founders. He considered how one's view of history could be influenced by the preference of one progenitor over another, saying, "if whoever examines the building of Rome takes Aeneas for its first progenitor [primo progenitore], it will be of those cities built by foreigners, while if he takes Romulus it will be of those built by men native to the place". Machiavelli does not take a preference and suggests Rome had "a free beginning, without depending on anyone".[6]

Míl Espáine is recorded in Christian writings to be the legendary progenitor of the Gaels or Goidels of Ireland. He was suggested to have led the Milesians to be the final inhabitants of Ireland.[7]

The five ancestors of Mieszko I as well as Chościsko, the father of Piast the Wheelwright have all been suggested as legendary progenitors of the Piast dynasty in Poland.[1]

Middle East[edit]

In the Middle East, Abraham (originally Abram) is regarded as the patriarch of the Arab people and Jewish people in the Bible and the Quran.[8] In the Book of Genesis, he is blessed with this honour by God, saying "Your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations"[Genesis 17:5].


Tan'Gun is the legendary forebear of the Korean people.[9]

In Indian Hinduism, the Rishis regarded Manu is as the legendary ancestor of the Indo-Aryan peoples in the Rig Veda. This tradition was carried forward in the Brahamanas, Puranas, Matsya Purana, Vishnu Purana and Aitareya Brahama. Brahma is also mentioned as the progenitor of Manu.[10]

Nyatri Tsenpo was a legendary progenitor of the so-called "Yarlung dynasty" of kings in Tibet.[11] Tsenpo, or "gNya'-khri btsan-po" has been suggested to have descended from an Indian dynasty and hence linked with Buddha.[12] In Tibet, the term is also connected with a spiritual progenitor. Tibetan Buddhists believe their ancestors to be famous teachers or translators. They consider that single spiritual progenitors can incarnate in various different people simultaneously in different geographical locations. These progenitors are given names based on their qualities and physical locations. Examples include "Prince Lion the teacher of Rgya" and "Karma, Light of Knowledge and Love the Mkhyen-brtse at Dpal-spuns".[13]

In Chinese mythology, the goddess Nüwa is a legendary progenitor of all human beings. She also creates a magic stone.[14] Her husband Fu Xi is suggested to be the progenitor of divination and the patron saint of numbers.[15]

In Bali, a legendary forefather or "stamvader" was called Wau Rauh. He was a mythical Brahmin high priest of Majapahit who established a five caste system.[16] He had five wives and five children and founded Brahamanic clans such as Kamenuh, Nauba, Gelgel, Kayusunia and Andapan.[17]

Prince Vijaya has been discussed as a legendary primogenitor of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka. He is recorded in the Sri Lankan Pali chronicles as the first king and described going on a mythical quest. Monarchs continued to reign in the Kingdom of Kandy until being deposed by the British under the terms of the Kandyan Convention.[18]


Mythical progenitors are honoured in songs, dance and instrumental performance by the Mbyá people in Argentina. Their songs invoke the names of various deities which are believed to reincarnate as souls in new children. Their multitude of legendary progenitors are considered to "dictate actions carried out by their children on earth".[19]

Patrick Wolfe has discussed the work of Scottish ethnologist John Ferguson McLennan in his study The Worship of Animals and Plants (1869, 1870) regarding the role of legendary progenitors in Totemism, practiced by Native Americans. He suggested that "patrilineal totem stocks were endowed with fictional ancestral figures who were well suited to provide a basis from which subsequent and more sublime theologies might develop".[20]


David Conrad discusses how ancient Mali's ruling elite adopted composite characters of Islamic forebears into legendary progenitors. Such a composite image is discussed as a character called Fosana, whose legends are told as "a collage of loosely connected incidents from the Prophet's life and times." Fragments of the stories of Fosana have been connected with events in the lives of Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi and Suraqa bin Malik.[21]


In Arnhem Land in Australia, the Gunwinggu people consider Wurugag and Waramurungundi to be their original ancestors and have been depicted in tribal art.[22]

Robert Alun Jones discussed Baldwin Spencer's study of the Alcheringa ancestors of the Arunta tribe in Australia as having both a spirit "ulthana" and a syzygy spirit "arumburinga". The syzygy spirit reincarnating repetitively as a reflection of the spirit of a single alcheringa ancestor.[23][24]


In creation myths, the first man and woman extend the concept to all of mankind.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Nora Berend (November 22, 2007). Christianization and the Rise of Christian Monarchy: Scandinavia, Central Europe and Rus' c.900-1200. Cambridge University Press. pp. 266–. ISBN 978-0-521-87616-2. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  2. ^ Vittorio Cigoli; Eugenia Scabini (April 1, 2006). Family Identity: Ties, Symbols, And Transitions. Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 14–. ISBN 978-0-8058-5231-8. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Isaac Taylor (January 30, 2005). Words And Places Or Etymological Illustrations Of History, Ethnology And Geography. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 207–. ISBN 978-1-4179-7157-2. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  4. ^ Gōsh, Mkhitʻar (2000). The Lawcode (Datastanagirk') of Mxit'ar Goš. Rodopi. p. 112. ISBN 9789042007901. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  5. ^ George Grote, Esq. (1854). History of Greece; I. Legendary Greece, II. Grecian History to the Reign of Peisistratus At Athens. National Academies. pp. 122–. NAP:34576. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  6. ^ Erica Benner (October 26, 2009). Machiavelli's Ethics. Princeton University Press. pp. 419–. ISBN 978-0-691-14177-0. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  7. ^ Richard A. McCabe (September 1, 2005). Spenser's Monstrous Regiment: Elizabethan Ireland And the Poetics of Difference. Oxford University Press. pp. 220–. ISBN 978-0-19-928204-3. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  8. ^ Nikshoy C. Chatterji (1973). Muddle of the Middle East: 1799-1972. Abhinav Publications. pp. 188–. ISBN 978-0-391-00304-0. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  9. ^ Sarah Foot; Chase F. Robinson (October 25, 2012). The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 2: 400-1400. Oxford University Press. pp. 126–. ISBN 978-0-19-923642-8. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  10. ^ B.R. Ambedkar (1946). Who Were the Shudras?. Gautambookcentre. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-81-87733-33-1. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  11. ^ Patricia Cronin Marcello (2003). The Dalai Lama: A Biography. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 24–. ISBN 978-0-313-32207-5. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  12. ^ Bsod-nams-rgyal-mtshan (Sa-skya-pa Bla-ma Dam-pa) (1994). The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies: Tibetan Buddhist Historiography : an Annotated Translation of the XIVth Century Tibetan Chronicle : RGyal-rabs Gsal- Baʼi Me-long. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 138–. ISBN 978-3-447-03510-1. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  13. ^ Stephan V. Beyer (1992). The Classical Tibetan Language. SUNY Press. pp. 378–. ISBN 978-0-7914-1099-8. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  14. ^ Ming Dong Gu (2006). A Chinese Theory of Fiction: A Non-Western Narrative System. SUNY Press. pp. 194–. ISBN 978-0-7914-6815-9. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  15. ^ Mark Edward Lewis (2006). The Flood Myths of Early China. SUNY Press. pp. 119–. ISBN 978-0-7914-6664-3. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  16. ^ Sir Robert Blackwood (January 1, 1970). Beautiful Bali. Hampden Hall. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  17. ^ James A. Boon (1977). The Anthropological Romance of Bali, 1597-1972: Dynamic Perspectives in Marriage and Caste, Politics, and Religion. CUP Archive. pp. 142–. ISBN 978-0-521-21398-1. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  18. ^ John Clifford Holt (March 23, 2011). The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. pp. 19–. ISBN 978-0-8223-4982-2. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  19. ^ Malena Kuss (2004). Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Encyclopedic History: Volume 1: Performing Beliefs: Indigenous Peoples of South America, Central America, and Mexico. University of Texas Press. pp. 175–. ISBN 978-0-292-70298-1. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  20. ^ Patrick Wolfe (December 22, 1998). Settler Colonialism. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 112–. ISBN 978-0-304-70340-1. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  21. ^ David C. Conrad (1995). Status and Identity in West Africa: Nyamakalaw of Mande. Indiana University Press. pp. 92–. ISBN 978-0-253-31409-3. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  22. ^ David Adams Leeming; Margaret Adams Leeming (1994). Leeming:dict Creation Myths P. Oxford University Press. pp. 19–. ISBN 978-0-19-510275-8. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  23. ^ Robert Alun Jones (2005). The Secret Of The Totem: Religion And Society From McLennan To Freud. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13438-5. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  24. ^ Baldwin Spencer; F. J. Gillen (September 30, 2010). Native Tribes of Central Australia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 387–. ISBN 978-1-108-02044-2. Retrieved December 4, 2012.