History has taught us about many great and courageous figures that lived long ago. From Moses and Mulan to Shakespeare and Sun Tzu, these historical figures lived quite the life and left behind strong legacies. However, recently many researchers and historians have questioned the legitimacy of these past figures and whether or not they truly existed at all. With a lack of evidence, it seems that many of these figures were actually stories from folklore or simply imaginative. Do you think Robin Hood was real? See some historic figures who may not have existed in history in the slides to come, and let us know! Make sure to SHARE this post with your friends!
Before Disney brought Mulan to the big screen, the warrior was already a legend in China. However, the famous tale of Mulan fighting in her father’s place might not be true. The book Chinese Shadow Theatre: History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors suggests that Mulan was created and based on a female warrior named Wei Huahu. While the two have similar stories, there is no proof that Mulan was real.
From Monty Python and the Holy Grail to the many remakes of King Arthur, everyone seems to be familiar with the tale of King Arthur. However, historians have questioned the story and agree that many of the facts prove to be unreliable. It seems like the story was based on a Roman military commander named Lucius Artorius Castus. Other historians suggest the tale is inspired by Riothamus, the king of the Britons during the fifth century.
There are many people who question William Shakespeare’s legacy and the legitimacy of his work. Researchers believe Shakespeare wrote under a pen name, but some others still question his existence due to a lack of knowledge about his background. A theory uncovered by schoolteacher J. Thomas Looney posits that Shakespeare was actually a man named Edward de Vere. The theory suggests de Vere’s work was published after his death under the name William Shakespeare.
Robin Hood’s story grew in popularity during the 13th and 14th centuries, but the tale was never confirmed as being truthful. During that time period, many English outlaws referred to themselves as “Robin Hood” based on their sneaky activities. Others speculate that Robin Hood was based on the nobleman Fulk FitzWarin. FitzWarin’s story was later published in the medieval tale Fouke le Fitz Waryn, where many similarities were discovered.
Confucius was known as one of the wisest and thoughtful philosophers in Chinese history. However, due to a lack of evidence, many scholars believe the philosopher to be nothing more than an imaginative figure. Lionel M. Jensen, the director of Chinese studies at the University of Colorado at Denver, believes that Jesuit missionaries created the philosopher during the 16th century.
William Tell lived in Switzerland during the 14th century and was known to be a troublemaker. According to legend, an Austrian official placed a hat on top of a pole in Altdoft and made it a requirement for everyone to remove their hats as they passed the landmark. Tell refused to follow the order and, as a result, was commanded to shoot an apple off his son’s head from 120 paces away. If he did not complete the task, Tell would face death. Tell chose to shoot the apple and — luckily — was successful. However, the story is very similar to a Viking folktale, leaving many people to believe that William Tell was a fictional character.
The ancient Chinese military leader often is credited with creating the guidebook to war. However, there is little evidence proving where his book, The Art of War, truly came from. Many individuals believe the book was a collection of military lessons from several generations, complied under the name Sun Tzu.
Homer was known as a great scholar, poet, and author. However, many people argue that the Greek poet was not the original author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Homer was simply the first to write down the stories, giving himself credit for the work. There are many theories that suggest Homer was actually a woman who was blind. Others believe that Homer was a group of Greek scholars rather than one single person.
The answer to whether or not Jesus truly existed is different depending on who you ask. Many historians believe that the man responsible for the largest religion in the world was a real person, while others argue that the man was simply folklore. Some reasons for attempting to discredit Jesus include a lack of eyewitness accounts, the vague writings of the New Testament, and the lack of secular evidence. However, Jesus teaches us to live by faith and faith is the substance of the things we cannot see.
Outside of the Biblical world, there is little proof that Moses was a real figure. Historians have questioned his existence due to a vague timeframe and the extent of his actions. However, many scientists have corroborated the biblical figures’ actions, such as parting the Red Sea, with naturally occurring forces in nature.
In the film, Adaptation, Nicholas Cage played the role of Donald Kaufman, believed to be the brother of Charlie Kaufman. The film convinced the audience that screenwriter, Charlie, actually had a brother named Donald. Later, the truth was revealed – he was not real, only Charlie’s work of imagination.
Jim Crow is a famous character made from the theatre. This persona portrays a black male that would play in scenarios taunting the issues of discrimination. The man behind this monstrosity is none other than Thomas D. Rice, who was actually a caucasian.
John Doe and Jane Doe
We often hear John Doe, mentioned especially during a criminal investigation. However, John Doe is only a code name given to unidentified bodies during an investigation. Jane Doe, on the other hand, is named for unidentified female victims.
The Betty Crocker brand became famous when her exemplary recipes became staples in American households. Many had followed her image as the queen of the kitchen, the problem was, she was only a fictional character. Though this “First Lady of the Kitchen” is not real, she has inspired millions of aspiring cooks when it comes to serving exquisite cuisine.
Alfred Bulltop Stormalong
Another fictional character whose story tells of an American legend is Alfred Stormalong. Believed to be a hero in Massachusetts, Stormalong also assumed to grow to a gigantic height, reaching near nineteen-feet-tall. He is said to be a sailor and is linked to various nautical-themed folklore.
James S.A. Corey
When authors collaborate in writing novels, it’s crucial to distribute credits for the work evenly. Sometimes, listing all contributing author’s name just doesn’t do anyone justice. In the case of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the pair had wittingly created the pseudonym James S.A Corey, the author of numerous books such as Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves, Leviathan Wakes, and others.
If you’ve seen James Cameron’s masterpiece – Titanic, you might question if the film is based on real-life events. However (and sadly), the character of Jack Dawson is only a work of fiction. Unlike Rose, we’ll never let go, Jack.
Sherlock Holmes is well-loved by readers, believing that he was once a real-life detective. The author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, however, actually based the stories and identity of Sherlock on a British surgeon named Joseph Bell. What an unexpected twist!
Another famous hero who turned out to be completely fictitious – Zorro – the renowned swordsman in a black mask riding a black horse. Zorro might tell of legends passed down in history, but he himself was a legend, one created by Johnston McCulley. That being said, Zorro was inspired by a real thief from the 19th century, Joaquin Murrieta.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is well known for its character Washington Irving. This short story would also tell the tale of a man named Ichabod Crane. He was believed to be a hero in the old days, alongside Irving. However, Ichabod was only a fictional character, just like Irving.
Among the American Revolution’s stories of heroism is a 16-year-old girl, Sybil Ludington. Her story reflects the bravery of a woman who played a significant role in the American Revolution against the British empire. It was the women’s organization, Daughters of the American Revolutionary, who later discovered that the stories behind Sybil’s heroism did not occur.
Who would have thought that the popular female clothing brand was created by a guy named Richard Liebeskind? Quite frankly, Ann Taylor is just a title given for a clothing brand. It is also a fancy way to represent the classic New England style.
Uncle Ben is famous for being the face of the beloved American food company, Uncle Bens’. We hate to say it, though, the guy pictured in the packaging goes by the real name of Frank Brown, a respected rice grower and restaurant manager. You may be wondering how he became the face of the brand? Well, it just so happened that he is a friend of Gordon L. Harwell, the president of the food company.
Juan Valdez is another name associated with a popular brand of coffee. Everyone assumes this iconic man is the owner. In reality, it’s merely an illustration created by Doyle Dane Bernbach. The name, however, suggests the coffee beans’ nation of origin, Colombia.
BBC Third Programme was a popular channel in 1961 that would broadcast classical music compositions. In that time, one of the most listened-to musical pieces was believed to be created by Piotr Zak, a polish composer. It was enjoyed by many as it presented a funny tune. However, the pieces were originally made by BBC producers Susan Bradshaw and Hans Keller.
A fake author coined as JT Leroy of The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things, a 1990 semi-autobiography, was meant to tell her story in this book co-authored by Laura Albert. It was later revealed that Leroy does not really exist and that she was only Laura’s creation. Laura’s sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, was the one who posed as Leroy.
In the 1980s, a popular educational material taught skills in typing had a voice-over named Mavis Beacon. She seemed like a personable teacher. In reality, she was only an artificial lecturer created by computers.
William Boyd is a Scottish writer who wrote in 1998, a biography about Nat Tate. It discussed his experiences and struggles as an artist as well as his art-works, which he left after taking his own life. Celebrating the launching of the book were famous artists who were invited to a party that was hosted by David Bowie. Later that day, the whole book was revealed as a deception to only greet everyone, April Fools!
There is little evidence still present from King Solomon’s lifetime, allowing many people to be skeptical of his existence. King Solomon was supposedly the richest man in the world during his reign, yet no artifacts from his fortune have ever been found.
Lycurgus is considered to be a remarkable man who shaped the Greek city-state of Sparta into one of the most frightening military powers of the anxiety world. Somewhere around the 7th and 9th century B.C, this famous icon was said to have established a series of stubborn reforms that dealt with everything from marriage to wealth and childbearing. However, some recent scholars have come to the conclusion that Lycurgus was simply a generic name that was used when discussing Sparta’s legal system.
This icon image has basically been seen by everyone everywhere in the world, right? The grey-hair, patriarchal man that is always pasted on the “I want you” recruiting posters. So to gets facts straight, this figure was inspired by a real man, a businessman who provided army provisions and then landed the name Uncle Sam. During the war of 1812, soldiers would joke around saying that their food came from Uncle Sam. However, they were referring to the actual army. No matter how famous he may be, he never really existed.
Mary Magdalene or sometimes called Mary of Magdala is believed to be a woman who traveled with Jesus as one of his followers. She is also said to be one of his witnesses at his crucifixion and its aftermath. However many people also believe that she got to know men very well with pay. Many recently, there has been no proven evidence about her dealings or if she ever really existed. On the other hand, there are individuals who are certain that in the bible it was not a sinner but was a great woman…
If the notion of a female pop sounds somewhat fabricated, that because it probably is. Pope Joan supposedly became the pope in 855 AD, during a time when most women weren’t allowed to anything at all. Despite that she was the leader of the Catholic Church, many scholars have questioned her existence altogether. What’s even more fascinating is that two years after becoming pope, she got pregnant and was either banished or murdered…depending on the source.
St. Christopher is believed to be one of those multi-talented saints. He is also known as the protector saint of travelers and fruit dealers. Followers really worship him and his talisman is a popular item amongst tourists and believers. However there is one big issue, the chances of St. Christopher not actually being a real saint are very high. His existence has been particularly controversial for many decades, whether he really did roam the earth…we may never know.
Astonighshly, Aunt Jemima never existed. Her story is much like Betty Crocker. The character of Aunt Jemima was created by R.T Davis back in the late 1800s. It was used to advertise a brand of pancake mix, syrup, and other breakfast foods but then was later passed on to Quaker Oats. The character received much backlash as it depicted the exportation of Africans. And more recently, the character is portrayed by many different actresses to perform the role of advertising campaigns.
Paul Bunyan or otherwise is known as our favorite giant lumberjack, is in fact not real. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but he is simply a combination of different, actual men. French-Canadian lumberjacks Bon Jean and Fabian Fournier. Paul Bunyan is also a folk hero in both American and Canadian folklore. His adventures revolve around the tall tales of his superhuman labors and are often accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox…who is also not real.
One of the most powerful yet opinionated philosophers of all time goes by the name of Socrates. By apparently, he actually did not speak a word of any of his philosophies. All of his famous sayings simply come from the writings of his disciples, especially Plato. There is quite a good chance that once upon a time there was an intelligent man named Socrates that did exist and inspire this writing, but we don’t know if he was actually the man depicted by his followers.
Not many people know but Buddhism is one of the world’s oldest and largest religions. Regardless there are many questions that surround its founder, Siddhartha Gautama (aka the Buddha). Historical information about the Buddha did not actually start to appear until many centuries after his assumed death. And as we are dealing with ancient history, hard evidence of his actual existence has not been found yet. However, others say that it has been lost entirely.
Who exactly is Laozi? Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is also the author of the Tao Te Ching and the creator of philosophical Taoism. Nevertheless, due to many conflicting stories about his life, modern philosophers have started to question his existence. They assume that Taoist writings actually came from various different sources and not just a single man. But those who strongly believe in him honor his figure.
Rosie The Riveter
Rosie the Riveter is one very famous woman. This iconic figure became popular during World War II when she portrayed an American woman doing her part to promote the manufacturing of ammunition and other supplies. The “We Can Do It” image created by J. Howard Miller was not a portrait of one single woman or a real person, even though it may have been inspired by one of the factory workers, Veronica Foster, also known as “Ronnie. Today, she is a huge cultural icon despite never really existing.
Tokyo Rose was a name that was created by the associated troops during World War II. But what exactly was the purpose? Well, it was designed for all the female English-speaking radio broadcasters that were spreading Japanese propaganda. Back then Tokyo Rose was a popular personality, but in reality, it was not a single person but rather a group of multiple women.
The Marlboro Man
The Marlboro man was first created during the early 1950s. It was a cowboy figure used for tobacco advertising campaigns for Marlboro cigarettes. He was merely created with the intention to get people to smoke this brand of cigarettes and whether good or bad…it worked. According to the LA Times, there were various actors and models who were paid to feature as “The Marlboro Man”, but four of them actually died of smoking-related diseases a few years after the campaign release.
The legend of John Henry is told through the song, “Ballad of John Henry.” The tale shares a story about an ex-slave who challenged a steam drill to see who could work faster. Henry beat the steam drill yet died shortly after due to exhaustion. While the story of Henry is compelling, the race might be fictional. Workers were not happy with the invention of the steam drill, which allowed the story to become very popular.
Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy was known as the most beautiful woman in the world and was the wife of the Greek King Menelaus in Homer’s The Iliad. However, historians have doubted Helen’s existence due to a lack of evidence. Many people simply believe that she was a mythological character added to the story.
The expression, “the Midas touch” has a strong history, dating back to King Midas, a Greek mythological king who could turn items into gold with a single touch. While the tale is a staple in Greek mythology, there is no hard evidence that Midas really existed. Historians have discovered an ornate burial site that dates back to the time Midas was alive but have found no proof in the gravesite that Midas lived during that era.
Jack the Ripper
The legend of Jack the Ripper has been terrorizing minds since the 19th century. The London-based serial killer was known for killing prostitutes in the East End of London by ripping out their throats and stomachs. However, the identity of Jack the Ripper was never confirmed. Many journalists claimed to have a confession from the culprit, yet the stories were never confirmed and always turned out to be a hoax. The police were never able to find Jack the Ripper, making him a true man of mystery.
Odysseus was the main character in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Odysseus, also known as Ulysses, took 10 years to return home after the fall of Troy. Many question the legitimacy of his adventures, yet a recent archaeological discovery shows that his journey could be true. The archeologist found remains from a three-story building and a well from the 8th century BC, which match up with Odysseus and his lofty tale, suggesting that his adventures could be true.
The story of Kunta Kinte was popularized in Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Roots and its subsequent TV miniseries of the same name. Kinte’s story became so widespread that an island was named after him in the Gambia. While Kinte’s story may have had a strong impact on history, not all of the details appear to be true. Haley’s sources do not match up with history, leaving the story with several false pretenses.
Meet Pythagoras, the man responsible for the Pythagorean Theorem. While Pythagoras is a staple in the mathematical world, there are many people who discredit his existence. Historians do not have any proof that Pythagoras wrote anything down, making it hard to give him credit for his work. Historians also question his existence due to the time period in which he supposedly worked, as not many people were working with celestial spheres until later on in the era.
Not many have questioned the existence of Muhammad, as he often is called the most successful of all prophets and religious figures. However, there are many historians who claim the prophet never existed due to a lack of hard evidence.
Many young readers loved The Nancy Drew Series penned under Carolyn Keene. However, it was only a pen name. In fact, there were multiple writers who created the Nancy Drew stories. A man named Edward Stratemeyer hired various ghostwriters as a precaution to continue the series if he did not have enough time to do so.
Remember the Twilight Zone? It was popularly known to be directed by Alan Smithee, but the name was only a pseudonym. Twilight Zone’s episodes were crafted by several directors, many disliking the gesture of putting their names in the credits.
It turns out that the character Indiana Jones was inspired by a real person – Hiram Bingham III. He was a Yale professor and adventurer. In fact, he was most famous for coming across the Machu Picchu ruins. It makes sense there are plenty of similarities between him and Indiana, but the biggest homage to Hiram is the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was set a mere stone’s throw away from the Machu Picchu ruins.
Oftentimes, comic books borrow from real life to fuel their stories. However, it’s normally less obvious than this case. Tony Stark is very clearly based on Howard Hughes. The connection makes more sense when you think about the fact that Iron Man was debuted in 1963 – when Hughes was still years away from his unfortunate end. At the time, he was the eccentric, outspoken, billionaire who invented all kinds of technologies in a variety of fields. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the man would show up to a press conference wearing a flying suit of armor.
Alice In Wonderland
Alice from the famous book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was based on a real-life person, Alice Liddell. At the age of 10, Alice met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (he had written the book under the pen name, Lewis Carroll). The author became close to the Liddell family, especially Alice. He’d written the original story for her. However, the author suddenly cut ties with the family a year later.
The character of Severus Snape was famously based on a former teacher of the author, J.K. Rowling. John Nettleship, her former chemistry teacher, was surprised to learn about his role in the series. He was quoted saying he was “horrified” when he heard what kind of character he’d inspired, saying, “I knew I was a strict teacher, but I didn’t think I was that bad.” He did admit that he was “a short-tempered chemistry teacher with long hair…[and a] gloomy, malodorous laboratory,” and was able to see the connection.
Hazel Grace Lancaster
Hazel Grace Lancaster from The Fault in Our Stars was based on a real person. John Green, the author of the best-selling YA novel has said he’d been inspired by a girl named Esther Earl. Esther was diagnosed with terminal cancer when she was only 13 years old. She met the author online and began speaking before meeting at a convention later on. The character Hazel isn’t meant to be Esther, but it’s clear she was the inspiration for the character. Esther was a talented girl whose YouTube channel is still up and her writings were collected into the book This Star Won’t Go Out which was published after her passing.
The person Snow White was based on didn’t quite get the same happy ending as the Disney character did. The fairy tale is said to be based on a 16th-century noblewoman, Margarete von Waldeck. She lived in Bad Wildungen in Bavaria. There was apparently a mine that used child labor at the time. Since the conditions there were so harsh, the child workers became disfigured and were called “dwarfs” as insults. Margarete was sent to Spain, where she fell for a prince. However, his family didn’t approve of her, and so, she was poisoned.
The legendary Agent 007 was created based on a real-life secret agent. Ian Fleming most likely based his fictional spy on British agent, Forest Yeo-Thomas. Forest was known for his death-defying escapes, incredible endurance, and heroic acts. The man was also popular with the ladies. In fact, Daniel Craig’s most harrowing scenes in Casino Royale are said to be based on Forest’s capture by the Gestapo.
Ursula was based on Glenn Milstead’s famous drag queen persona, Divine. This might be surprising since Glenn wasn’t involved in the Disney project at all. Howard Ashman, who’s known Divine, composed the music for The Little Mermaid and wound up being a producer for the movie. Unfortunately, Divine passed away before being able to watch the movie. Friends of the late drag queen have said Divine would have adored the character.
It seems like Shrek is a worldwide favorite when it comes to famous fictional characters. Well, he was based on the Russian-French wrestler, Maurice Tillet. He had a rather distinct appearance due to his condition, acromegaly, which resulted in bone overgrowth. DreamWorks hasn’t openly admitted to the likeness between the two, but just looking at pictures of them side-by-side draws a lot of speculation. Additionally, Tillet was a very kind and gentle man – another similarity to Shrek.
The Joker’s original character in DC comics wasn’t based on ordinary circus clowns. The visual inspiration for the character was the German actor, Conrad Veidt and his role as Gwynplaine in the movie The Man Who Laughs. While the Joker has evolved plenty since his debut, his main features have stayed the same: his frozen smile that resulted from a disfiguring scar and his chalky-white skin, both brought to the screen back in 1928 by Veidt.
In Disney’s version of Peter Pan, Captain Hook’s appearance was inspired by the American actor, voice actor, and comedian, Hans Conried. At first, the actor’s task was to voice the character. However, the actor was so vibrant and genuine in his costume that the animators decided to take things one step further. They took his image and used it as the main influence for the famous character.
Popeye the Sailor started out as a cartoon character in Thimble Theatre, a daily strip, in 1929. He was very popular before and during WWII as well as the ’50s and ’60s. He appeared in all kinds of merchandise. This character was based on a real person, Frank Fiegel – known locally as Rocky. Growing up, Rocky was known for being tough. He would never back down from a fight. Once he took on five boys at once, beating three of them and chasing off the other two. As a grown man, Rocky could be seen soaking up the sunshine with a pipe in his mouth outside in a chair.
Aside from Norman Bates from the movie Psycho, Buffalo Bill and Leatherface from The Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a few of the most iconic killers to appear on film. The scariest part? They were all inspired by the same man – Ed Gein. He was a murderer who would keep the skin and bones of his victims. He was a graverobber as well. Eventually, he was captured and spent the rest of his life in prison in a mental hospital.
The Vultures From The Jungle Book
The Beatles reach the height of their popularity in 1967. That also happened to be the year The Jungle Book was released by Disney. It’s said that the Beatles’ manager suggested that Disney Studios should design the vultures based on them. The members of The Beatles were supposed to voice the characters and sing a song named That’s What Friends Are For. However, John Lennon suddenly refused, resulting in the song being rewritten as a barbershop quartet.
It’s a known fact that Pocahontas was based on a real woman. In fact, this woman did actually save colonist John Smith from execution. However, she didn’t marry him, seeing as she was only a child at the time. Another inspiration for the Disney character – at least in appearance – was Irene Bedard. She oftentimes portrayed Native American characters in movies. She dubbed for Pocahontas and was a physical model for the character.