Legends of Otherworldly and Renowned Figures
This category of legends narrates stories of men with otherwordly abilities or outstanding knowledge or character. Korea has a long tradition of civil rule, and scholars possessing knowledge or character have enjoyed great respect. Many of their names and achievements have been recorded as official history, and other tales of interest or fascination have been preserved as part of unofficial history or the oral tradition.
In contrast to“ Legends of Heroes and Commanders, ” this category comprises stories of civil officials, scholars and writers, some of whom were outcast from the government system, living their lives in rural isolation. The term“ iin” literally means eccentrics, but in this case, the protagonist generally possesses foresight and insight, or other extraordinary abilities.
Historical figures featured in legends cover a broad range of characters, from Seol Chong and Gang Su of Silla, to Hwang Hyeon of late Joseon. There are a large number of narratives about figures from mid- and late Joseon, including Seo Gyeongdeok, Yi Hwang, Yi I, Yi Ji-ham, Song Ik-il, Seo Gi, Yi San-hae, Heo Mok, Song Si-yeol, Yi Seo-gu, Yi Won-ik, Yi Jun-gyeong and Chae Je-gong. From earlier periods, figures like Jeong Do-jeon, Hwang Hui, Maeng Sa-seong and Seong Sam-mun from early Joseon are featured in a significant number of tales, as are those from late Goryeo, including U Tak, Jeong Mong-ju and Won Cheon-seok. Choe Chi-won, from late Silla and early Goryeo, is a major presence in the oral tradition as well.
This category can again be divided by the protagonist’s character or ability:
The first group comprises those with extraordinary foresight or near-divine abilities, and includes Choe Chi-won, Seo Gyeong-deok, Yi J-ham, Song Ikpil, Jeong Ryeom, Heo Mok, and Yi Seo-gu, who all display otherworldly capacities or engage in eccentric acts. Choe Chi-won, for example, was a prominent writer of his time, but in folk narratives, is depicted as the descendent of a golden pig who possesses supernatural powers.
Second includes those of noble character who gained influence through their problem-solving skills: Jeong Do-jeon, who was a political strategist with lowly roots; virtuous officials Hwang Hui and Maeng Sa-seong; renowned scholars Yi I and Yi Hwang; respected councillors Yi Hang-bok, Yu Seong-ryong and Yi Won-ik; the righteous Bak Munsu. Loyal subjects Jeong Mong-ju, Seong Sam-mun and Kim Sang-heon also belong to this group.
The third group is that of renowned writers and artists, including Kim Byeong-yeon, Jeong Gi-ryong and Yang Sa-eon.
These legends dramatize the diverse characteristics and abilities of intellectuals from history, pushing the boundaries of reality to test the capacity of human intellect and character. They also reflect how the public viewed intellectuals and what expectations they held and the qualities they found admirable in these figures, which include insight into the essence of human affairs, foresight into the future, acceptance and tolerance, and the capacity to solve the problems of the ordinary folks.