Myth of Kim Alji
The myth“ Kimaljisinhwa ”narrates the story of Kim Alji, progenitor of the Kim royal family of the Silla dynasty and the Gyeongju Kim clan. Kim Alji served as Daebo (Great Minister) under King Talhae and was named crown prince but was not enthroned, and his myth has been transmitted as progenitor myth or as part of clan history through genealogical records or family writings of the Gyeongju Kim clan.
In the kingdom of Silla, during the reign of King Talhae, Great Minister Hogong (Duke Gourd) was walking in Seori (West Village) of the capital Wolseong when he saw light coming out of the forest Sirim. Purple clouds spread across the sky and on the branches of a tree hung a golden chest, emitting rays of light, while under the tree a white rooster crowed. Upon hearing of this, the king went to the forest and opened the chest inside which a boy lay crouched, who then rose when he was found. The king carried the boy back to his palace, and birds and beasts followed him, jumping and dancing in joy. The king named the boy Alji, meaning“ little child, ” and gave him the last name Kim, meaning gold, since he had arrived in a golden chest. King Talhae chose an auspicious date and appointed Kim Alji crown prince, but in the end abdicated, handing the throne to King Pasa. Kim Alji’s seventh-generation descendant Michu was later enthroned as king, forming the Kim royal family of Silla.
As a progenitor myth of both royal family and clan, the myth of Kim Alji shares some similarities with Korea’s many founding myths, which are characterized by heavenly descent, birth from egg, and divine animals. The similarities are limited, however, since in the Kim Al ji myth, heavenly descent is depicted indirectly; a chest is the medium of birth in the place of an egg; and the white rooster takes the place of a divine animal.
The myth is also distinguishable from other clan progenitor myths, in which the progenitor appears on land, the sea, a pond or rock, since heavenly descent is a mytheme generally reserved for kings and national progenitors in Korean mythology. Kim Alji did not found a kingdom or become king, but is depicted as a being from the heavens because many of his progeny, including his seventh-generation descendant Michu, took Silla’s throne, and at the same time the Kim Alji myth was never transmitted as part of state rituals or political narratives since he never became king himself.