6) Sun Tzu –
Born as Sun Wu, Sun Tzu is generally considered as one of the most influential Chinese military generals and strategists, who most probably lived during the period ranging from 771 until 476 BC, with traditionalists pinpointing his lifetime as being from 544–496 BC. Still the historicity of his existence, or at least his authorship of The Art of War remains ambiguous, with skepticism mainly focused on the possible anachronisms found in the text. Many of these relate to evolved formations, technology and military techniques mentioned in the work that would have been too advanced and sophisticated for 6th century BC China.
There is another twist to the tale which entails Sun Tzu’s descendant Sun Bin also writing a military treatise with the same name of The Art of War – and both of them were referred to as Sun Tzu in Classical Chinese. As for the primary authorship of original ‘The Art of War’, skeptics attribute the writing to various potential candidates, including Wu Zixu, theorists from the states of Wu or Qi, or even an anonymous writer.
7) King Arthur –
An unflinching hero against the tides of evil – King Arthur from Britain epitomizes the very essence of chivalry. Oddly enough, the annals of his eventful life relating to themes, characters and deeds vary from sources to sources, with no strict canonical version. In any case, the earliest references to Arthur have been found to be from Welsh and Breton sources, where he was mostly projected as a monster-slaying Brythonic warrior with his band of superhuman followers.
The first narrative account of Arthur is however attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his early (and largely fanciful) 12th century Latin work ‘Historia Regum Britanniae‘. The embellished account details how the Briton champion Arthur went on to defeat the Saxons, Picts, Scots and even the Romans. Later Arthurian works based on Romance traditions had however largely come out of this trend of incessant praising, and audaciously sidelined Arthur’s eminence as a warrior-king. In any case, some historians believe that Arthur may been based on historical characters such as Ambrosius Aurelianus, Riothamus or even a Roman military commander named Lucius Artorius Castus.
8) Robin Hood –
Robin Hood is perhaps the most expected entry among all the chosen figures in this list; but it is still interesting to know that he was already a popular folk hero during the Medieval times. Unfortunately, when it comes to evidences of a heroic figure, the data available to historians is confusing and ambivalent to say the least. As for origins, the famous outlaw from England had his literary limelight in various ballads and poems from the 14th century, while the mention of the name ‘Rabunhod’ had even older origins.
However, the predicament faced by most scholars is that – Robin (or Robyn) was a fairly common name, and many of such ‘Robin Hoods’ had been outlaws as per Medieval records. Unsurprisingly, there are a host of historical characters who might have been the Sherwood hero, ranging from a soldier under Richard the Lionheart, Earl of Huntingdon to even a Knight Templar.
9) William Tell –
Another folkloric hero and an expert archer, William Tell’s traditional legend starts with the foundation of the 14th century Swiss Confederacy. His literary reference was however mentioned for the first time in late 15th century penned White Book of Sarnen (by German author Hans Schreiber) – which gives an account of the famous ‘apple shot’ and the assassination of Hapsburg-appointed Gessler.
Further notable references to Tell come from the song Tellenlied (which has its manuscript dated from 1501) and Petermann Etterlin’s Chronicle of the Swiss Confederation (from 1507), with both of them detailing the daredevilry of the folkloric hero. Interestingly, the exalted status of William Tell was also used for profitable means in the 16th century, with organized sightseeing tours that supposedly covered places of Tell’s heroic deeds!
10) Shakespeare –
We have decided to take the antithetical route with our the last entry – the ever adulated yet puzzling author of several renowned and later-acclaimed English plays, William Shakespeare. Why antithetical? Well, as opposed to other entries in this list, William Shakespeare is actually believed to be a real person by most historians and academicians. The proof of his existence, according to the majority of experts, comes from the unequivocal mentioning of the author’s name in most historical records, his recognition in then-contemporary legal records and even his recognition by the fellow playwrights and actors.
On the other hand, a few detractors believe that many of his works were in fact authored entirely by different writers – with potential candidates ranging from Francis Bacon to Christopher Marlowe (among 80 other people). Their arguments are mainly based on Shakespeare’s promoted background (as a commoner from the backwaters of Stratford) and its presumed incompatibility with his literary works that were mainly focused on aristocracy, court politics, culture and general disdain for ‘dangerous mobs’. Other cases that are brought up against the existence of Shakespeare generally pertain to the inconsistent spelling of his surname in various records and the lack of documented evidence that strictly portrays him as a writer.