Fairytale in the Ancient World

Fairytale in the Ancient World

Fairytale in the Ancient World

Fairytale in the Ancient World

Synopsis

In this, the first modern study of the ancient fairytale, Graham Anderson asks whether the familiar children's fairytale of today existed in the ancient world. He examines texts from the classical period and finds many stories which resemble those we know today, including:* a Jewish Egyptian Cinderella* a Snow White whose enemy is the goddess Artemis* a Pied Piper at Troy.He puts forward many previously unsuspected candidates as classical variants of the modern fairytale and argues that the degree of violence and cruelty in the ancient tales means they must have been meant for adults.

Excerpt

A modern collection of English fairytales begins with an attack dating from as early as 1596 against the pedants who would spend a whole day talking about the origins of Fe Fi Fo Fum. By contrast a modern Italian collector of fairytales acknowledges that there were times when he would have exchanged the whole of Proust for just one more variant of the tale he was currently collecting. These two attitudes well describe the conflict represented in searching for earlier and earlier versions of fairytales. There is horror at the triviality of it all (as there was in antiquity itself), and amazement at the mania that sooner or later takes hold of the collector. But there is a great deal more to it than that: by so much as asking whether the ancient world had a Red Riding Hood or a Rumpelstiltskin, we enter an area of cultural history which has been almost entirely forgotten or ignored.

This author’s association with folktale research goes back a long way. In my first appointment I had the privilege of conversations with Sean O’Sullivan and Kevin Danaher, and my classical colleague Tom Williams showed me a rural hero cult in operation in County Kildare on a Sunday afternoon. It was in a classical context, working on The Golden Ass of Apuleius, that I realised that a purely literary approach left much territory unexplored, and that popular oral tales had to be taken into account. And it was in a comparative literary context, when I began to teach oral narrative and children’s literature, that once more I became conscious of the great gaps in my own knowledge of my own field of Classical Antiquity, and benefited from the immense expertise of the late Vivienne Mylne in eighteenth-century French fairytale.

I have set out to address this study to several different audiences simultaneously: to classicists, for whom, on the whole, fairytale exists only as a kind of degenerate mythology, if it exists at all; to scholars of folktale and children’s literature, for whom antiquity exists as a barrier of polite literature through which little popular material is allowed to penetrate; and to comparative literary specialists, for whom the semantics of postmodernism may often mean more than questions as simple as ‘How old is Cinderella?’. I have tried, at least some of the time, to spare those outside professional folklore circles some of the rigours of type-indexing and historic-geographic method, and have found the

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