Ariadne's Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature

Ariadne's Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature

Ariadne's Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature

Ariadne's Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature


From Cinderella to The Boy Who Cried Wolf to The Dragon Slayer to the Judgment of Solomon, certain legends, myths, and folktales are part of the oral tradition in countries around the world. In addition to their pervasiveness, these stories show an astonishing longevity; many such tales are found in classical antiquity. Ariadne's Thread is an encyclopedia of more than a hundred such international oral tales, all present in the literature of ancient Greece and Rome.

It takes into account writings, including early Jewish and Christian literature, recorded in or translated into Greek or Latin by writers of any nationality. As a result, it will be invaluable not only to classicists and folklorists but also to a wide range of other readers who are interested in stories and storytelling. William Hansen presents the familiar form of each tale and discusses the similar ancient story or stories, examining how each corresponds with and differs from that form. He then gives principal sources and, where appropriate, comments on the cultural factors affecting the shape and content of the ancient story, the context of transmission, and issues raised in the secondary literature.

Finally, he provides a bibliography of scholarly studies and the pertinent reference in the standard folk-narrative index, The Types of the Folktale by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Again and again, Hansen demonstrates how ancient narratives are often best understood in the context of the larger tradition. He forces us to rethink the nature of Greek mythology by encouraging an appreciation of the extent to which Greek myths and legends parallel international stories. By virtue of their durability, he says, these orally transmitted stories rank among the world's most successful artistic creations.


Gregory Nagy

Ariadne's Thread, by William Hansen, combines two distinct humanistic points of interest, classics and folklore. the author himself is both a classicist and a folklorist. Such a combination is relatively rare in the history of scholarship partly because the field of classics tends to be associated with “high art, ” which invites contrast with “low art” as studied in the newer field of folkloristics. Even the terms folklore, folklorist, and folkloristics evoke an uneasy sense of incompatibility with standard notions associated with the classics, such as artistic perfectionism, literary learnedness, even literacy itself. Whereas the field of classics centers on feats of creativity that strike us as extraordinary or even unique, folklore exemplifies processes of production that may at first seem ordinary by contrast. But the contrast is not so much between the extraordinary and the ordinary, the unique and the nonunique. Rather, it is between what tends toward the singular and what is inherently multiple. Moreover, the multiplicity of folkloristic evidence is precisely what makes it so valuable to classicists. the study of multiple versions, as perfected within the discipline of folkloristics, leads to an understanding of eventually unified choices in form and content. the labyrinthine multiformity of varying directions in folklore leads to the singular directedness of classical models.

The inherent variety of form and content in folklore makes folkloristics particularly suited to the study of variants and of variation itself as a cultural phenomenon. Despite the uneasiness of many humanists with folklore and its derivatives to refer to the discipline, no better word has replaced it. in fact, the legacy of multiformity in the use of the word folklore guarantees its survival as the most telling expression of the true sense of the discipline.

The point of departure for Ariadne's Thread is the comparison of narratives or tales that may or may not be historically related. the techniques of comparison resemble those of descriptive linguistics, in which the comparison of historically unrelated linguistic phenomena is termed a typology. Typological comparisons between systems yield insights into the inner workings of each system . . .

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