Academic journal article Folklore

Bibliography of Classical Folklore Scholarship: Myths, Legends, and Popular Beliefs of Ancient Greece and Rome

Academic journal article Folklore

Bibliography of Classical Folklore Scholarship: Myths, Legends, and Popular Beliefs of Ancient Greece and Rome

Article excerpt


Ancient Greek and Roman literature contains rich troves of folklore and popular beliefs, many of which have counterparts in modern contemporary legends. For a number of reasons, today's folklorists are generally unaware that valuable primary source material from antiquity exists in English translation (for a wide selection of Greek and Latin literature in translation, see the Loeb Classical Library volumes in any good library). Classical scholars have published numerous studies of legends, myths and folklore from antiquity, yet their work remains generally unknown to folklore scholars. And for their part, most classicists have no idea that analogues of what they consider to be tales confined to the ancient Greco-Roman world still circulate today.

Both disciplines would reap benefits if they renewed their acquaintance. (The estrangement between classics and folklore since the 1920s is discussed in William Hansen's insightful essay of 1997, "Mythology and Folktale Typology: Chronicle of a Failed Scholarly Revolution," in Journal of Folklore Research 34; see also the interview in Folklore Forum 29 [1998]:91-108, esp. 101-3).

The lack of communication between classicists and folklorists is manifested in the dearth of classical examples in folklore motif indexes and reflected in the lack of classical scholarship in the most up-to-date folklore bibliographies. In Contemporary Legend: A Folklore Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1993), for example, Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith annotated 1,116 publications from ten countries and in eight languages, drawing together international legends from a "very wide range of material ... in many different sorts of communication-modes and over a surprisingly long time-span." The compilers expressed surprise that analogues of :modern contemporary legends existed "as long ago" as the sixteenth century (p. xvii).

As a classical folklorist, I was dismayed to find only three entries representing legends from antiquity in the Contemporary Legend Bibliography. Those three--Raymond Himelick's 1946 note on the "Poisoned Dress" in ancient Greek legend, Bill Ellis's 1983 article on the ancient Roman roots of the "Blood Libel" legend, and my 1991 note on classical Greek parallels of a Gulf War legend--were published in folklore journals, which accounts for their inclusion. When I contacted Bennett and Smith about classical folklore's regrettably low profile, they, encouraged me to gather this list of classical legend publications of interest to the folklore/contemporary legend community. This bibliography of classical folklore scholarship is not intended to be exhaustive, of course, but it does demonstrate the wide variety of sources and commentaries available on ancient myth and popular lore. I hope that this list will encourage a new and creative dialogue between those who study legends and beliefs that were current in the ancient world and those who investigate recurrent legends of the present day.

Traditionally, most ancient folk material has appeared in publications directed toward antiquarians. In 1994, however, John Miles Foley noted a "burgeoning of scholarly activity in ancient Greek studies" with "direct relevance for folklorists" in his review essay of six exemplary classical books for the Journal of American Folklore. A small group of scholars who define themselves as classical folklorists are making an effort to communicate with colleagues in folklore by publishing their findings in folklore-oriented journals as well as classical venues. Classical folklore goes by many aliases: popular literature, oral tales, folk tale, myth, novel, paradoxography, and recurrent, international, or migratory legends. The problem of clear terminology--whether "contemporary" can refer to tales that circulated in past societies--is unresolved. The difficulty of identifying a recognised field of classical legend studies is compounded by the negative perceptions of "popular folklore" among traditional classicists and ancient historians, many of whom would be surprised to find themselves cited here. …

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