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

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Hansen traces the origins of more than 100 folktales to their roots in the literature of antiquity. . . . A valuable source for classicists and students of folklore."—Library Journal, September 2001

"Hansen has written a useful survey demonstrating how both popular and learned tradition in the classical world drew on the narrative riches of Indo-European and Near Eastern oral tradition. A clear introduction discusses folktales in classical antiquity and the comparative study of folktales. . . . The complete table of contents, series of indexes including tale-type index, and broad bibliography make the material extraordinarily accessible, whether one wants to hunt down classical Cinderellas or check on how much Herodotus or Cicero drew on traditional narrative. The work of a lifetime of reading and annotating, this book is a browser's dream. Recommended for all libraries."—Choice, September 2002

"Hansen's volume will be an indispensable addition to the libraries of classicists working on traditional tales and myths, but the audience that will benefit from it is much wider. . . Pleasant surprises and interesting connections lurk on almost every page. . . . This is an important reference and a joy to use."—Stephen M. Trzaskoma, Religious Studies Review, January 2003

"Of the many rewards in Hansen's masterpiece, coverage and accessibility deserve special mention. Not just poets and mythographers, but historians, philosophers, travel writers, orators, grammarians, and novelists too are scoured for stories, yielding a treasury of tales. Twelve dense index columns of ancient sources join the forty-two-page bibliography, the general index, and the 'Index of Tale Types' in the backmatter. Far from merely a reference book, the volume mirrors the multiformity of its subject, making a fine text for advanced myth classes, a resource for scholars in comparative studies, and a delightful bedside reader."—Richard P. Martin, The Classical Review, 2003

"In Ariadne's Thread, classicist and folklorist William Hansen leads readers through a maze of about 100 migratory stories with versions in ancient Greek or Latin sources. Hansen thus connects stories from Greco-Roman antiquity with a wealth of tales found in locales ranging from China and India to Scandinavia, Africa, and the United States. The result is both fascinating and fun, as Hansen repeatedly demonstrates the versatility and vitality of the stories he treats."—Rebecca Resinski, The Key Reporter, Fall 2003

"Ariadne's Thread may prove an invaluable sourcebook not only for classicists but, perhaps more importantly, for folklorists. . . . Written in Hansen's clear, pleasant style, it is overall a fascinating collection that, one hopes, will encourage folklorists to learn more about the earliest extant versions of many tales and motifs and the labyrinthine paths they follow in their migrations."—Debbie Fulton, Marvels and Tales Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, 2003

"For classicists, the fascination is to discover not two or three but many stories from different genres which are related to international folklore. For other readers, the reward will be to encounter long-familiar stories and follow their different permutations in a variety of cultures."—Philip A Stadter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Library Journal
Hansen traces the origins of more than 100 folktales to their roots in the literature of antiquity. He includes not only stories that have survived in the ancient languages but also early Jewish and Christian tales that were either recorded in or translated into Greek or Latin. While Hansen admits that the work is "representative rather than exhaustive," his treatment of each entry is nonetheless thorough. Entries are arranged alphabetically by the keywords established in Antti Aarne's The Types of Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography, translated by Stith Thompson, and Hansen recounts the plot of each tale, comparing and contrasting it with the corresponding ancient stories. This is followed by a list of principal sources and, often, comments on factors of culture and transmission that may have affected changes in the story. Hansen refers to Aarne-Thompson folk motifs and sometimes discusses issues raised in secondary sources. A valuable source for classicists and students of folklore. Recommended for academic libraries. Kathy Koenig, Ellis Sch., Pittsburgh Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801436703
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Series: Myth and Poetics Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword ix
Preface xi
Abbreviations xiii
Introduction 1
The Comparative Study of the Folktale 1
The Study of Greek and Roman Folk Narratives 6
Oral Narratives and Oral Narration in Classical Antiquity 12
The Present Work 19
The Tales
Apprentice and Ghost Eukrates and the Automaton 35
Asking the Large Fish Philoxenos the Poet 38
Attentive Donkey 40
Axe Falls into the Stream Hermes and the Woodcutter 42
Battles of the Pygmies and the Cranes 45
Best Friend, Worst Enemy Aesop and the Dog 49
Boastful Deer Slayer Agamemnon 54
Bride Won in a Tournament Pelops and Hippodameia 56
Brother Chosen Rather Than Husband Intaphrenes' Wife 62
Carrying Part of the Load Dionysos and Xanthias 66
Carrying Water in a Sieve Danaides 69
Catch-Tale Demades the Orator 75
Children Play at Hog Killing Makareus the Priest 79
Cinderella Rhodopis the Courtesan 85
Cranes of Ibykos 89
Dead Child's Friendly Return The Dead Ask the Living to Cease Grieving 92
Death's Messengers 95
Devil to Count Stars Counting Sand, Stars, Waves 97
Disenchanted Husband Cupid and Psyche 100
Dog on the Bridge Alexander and the Donkey Driver 114
Dragging Old Man Only to Threshold 117
Dragon Slayer Perseus 119
Fairies Send a Message Death of Pan 131
Foolish Fugitives 136
Foolish Man Builds Aircastles Gripus 138
Fortune in Salt Fortune in Water 142
Frog King Roman Proverb 145
Frozen Words 146
Gifts of the Little People Pandaros and Echedoros 147
Girl as Helper Jason and Medeia 151
God and the Emperor of Rome Zeus and Tantalos 167
Golden Ram Trojan Horse 169
Great Animal or Object 176
Groom Teaches His Horse to Live without Food 187
Hatch-Penny Pases' Penny 188
Hearing-Impaired Persons 190
Holding Up the Rock Holding Up the Sky 197
Homecoming Husband Odysseus 201
Hospitality Rewarded Mercury and the Stingy Women 211
House Burned Down to Rid It of Insects Shirt Burnt to Rid It of Lice 223
Husband's One Good Eye Covered Husband's Attention Diverted 225
Judgment of Solomon 227
Keep Your Seats! Prince the Flutist 233
Labor Contract Aesop and Xanthos 234
Learn to Swim 240
Loading the Wood Sorites 241
Local Moon 242
Lord's Prayer Sisyphos and Thanatos 243
Magic Object and the Trolls Perseus 246
Maiden's Honor Maiden's Sense 251
Maids Must Rise Even Earlier 255
Making a Rope of Sand 256
Man Does Not Recognize His Own Reflection 257
Man Swallowed by Fish Lucian 261
Marrying a Man of Forty Returning a Donkey 264
Matron of Ephesus 266
Money in the Stick 279
Mother Dies of Fright Secundus the Philosopher 284
Nothing to Cook Nothing to Eat 287
Ogre Blinded Odysseus and Polyphemos 289
Ogre Kills His Own Children Aedon 301
Ogre Steals the Thunder's Instruments Typhon and Zeus 305
Old Man and Death 314
Our Lady's Child Gyges and Kroisos 316
Person Does Not Know Himself 327
Peter Stung by Bees Man Bitten by Ants 329
Planting for the Next Generation 331
Potiphar's Wife Hippolytos and Phaidra 332
Quest for a Vanished Princess Apollo of the Vultures 352
Rhampsinitos 357
Sailor and the Oar Odysseus 371
Schlaraffenland Glutton's Paradise 378
Service in Hell Philinnion and Machates 392
Seven Sleepers Epimenides of Crete 397
Shepherd Who Cried "Wolf!" 402
Slaughter of the Ox 404
Smith and the Devil Sisyphos and Thanatos 405
Son of the King and of the Smith Kyros 408
Sowing of Salt Odysseus 414
Stronger and Strongest 415
Sunlight Carried in a Bag Perdikkes 424
Three Brothers Roman Proverb 426
Three Joint Depositors Demosthenes 427
Three Lazy Ones Lazy Debtor and Creditor 429
Threefold Death The Hermaphrodite 431
To Sacrifice a Giant Candle To Sacrifice a Hecatomb 435
Topsy-Turvy Land Mundus Inversus 439
Tree Trunks Laid Crosswise Beam Carried Crosswise 445
Trespasser's Defense The Lokrians' Oath 447
Twins or Blood Brothers Menaechmi 450
Underground Passage to Paramour's House Miles Gloriosus 453
Unfinished Tale "And Then I Woke Up" 460
White Serpent's Flesh Melampous the Seer 462
Wisdom of Hidden Old Man Saves Kingdom 469
Wishing Contest 475
Wooden Doll Homo 478
Youth Who Bathed Himself in Blood Achilleus's Heel 481
Bibliography 491
Index of Ancient Sources 533
Index of Tale Types and Motifs 539
General Index 543
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  • Posted July 7, 2014

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