Lisa Irene Hau
Tragic history is a phrase coined in the late 19th century to describe a certain type of Hellenistic history writing, which was thought to have Peripatetic underpinnings, and whose main proponents were Duris of Samos and Phylarchus (of Athens or Naucratis). The expression gained currency quickly and is still widely used to designate un-Polybian, sensationalist, and emotionally involved historiography from the Hellenistic period (the works of which have all been lost), in spite of the current communis opinio among specialists that there was no real “school” of tragic history.
Ravenna Cosmographer is an anonymous author of a Latin compilation commonly dated to the late 600s to early 700s. The Cosmographer describes the inhabited world, beginning with some theoretical questions and a general overview of the twelve southern and twelve northern regions (Book 1). His extensive lists of locations (Books 2–5) include over 5,000 place names, many otherwise unattested. Following earlier Christian authors such as Orosius, the Cosmographer incorporates Greco-Roman knowledge about the Earth into the framework of Christian scholarship. He cites the Bible and Christian theologians, and he mentions many secular authorities whose names only occur in this text. Although the Cosmographer never acknowledges his use of maps or itineraries, the forms of place names and the arrangement of toponyms by routes in Books 2–5 indicate that he was familiar with these sources. The similarities and differences to the Peutinger Map displayed by the text suggest that these works belong to different branches of the tradition, which ultimately goes back to a common exemplar. The Cosmography preserves the rich legacy of Roman and early medieval geographical knowledge, and its challenging material calls for a fresh examination.
Any attempt at defining popular literature with some precision is fraught with difficulties. A flexible and pragmatic approach is the most rewarding, since it allows one to look at the subject from a few different viewpoints: “popular” can be understood as referring to the Roman people as a whole, or only to its lower social strata; a text can be defined as popular because it has been composed in a popular milieu, and/or because it addresses a popular audience. A mode of reception of literature can also be labelled “popular.” The traditional Roman elite only conceived literature as something useful, which could and should contribute to the instruction of its readers and to the well-being of the State. However, gradually a different attitude emerged: one that appreciated literature, and especially narrative, mostly or even only for its pleasurable and escapist qualities, sometimes even without any concern for its cultural sophistication.
This rather loose definition allows us to discern a popular streak in many literary forms. For example, it is often surmised that ancient drama addressed the Roman people as a whole, without distinction of social class or cultural level. Other forms of theatre, such as Atellanae, mime, and pantomime, had a more farcical nature and were especially favoured by a less sophisticated public, but at least on some occasions they made some demands on the education of their audiences and contributed to the diffusion of traditional Roman culture. Non-elite social classes had literary activities of their own, especially during the Empire, when literacy increased. These texts are extant especially thanks to epigraphical sources, and are often written in an unsophisticated and colloquial language. Narrative in its various forms could address very different audiences, but the possibility of reading a good tale for entertainment more than for instruction was always open, for sophisticated novels such as Apuleius’s Metamorphoses as well as for simpler tales and collections of mirabilia. Edifying Christian narratives were programmatically written in order to be understandable to and appreciated by a large and not necessarily cultured public, whose faith they intended to strengthen and promote. Playful poetry and didactic literature also had a space among midlevel literary activities.
Sean Alexander Gurd
Revision happens when a text is changed. Its most common name in Greek was διόρθωσις; in Latin, emendatio. It was practised by writers of all styles and levels of ability, working alone and in consultation with others, and in many different genres. Evidence for revision comes from papyri and from descriptions in ancient literature. It occurred on papyri, in wax tablets, and in authors’ minds as they prepared a text, and it was understood by ancient writers as either the inevitable consequence of error or as a valuable exercise leading to greater cognitive and political skill. In addition to reminding us of the fluidity of textuality and the always contingent nature of every literary formation, the study of revision provokes reflection on the relationship between literature and natural language, and on writing’s place in social exchange.
Folktales are traditional fictional stories. Unlike works of original literary fiction, they are normally anonymous narratives that have been transmitted from one teller to another over an uncertain period of time, and have been shaped by multiple narrators into the form and style that are characteristic of oral narratives. The transmission of traditional tales is predominantly oral, but in literate societies such as Greece and Rome, transmission also takes place via written works.
“Folktale” is an umbrella term for a number of subgenres: the wonder tale (commonly known as the fairytale), the religious tale, the novella, the humorous tale (with its subforms the joke and the tall tale), the animal tale, and the fable. Since there was no ancient notion of folktales as such, no compilation of folktales exists from antiquity—only compilations of particular genres of folktales such as the fable and the joke.
Unlike myths and legends, folktales are narrative fictions, make no serious claim to historicity, and are not ordinarily accorded credence. They differ from myths and especially from legends in their handling of the supernatural.
The act of taking another’s written or spoken material and passing it off as one’s own in order to receive credit for having produced it. While Cicero has M. Pupius Piso accuse the Stoics of plagiarizing philosophical ideas from the Peripatetics (Fin. 5.74), other sources understand plagiarists to steal a predecessor’s particular expression of ideas and content. Plagiarism was not a single concept or category across time, media, and genre. Instead, it appeared in a constellation of practices sharing fundamental traits that closely map onto modern notions of plagiarism. Plagiarism in ancient Rome occurred in oral and written form from oral and written sources. A plagiarist could steal an earlier text in its entirety or with just minimal changes, or he could steal some section or lines of an earlier text. In the latter localized cases, accusations of plagiarism were often mechanical. Yet they were grounded in particular ideas, whether stated or implied, of what constituted the offense. One was that plagiarism had an aesthetic dimension and was a matter of staying too close to a model. While an author usually modified his source material in such instances, he was still subject to plagiarism charges based on the similarities that remained, which his accuser(s) deemed excessive and culpable. At the same time, intentions typically played a decisive role in determining if someone plagiarized. The question was whether the person deliberately set out to deceive an audience into giving him authorial credit for what he, in fact, took from someone else.
Although the Latin language has no single term equivalent to the English expression “the self,” Latin literature has been understood by scholars to rely upon and engage with various concepts of selfhood or personal identity. Inquiry into the Roman self or selves is a relatively recent phenomenon, with antecedents in social scientists’ longstanding concern with culturally specific models of identity.1 Despite such precedents, classical scholars have generally focused more on the possible resemblance of the Roman self to modern Euro-American concepts than on analyzing Roman notions of individual identity on their own terms.
Perhaps the best-represented type of self in Latin literature is a rhetorical self, that is, an identity projected to the public by means of speaking, writing, and other types of social performance. Elite Romans would have received training in personal image construction as part of their literary and rhetorical education, which was explicitly concerned with the practice of and selection among various possible projections of character.