J. H. D. Scourfield
Edward Courtney and Gail Trimble
Epyllion (diminutive of epos), term applied in modern (not ancient) times to some ‘short epics’, hexameter poems of mythological narrative in not more than one book. The texts most frequently called ‘epyllion’ are Hellenistic (especially the Hecale of *Callimachus (3), certain poems of *Theocritus, and Moschus’ Europa) and Roman (the sixty-fourth poem of *Catullus (1), lost works by other *neoterics, and the *Ciris).
Characteristics often considered typical of epyllion include: unfamiliar mythical subject-matter, often erotic; a subjective, emotional style; an uneven narrative scale, with some events elaborated and others quickly passed over; the inclusion of a second theme within the main narrative by means of a speech or *ekphrasis.
However, many of these features are shared with other Hellenistic or neoteric poetry, with earlier poems in the post-Homeric epic tradition, or with shorter poetic narratives in other metres (especially lyric), while some poems usually identified as ‘epyllia’ exhibit only one or two of them. The meaningfulness of the term has therefore been questioned, although its convenience is generally agreed.
‘Which of the gods was it that brought the two together in strife?’, asks the Iliad as it launches its narrative (1.8); early in the Odyssey*Zeus complains that mortals blame the gods when they are responsible for their own sufferings (1.32–3). Both poems however swiftly complicate any attempt to limit explanations to either the human or the divine level. Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel, Achilles kills Hector, and Odysseus gets home, largely because they are the people that they are, but gods often intervene too. The Greeks win because they are better fighters; they also win because more gods are on their side. The poems also suggest another form of explanation, not tracing events to their origins but relating them to a familiar pattern of human life. Suffering is the lot of humanity (Il. 24.525–6); outrages like those of the suitors are punished. Life is like that, and one should not be surprised.
Francisco R. Adrados and Niklas Holzberg
Fable, a short story in the popular tradition of Greece and other ancient cultures. Fables found their way into literature as illustrative examples; later they were compiled into collections.
They usually deal with a conflict in which animals speak and intervene, but the characters may also be plants, sundry objects, men, or gods, Fable normally deals with the triumph of the strong, but also portrays the cunning of the weak and their mockery of, or triumph over, the powerful. Fables also stress the impossibility of changing nature; some give aetiological explanations. Most often there is a comic element; sometimes the ‘situation’ of a protagonist is depicted, from which the audience may draw analogies.
It is therefore impossible to offer a fixed definition. The boundaries of fable intermesh with those of myth, animal proverbs, anecdotes, tales, and *chreiai. Fable is normally fiction, but does at times use anecdotes about real characters. It reflects popular literature and may satirize the values and abuses of the dominant social classes.
Feminism does not refer to one coherent theory, doctrine, or political movement. The range of movements and ideologies that thrive under the term feminism, however, are all committed to political and social change. Feminism recognises that we live in a patriarchal world, that is to say a world in which women are, and have historically been, oppressed by and unequal to men. It opposes this, and strives to change existing power structures so that people of all genders and races have control over their own bodies, have equal opportunities and value, can participate fully in community life, and are allowed to live with dignity and freedom.
What has this to do with ancient literature? There are several significant ways in which feminism and ancient literature interact. Ancient literature, particularly ancient Greek tragedy and myth, has played a formative role in shaping feminist theory. Feminism encourages scholars to uncover and reevaluate a tradition of women’s writing. Feminism has provided the tools for us better to understand how ancient literature functioned to promote, and sometimes to challenge, the misogynist practices of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Scholars have detected feminism, or proto-feminism, in ancient writing. Queer theory and feminism join forces to mine ancient literature for alternatives to hetero, cisgender, and gender binary models of identity. Feminism has changed the field of ancient literary studies by valuing authors and genres that are sensitive to the perspectives of women of all ethnicities and statuses. Finally, ancient literature is used to serve contemporary activism: Greek and Latin texts are used by modern feminist authors who rewrite and creatively adapt ancient literature, and classicists resist the use of ancient literature to promote misogyny and white supremacy.
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.
Gian Biagio Conte and Glenn W. Most
A grouping of texts related within the system of literature by their sharing recognizably functionalized features of form and content. Theory of genre as such is quite lacking in antiquity (its place is taken by theories of *imitatio) and ancient theoretical discussions of specific literary genres are few and for the most part unsatisfactory. They operate according to criteria which are one-sidedly formal (generally metrical), thematic (the characters' moral or social quality, the general subject-matter), or pragmatic (the situation of performance), but scarcely attempt to correlate or justify them; they are more interested in classifying existing works than in understanding the mechanisms of literary production and reception and are directed to the needs of the school and the library, not to the critic's; they bungle some genres (lyric) and ignore others (the novel). Rhetorical handbooks sometimes distinguish among oratorical genres, but the precise relation between their (often pedantic) prescriptions and the literary works remains uncertain.