Stephen J. Harrison
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.
Identifying a ghost in Greek literature and distinguishing it from what we might call a delusion or a supernatural entity can sometimes pose difficulties: *Homer tends to use the term psyche to describe his spirits, but we also find skia. In later writers, eidolon is used (Hdt. 5.92.η and Pl. Leg. 959b of the corpse), which can also mean a phantom of the mind, or even just a likeness. Later still, *daimōn, alone, or combined with other words to evoke particular forms of demon (see below) appears. Other terms (which will appear throughout the entry) evoked the particular ways in which individuals died and became ghosts. This entry will focus on appearances in the mortal realm of spirits connected to a death, indicating where there are any ambiguities of spectral terminology. As the move from psyche to daimōn might suggest, there seems to be a gradual development in the strength, substance and presence of ghosts in the ancient world; while living mortals seem, in turn, to find increasingly sophisticated ways to manipulate their spectral visitors and their needs for their own ends.