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Pyramus and Thisbe  

Stephen J. Harrison

Pyramus and Thisbe are the hero and heroine of a love story mainly known from Ovid, Met., 4. 55–165. They were next-door neighbours in Babylon, and, as their parents would not let them marry, they talked with each other through a crack in the party wall between the houses. Finally, they arranged to meet at Ninus’s tomb. There Thisbe was frightened by a lion coming from its kill; she dropped her cloak as she ran and the lion mauled it. Pyramus, finding the bloodstained cloak and supposing Thisbe dead, killed himself; she returned, found his body, and followed his example. Their blood stained a mulberry tree, whose fruit has ever since been black when ripe, in sign of mourning for them. The story is likely to be derived to some degree from Hellenistic sources, according to which the two lovers may have been transformed into a river and a stream, and can be linked with the eastern Mediterranean and the river Pyramus in Cilicia. Ovid’s narrative, told by the daughters of Minyas who show stereotypically ‘feminine’ romantic interests in Roman terms, may draw on a lost Greek novelistic source, as well as taking elements from the plots of new comedy (young neighbours in love). Ovid’s narrative is highly popular in art, especially in Pompeian wall paintings; it is notably picked up by Shakespeare in the 1590s, in comic form as the subject of the parodic play of the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in tragic form in its adaptation in the suicides of the protagonists in Romeo and Juliet.



Alan H. Griffiths, Christopher Burden-Strevens, and Aedan Weston

In Classical mythology, centaurs were half-man, half-equine beasts whose representation in art and literature changed significantly throughout antiquity.Centaurs (Κένταυροι; for the etymology, and their ancestry, see Ixion), a tribe of “beasts” (φῆρες, Aeol. for θῆρες, Il. 1.268, 2.743), human above and horse below, the wild and dangerous counterpart of the more skittish satyrs, who are constructed of the same components but conceived of as amusing rather than threatening creatures. In both cases it is the very closeness of the horse to humanity that points up the need to remember that a firm line between nature and culture must be drawn. Pirithous, the king of the Lapiths, a Thessalian clan, paid for his failure to absorb this lesson when he invited the Centaurs to his wedding-feast: the party broke up in violence once the guests had tasted wine, that quintessential product of human culture (Pind., fr. 166 Snell–Maehler), and made a drunken assault on the bride (see the west pediment of the temple of Zeus at .


careers, poetic, Latin  

Joseph Farrell

The idea that a writer’s works form the record of a clearly defined career is a familiar but relatively understudied aspect of ancient literary history. In Greek literature, relevant motifs appear already in Homer (in the Iliad, Achilles’ self-referential singing of klea andron (9.189) in combination with Telemachus’s defense of Phemius’s novel, post-Iliadic theme in the Odyssey (1.345–352), and Hesiod (initiated by the Muses at Theogony 22–34 and at Works and Days 650–662 previously victorious—with Theogony?—in a singing contest at the funeral games of Amphidamas). But thinkers of the archaic and classical periods generally considered a poet’s work in a single genre as an expression of his immanent character, and not as the result of a career choice. Beginning with Thucydides and Xenophon, however, retired military men and politicians establish a normative career pattern in the genre of history. But in the Hellenistic period, as poets cultivate expertise in many genres (polyeideia), the career motif begins to come in to view.


parody, Latin  

Peta G. Fowler and Don P. Fowler

No Latin *genre gives as central a place to literary parody as does Greek Old Comedy (see comedy (greek), old), and traditionally parody has been seen as playing a more restricted role in Latin, the concept being reserved for instances such as the broader para-tragedy of *Plautus and *Terence,1 and self-standing poems such as the parody of *Catullus (1) 4 (to a ship), in Catalepton 10 (to a magistrate), and the parodies of *Virgil, Ecl. 1 and 3 by Numitorius (Courtney, FLP, Obtrectatores Vergili 1–2). Increased attention given to intertextuality in general, however (see literary theory and classical studies), with perhaps some influence from those modern theories which offer broad definitions of parody,2 has led to the concept being employed more widely. In general, any intertextuality with a “higher” genre in a lower may be read as parody, and hence parody has been seen especially in genres like *satire (e.


Aratus (1) poet, of Soloi in Cilicia, c. 315–c. 240 BCE  

Emma Gee

Aratus is said to have studied philosophy in Athens, probably coming into contact with Zeno, founder of the Stoic school; subsequently, in 276 bce, he arrived at the court of Antigonus (2) ‘Gonatas’ of Macedon. Little can be independently proven, since the extant lives probably all derive from a single Hellenistic commentator.1Aratus ranks among the finest Hellenistic poets, beside Callimachus (3) and Apollonius (1) Rhodius. He wrote many other works, most of which are lost.2 His sole surviving poem, the Phaenomena, which comprises more than a thousand lines in epic hexameters, describes the positions and motions of the constellations and teaches the reader how to recognize signs of impending weather on earth. The Phaenomena is written in an idealized version of the Archaic language of Homer and Hesiod, and contains mythological material in the form of aitia for some constellations.3 It falls into two parts, the ‘.


Sappho, lyric poet, c. 630–c. 570 BCE  

Page duBois

The poet Sappho, one of the greatest poets of world literature, a rare example of a woman whose work has survived in appreciable measure from archaic Greece, was celebrated in antiquity as “the tenth Muse” (Anth. Pal. 9.506). The Garland of Meleager, a Hellenistic anthology, includes some verses of Sappho, which the poet calls “few, but roses.” Sappho has long been praised as a superb poet of Eros, capable of subtle and effective evocations of desire and erotic pleasure, especially devoted to Aphrodite, who sends the joys and pains of love. Aphrodite is seen by some as an alter ego to the poet herself. Sappho appeals to her, as the poems voice yearning for an absent object of desire.1 She also invokes the Muses, and the Graces. The erotic poems often recall intimacy; express loss, tender yearning, and homoerotic longing; and create in memory a community bound by pleasure and song, exhibiting great elegance of composition and a sensuous luxury.


Vibius Sequester  

David Paniagua

Vibius Sequester is the author of the De fluminibus, fontibus, lacubus, nemoribus, paludibus, montibus, gentibus per litteras, a short repertoire of geographical names mentioned by Virgil, Silius, Lucan and Ovid. The text, written at the end of the 4th or in the 5th century ce for the author’s son, Vergilianus, was likely intended to be used at school as an instrument providing basic information about the collected toponyms and ethnonyms. Despite the occasional mistakes in the text, Sequester’s repertoire represent a fine instance of school culture in Western Late Antiquity. The work was much appreciated by Italian humanists, which explains that it was copied in nearly 50 recentiores manuscripts; all of them, however, descend from a second-half of the 9th century manuscript (Vat. Lat. 4929).Vibius Sequester was the author of a short alphabetic repertoire of geographical names mentioned in Latin poetry, probably compiled at the end of the 4th or in the 5th century .


cosmogonies and theogonies  

Carolina López-Ruiz

Early Greek cosmogonies and theogonies are mainly preserved in the form of hexametric poetry, rarely in systematic accounts, such as Hesiod’s, but more often within texts of broader mythical scope, as in Homer’s Iliad and the Homeric Hymns. The differing assumptions about the origins of and relations among the gods in these poems demonstrate the wide variety of cosmogonic traditions available in the Greek world and the poetic freedom to express or emphasize aspects of them. This is also evident in other sources for Greek theogony/cosmogony, such as the longer of the Homeric Hymns, which focus on specific gods, sometimes including their birth stories and framing their familial relations with other gods and with humans. The strand known as “Orphic” cosmogony or theogony runs parallel to the mainstream epic tradition (not without intersections), and underscores the connection between cosmogonic ideas and spiritual and philosophical movements. These alternative cosmogonies also served as a narrative and theological framework for mystery cults, which revolved around the figures of Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysus (e.