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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.


Callimachus was a Greek poet and scholar who flourished in the first half of the 3rd century bce in Alexandria, wrote in the context of its Library and Museum, and had close connections to the Ptolemaic court. Apart from six hymns and around sixty epigrams, Callimachus’s texts, both poetry and prose, have survived only in fragments. Chief among his fragmentary works are the Aetia, Iambi, and Hecale: the many papyrus fragments and quotations from these poems give evidence of their lasting impact and popularity in antiquity. Callimachus’s work is highly allusive, refined, learned, and experimental, but also attuned to its political and cultural context and engaged in a poetological discourse with predecessors and colleagues. In his poetry, Callimachus absorbs much of the earlier Greek literary tradition, and his experiments and innovations, while highly original, also reflect trends suggested by the generations preceding him. He in turn exercised great influence on later Roman and Greek poetry, particularly on the poets of Augustan Rome.


William Hansen

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.