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Marvels & Tales 17.2 (2003) 278-280
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Ariadne's Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature.By William Hansen. Myth and Poetics edited by Gregory Nagy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. xv, 548 pp.
Ariadne's Thread may prove an invaluable sourcebook not only for classicists but, perhaps more importantly, for folklorists. The author, William Hansen, is both a classicist and a folklorist who studied with Alan Dundes and is currently professor of classics at the Indiana University, Bloomington. Hansen has published dozens of studies of folkloric themes, tale types, and motifs in classical literature, and Ariadne's Thread represents the culmination of much of that work.
The book, named best reference work in 2002 in its category (single volume, humanities) by the Association of American Publishers, deals with international oral narratives attested in ancient Greek and Latin literature (xi, 19). Hansen draws from a broad range of ancient source material including epic, tragedy, comedy, philosophy, history, biography, inscription, novels, and ancient collections of jokes, fables, and anecdotes, among others, and examines the relationship between the ancient tales and variants from around the world. The book contains nearly a hundred entries devoted to individual tale types or motifs, and compares variants that may or may not be historically related. That is, Hansen provides typological comparisons without insisting that early variants influenced later versions: "a chronologically early text does not necessarily reflect a developmentally early form of a narrative"; the first published form of a tale does not make it an "urtext" from which later variants developed (8).
This may seem obvious to folklorists, but classicists need the reminder. Similarly, much of Hansen's introductory chapter is aimed more toward classicists than folklorists, who are more likely to be familiar with the comparative study of folktale, including the work of the Grimms, Bolte and Polívka, Aarne, and Thompson. At the same time, folklorists may be interested in Hansen's specific history of the study of the classical folktale and the necessity for understanding genre variance when comparing ancient and modern tales: "many stories that in modern times are attested as folktales are found in ancient societies as legends" (8), because the ancient Greeks often treated narratives as historical. This leads to a useful discussion of the relationship between ancient narratives and magic tales, novella, lying tales, numskull tales, animal tales, and other subforms of the folktale (12-19).
In the essays that comprise the nearly one hundred entries on tale types and motifs, Hansen's main goal is to connect particular international narratives to specific classical stories. To do this, Hansen provides six main categories of correspondence between ancient and modern texts: (1) overall, in which ancient and modern texts exhibit similar structure and content; (2) partial, in which an [End Page 278] ancient story corresponds to an episode within a modern tale but not to the whole tale; (3) intermittent, in which the ancient texts exhibit partial parallels in function and content; (4) structural, in which the ancient and international tales share basic structural elements; (5) allusive or fragmentary, in which an ancient statement, proverb, or story fragment implies acquaintance with the international tale; and (6) nascent, in which the ancient narrative shows a remote resemblance to a familiar tale and may actually be an early form of it.
Each of the dozens of essays begins with a general description of the tale type and its AT number or, in the case of motifs, its Thompson Motif-Index number (and, for a few tales, their ML number, based on Christiansen). Hansen follows this with sample modern analogues. Then he presents the ancient version along with its source, and explains the specific correspondences as well as differences, drawing on the six categories above. The essays are arranged in alphabetical order according to AT titles.
For example, the first essay covers "Apprentice and Ghost" (AT 325*), summarized thus: "A sorcerer's apprentice (servant) reads a verse aloud from the forbidden book belonging to his master and thereby evokes a ghost (devil, etc.), which he is...