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.
J. S. Rusten
J. S. Rusten
Interest in the unexpected or unbelievable (paradoxa, thaumasia, apista) is prominent in the Odyssey and *Herodotus. Collections of marvels attributed to 4th-cent. authors (*Aristotle, *Theopompus (3), *Ephorus) are not genuine, but paradoxography as a distinct literary genre came into existence in the 3rd cent. with paradoxa by *Callimachus (3) (fr. 407–411) and his pupil *Philostephanus, *Antigonus (4) of Carystus, Archelaus of Egypt, *Myrsilus of Methymna, and others. In the Roman period there are substantial collections of marvels by *Isigonus and *Phlegon, and several anonymous collections survive in medieval manuscripts. The material is taken from geography, botany, zoology, and human culture. Several ancient writers dabbled in the subject (*Cicero, Michael *Psellus) and others (*Varro, *Pliny (1) the Elder, *Aelian) used paradoxographers as sources.
Oedipus (Οἰδίπους), son of Laius, the king of *Thebes (1) who killed his father and married his mother. The name appears to mean ‘with swollen foot’, but the reason for this is obscure, as the explanation given by ancient authors—that his feet were swollen because his ankles were pierced when he was exposed as a baby—looks like rationalizing invention.
Homer'sIliad mentions him only (23. 679) in the context of the funeral games held after his death, implying that he died at Thebes and probably in battle. Homer's Odyssey, however (11. 271–80), tells how he unwittingly killed his father and married his mother Epicaste (the later Iocasta), but the gods soon made this known (this version allows no time for the couple to have children) and Epicaste hanged herself. Oedipus continued to reign at Thebes, suffering all the woes that a mother's *Erinyes can inflict.