The classical world witnessed many forms of landscape change in its physical geography, mostly due to longer-term geological and climatological processes, whilst only a minority were due purely to human action. The physical environment of Greek and Roman societies saw alterations through earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, sea-level fluctuations, erosion, and alluviation.
Already in Greek antiquity, Plato (Critias iii) observed how the Aegean physical landscape was being worn down over time as erosion from the uplands filled the lowland plains. Indeed, the Mediterranean region is amongst the most highly erodible in the world.1 However, scientific research in the field known as geoarchaeology has revealed a more complex picture than a continuous degradation of the ancient countryside.2
To uncover a more realistic picture of Mediterranean landscape change, the element of timescales proves to be central, and here the framework developed by the French historian Fernand Braudel3 provides the appropriate methodology. Braudel envisaged the Mediterranean past as created through the interaction of dynamic forces operating in parallel but on different “wavelengths” of time: the Short Term (observable within a human lifetime or less), the Medium Term (centuries or more, not clearly cognisant to contemporaries), and the Long Term (up to as much as thousands or millions of years, not at all in the awareness of past human agents).
Ancient peoples lived in close proximity to the environment and experienced at first hand natural phenomena and landscape features that, while often helpful or indeed essential to life, were also potentially threatening. The land and its produce were crucial to survival, and in a predominantly rural world dotted with towns and cities, many people will have observed at first hand mountains, rivers, and the relationship of landscape to available space for settlement. Rivers expressed the local community’s link with the landscape and sustained river valley communities by providing water for drinking, washing, irrigation, and watering of animals, as well as offering routes of communication. Many rivers were also a fruitful source of fish, especially if the water was clean, such as the high-quality fish from the Pamisos in Messenia (Paus. 4.34.1–2). But of course rivers could also flood a settlement or sweep it away. In addition, popular reaction to the environment around the local area was often influenced by strong cultural and religious feelings associated with landscape. In this context, it is not surprising that some literary works were exclusively devoted to natural features of the landscape, for example describing rivers, their character, history, and legendary associations. Mythology helped to explain natural phenomena. Furthermore, the theme of rivers in various guises appears repeatedly in the work of geographers, ethnographers, teachers, poets, and historians. Philosophers were also interested in the curiosities of riverine conditions, which, by their timeless quality yet constant movement, seemingly offered a comment on the human condition.
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.
In the modern use, “bisexuality” refers to sexual object choice, whereas “androgyny” refers to sexual identity. In ancient Greece and Rome, however, these terms sometimes refer to human beings born with characteristics of both sexes, and more frequently to an adult male who plays the role of a woman, or to a woman who has the appearance of a man, both physically and morally. In mythology, having both sexes simultaneously or successively characterises, on the one hand, the first human beings, animals, or even plants from which arose male and female, and on the other, mediators between human beings and gods, the living and the dead, men and women, past and future, and human generations. Thus androgyny and bisexuality were used as a tools to cope with one’s biological, social, and even fictitious environment.
Vladimir F. Stolba
Panskoye I is one of the most prominent and best-studied settlements in the rural territory of Chersonesus on the Tarkhankut Peninsula (north-western Crimea). Founded in the late 5th century
Erich S. Gruen
The Sibylline Oracles had a long life. The Sibyl was in origin a single Greek prophetess, renowned for the accuracy of her forecasts, divinely inspired, but portrayed as mad or raving, and regularly spewing forth dire forebodings. Additional Sibyls gradually sprang up in a variety of locations in the Mediterranean world, including the renowned Cumaean Sibyl whom Aeneas reputedly consulted. Sibylline prophecies were eventually collected in written form in Rome and used by Roman authorities to provide interpretation of unusual prodigies or natural disasters or to offer advice on significant matters of foreign entanglements and wars. Although that collection (insofar as it is historical) has long since disappeared, the voice of the Sibyl was reproduced in literary form. The extant Sibylline verses, composed in Homeric Greek hexameters, constitute twelve books of oracles, fashioned over a period of several centuries by numerous different and no longer identifiable hands. They constitute a motley assemblage of grim forecasts, historical references, apocalyptic visions, and denunciations of various peoples, especially Romans, for their abandonment of piety and indulgence in evil. The genre was appropriated by anonymous Jewish authors, speaking through the voice of the Sibyl, and employed to convey condemnation of cities and nations for the sins of idolatry, licentiousness, and a range of vices. Vivid portrayals of the end time and eschatological conflagration feature many of the texts. Subsequent Christian writers interpolated verses, added exaltations of Christ, and appropriated Sibylline pronouncements for their own ends. Others manipulated the oracles to record historical personages and events in the framework of prophetic pronouncements. The result was a complex and unsystematic compilation of reconstructed or fabricated prophecies ascribed to Sibyls but largely representing the ingenuity of Jewish and Christian compilers.