Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 33.
Graham Anderson, Fairytale in the Ancient World. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. xi + 240. ISBN 0-415-23703-3. US$27.99.
Ohio Wesleyan University
Graham Anderson of the University of Kent has voyaged into darkest faeryland to snag the Redhood, the Snowwhite, and the Bluebeard. This intrepid reader of obscure Classical texts and explorer in the wider world of oral tales from lands far away and times long ago, wherever the Finnish comparative geographical-historical method has caste its wide net, has brought us back a provocative study. Each case must be judged on its merits, and there are fifteen or so to weigh. Some arguments are fuller and more persuasive than others. Anderson's thesis is that many ancient narratives and so-called 'modern' (that is, post-medieval) 'fairytales' spring from the same A-T tale-type. Anderson might have wisely curried readers' favor by explaining at some length the problems, methods, and results achieved by the Finn Anti Aarne (1867-1925) and his continuator, the American student of both European and Native American tales, Stith Thompson (1885-1976).[]
Classicists can benefit, as rather few unfortunately have, by close study of traditional tales from within the Indo-European community, from Sanskrit India to Spain and Norway. The Grimm brothers, trained in Greek and Latin, were more alive to the connections than most contemporaries today. Anderson hopes to lead more Classicists back to this common ocean of story, tearing away seven or more veils that make it hard to see Chione as a version of Snow White, despite her name. For this he is to be commended.
Supernatural tiny people play little role in the elite literature of the Classical ages. They might have been more active around the farmer's fireside, and perhaps there was an ancient Greek 'tooth fairy' (apparently, America's indigenous contribution). Anderson, however, has employed the term that the public unself-consciously uses, despite the fact that most such tales have no fairies. Fairylore seems to be ceding place in popular cinematic (disneyfied) culture to wizened or green creatures from outer space or inner earth. Since Anderson's learned study of the traditional tale in antiquity more often analyzes large monsters, slandered 'ordinary' (if ultra-attractive) girls, and other Indo- European tale-types, the problem is not simply a small semantic one. Only students of oral and written literature grounded in the formidable indexes will be able to read comfortably this distillation of much labor or control its speculative motif and hunting of tale- types. Anderson pairs ancient folktales (often elaborated in epic poetry, Attic dramatic structures, and the ancient novels) with the ethnic European collections of Basile, Perrault, Grimm and Afanas'ev. He seeks his fortune far beyond those in time and space with non-European traditions, for instance, the nearly prehistoric myths of Mesopotamian Inanna and the twelve medieval prose legends of the Turkish Dede Korkut, an insufficiently known Turkoman Iliad. Neophytes can easily become lost in the woods while tracking down a type, as I was, for instance when examining 'the grateful dead' (Motif E341 ff., AT Types 505-8).[] I was grateful to have William F. Hansen assure me that even more serious folktale scholars have trouble navigating their waters.[]
Anderson believes that some stories have traveled widely with a continuous existence, despite the passage of centuries, kept alive on a sub-literate or (better) oral level. One can follow this reasonably clearly, for instance, in the transmission of Teutonic and Scottish tales to the 'white' U.S. Appalachian 'Jack Tales', through what is probably a combination of printed versions (the Grimms' first edition appeared in 1812) and oral Hicks-Harmon family traditions in the vicinity of Beech Mountain, North Carolina. The Grimms' tales (nos. 71, 134) of 'The Six Servants' and 'Six who Made their Way through the World' have striking similarities with the parochial 'oikotype,' 'Hardy Hard Ass'.[] It seems less likely that Native American tales are related to Old World and Samosatian Lucianic plots (pp. 190f.).
The introduction usefully collects ancient quotations, passages usually dismissive, in which narrators refer to children's tales, assuming that there were children in Socrates' Attica and Trimalchio's Capua. Ancient condescension, when not condemnation, largely explains the obscurity of these narratives in our already lacunose record of ancient narrative. The repertoire of denigrated story-tellers often features old women, weavers whiling time away (Ovid. Met. 4.39), cooks and nurses, such as we meet telling and framing Apuleius' inset 'Cupid and Psyche.' Their scorned tales are to be noticed in texts of Aristophanes, Plato, Sotades (the Maronean?), Quintilian, Persius, Lucian, Tertullian, Lactantius, and John Chrysostom. This last, Christian educator, advises parents about how to inspire enthusiasm for Bible stories rather than for frivolous pagan fare. The harvest may be meagre, but that does not justify the profession's ignoring useful, if porous, tale categories such as myth, legend, and wondertale (further divided into household tale, animal fable, jocular anecdote, tall-tale, and so on).
The verbal slapstick of Wasps 1174-96 certainly points to something that we would have suspected in any case: floating sub-literary anecdotes and short narratives. This reader comes to worry that for Anderson every ancient plot grew out of folktale. While Anderson never claims so boldly, and while the sea of folktale is truly capacious, one waits impatiently for any razor sharpened by some principle of falsification. 'When is a parallel not a parallel?' (p. 17) is a good question. Anderson asserts that the genuine folktale 'will maintain most of its structure, intrinsic logic and basic identity' (p. 19) in various instantiations. The concept is a rational touchstone, but the criteria are too slippery to be reassuring. Anderson ingeniously and seriously (but self-destructively) proposes that we see Diotima in Plato's Symposium as a purveyor of (inspired) old wives' tales, claiming that she and her Eros provide parallels to the anula and her outcast child in Apuleius' long inset (p. 11).
Anderson correctly laments contemporary Classicists' ignorance of folklore scholarship (p. 12), although I would not agree that still they think folktale 'a kind of degenerate mythology'. The very names of Basile (1634-36), Perrrault (1697), and Mme. d'Aulnoy (1698) are nearly unknown or unmentioned, although this ignorance is not so general for the more academic and simultaneously more popular Gebrueder Grimm. Enthusiasm for issues of gender, race, and class has outrun the more tedious comparative task of unearthing disguised parallels and 'deformed' variants. Anderson, building on the work of the Germanist Jack Zipes and others such as Maria Tatar,[] nicely shows how modern academic categories can dovetail with interest in ancient narrative. Detlev Fehling's discouraging, if logically possible, idea[] that even apparent folktales may be only pseudo-folktale (faketale?, if we coin a word following Richard Dorson's 'fakelore') and, in fact, only precious Romantic literary invention of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries that has then entered the popular repertoire, has retarded Classical research. The most extensive ancient example is Apuleius' inset tale (if the term can be stretched so far), a version of the Monster-Bridegroom (AT 425a; cf. 425c: 'Beauty and the Beast') known best to Classicists as 'Cupid and Psyche.'
Anderson treats Cinderella (Herodotus' Rhodopis, Hebrew Asenath, Sumerian Inanna), Snow White (Chione, Pygmalion's ivory statue, Xenophon's Anthia), Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard (Minos, Apuleius' Charite), and the 'obstacle flight' in various chapters. He examines for this last tale early and late analogues to the 'vulgate' of the Argonaut voyage, stories featuring the heroes' special helpers and magical objects. The persecuted and only intermittently competent protagonist (only by courtesy to be called a 'hero') needs helpers. Inanna and Enki in earlier Sumerian myth and the Islamic, tenth-century medieval Dede Korkut in medieval Oghuz Turkish preserve many motifs in the same order, a basic requirement for finding a tale-type. Anderson sees rather human Medea anticipated in Inanna, a fertility goddess. True, there are no hero's tasks (or hero) in the former, and true, there is no magic ship in the latter, but, like the Scottish (recorded 1954) 'Green Man o' Knowledge,' a good-for-nothing wins all the prizes by wit and unearned miracles. 'Six Go through the World' (AT 513A) is the Grimms' version of this tale- type in which a league of underdogs need and utilize special expertise -- magic as the great equalizer. Hardy Hard-Ass, formerly known to a more squeamish publishing industry and public as 'Hardy Hard-Head,' has one more and different helpers. Here a voice-commanded 'land and air ship' replaces the Argo, a 'land and water ship,' (AT 513B) and a charmingly obscene hard set of buttocks replaces a man who can frost any fire (Grimm's no. 71). Anderson notes a neat (if common before eyeglasses) analogue between Apollonius' Lynceus and Hicks' 'See Well,' also the Grimms' hawkeyed Huntsman.
'The Ogre Blinded' motif (AT type 1137) -- here Chapter Ten, 'Two Homeric Tales' (pp. 123-32) -- starts with Polyphemus but is extended to recent times with stories as far away as Finland. Anderson notes that any concatenated voyage could easily accommodate a monster- blinding and a wily hero with a trick-name. When Anderson lists eight or so parallels between Gilgamesh's struggle with Humbaba and Odysseus' Cyclopian spelunking (p. 127), one might expect a systematic attempt to trace the later (detailed) narrative to the earlier tale, but his breathless method moves on immediately to another ball of wax, Bellerophon's magical horse. For Ares and Aphrodite's escapade he finds an Egyptian tale at least eight centuries older, but a genetic connection is only hinted, not asserted or argued. Anderson conceives one Hittite Telepinus tale with a character named Zukki to be a lineal ancestor, in sound of name as well as function, for the Apuleian Psyche (p. 64). Are the meanings then of Psyche's 'meaningful' name entirely fortuitous? Not all will be persuaded.
Chapter Twelve, 'Fairytale into Romance'(pp. 146-57), contends that popular 'fairytale' became Greek romance. Longus and Heliodorus' heroines are patterned after Aschenputtel, a.k.a. Cinderella. Longus' Chloe's recognitions are 'part of a Cinderella mechanism' (p. 146), and Calasiris 'plays the part of the fairy god- person.' I am not sure that Anderson draws any line between suggestive parallels in narrative devices and claims for strict genetic connection. Xenophon, Achilles Tatius, and the author of Apollonius of Tyre then provide examples of 'a part Snow White' (AT 709). Given the parallel predicaments of nearly all ancient (and many modern) novel heroines, Anderson seems to carry his reductionism too far, when he argues for the ancient novels' origins coming always from the embellishment of traditional tales.
Chapter Thirteen, 'Folktale and sorcery: Some Reflections on Ancient Evidence' (pp. 158-66), examines the nature of such folkplots' popularity, exploring psychologism, especially the view that they exist to cushion the crises and problems of vulnerable adolescent girls. Bruno Bettelheim[] is chastised for 'ultra- speculative methods' on the basis of Jack Zipes' more sociological and historically based analysis. Anderson regards the application of Freudianism to fairytales as no more useful than applying Christian allegory to Ovidian metamorphoses, a view I endorse without his having yet argued it.
Anderson opens by cogently arguing that brittle sequences of motifs are likely to be borrowed (diffusion), not separately reinvented (polygenesis). We are unlikely ever to have 'the original [Ur-]version' (itself a contested concept in folklore) but, more often than others think, Anderson argues that our Classical texts gave rise to, or share a common -- more ancient -- source with the surviving tales of early modern Europe, an 'increasingly incestuous fairytale community' (p. 170). Thus he argues that some common (Anatolian?) plot is the source of both Ovid's Baucis and Philemon 'myth' and a Yorkshire wondertale (pp. 16f.) -- genre variants. 'If a story is a genuine folktale or fairytale it will maintain most of its structure, intrinsic logic and basic identity for centuries or millennia on end' (p. 19). He acknowledges that some of his reconstructions require him 'awkwardly [to] unscramble' (p. 142) the texts that we have. Yet, 'much of the standard modern canon of fairytales existed in antiquity' (p. 169). In sum, I think Anderson will achieve more, when he aims his mind at less.[]
[] Antti Aarne & Stith Thompson The Motif-Index of Folk Literature (Vols. I-VI, revised Bloomington 1955-1958) and the same two men's The Types of the Folktale (Helsinki, revised Bloomington 1961).
[] See, for example, Debby Felton Haunted Greece and Rome (Austin 1999) Chapter 6: 'Lucian's Ghost Stories,' and Antonio Stramaglia, Res inauditae, incredulae: Storie di fantasmi nel mondo greco- latino (Bari 1999). Anderson's ninth chapter, 'Between Living and Dead,' hustles too quickly through a variety of relevant tales of ghosts, separated lovers, and Alcestis.
[] Author of the invaluable ancient folktale resource, Ariadne's Thread (Ithaca 2002), unfortunately not yet available to Anderson.
[] See Joseph D. Sobol's introduction in W. B. McCarthy (ed.), Jack in Two Worlds (Chapel Hill 1994) 3-9.
[] Jack Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (Austin 1979), or When Dreams Came True (New York 1999) and many other books; Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales (Princeton 1987).
[] Detlev Fehling, Amor und Psyche (Wiesbaden 1977); cf. Carl Schlam, The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself (Chapel Hill 1992), not noticed by Anderson.
[] Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment (London & New York 1976).
[] The notes are copious (sometimes fifteen on a page) and helpful, although the publisher unhelpfully placed them, despite the wonders of technology, in the rear. There is a good index of subjects and of tale- types, and a bibliography that one can spend a lifetime absorbing. The proofreading has faltered in chapter eleven where words have been run together and an ancient critic named 'Dio of Halicarnassus' makes his unwelcome debut.