R. Scott Smith and Stephen M. Trzaskoma

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

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“Mythography” is a broad term used to cover what is, in fact, a disparate set of texts from the ancient world, all in prose, all dealing in one way or another with myth, but otherwise not necessarily closely related. Some of them attempt to collect and organize traditional stories (we refer to this as “systematic mythography”); some are more concerned with the interpretation and evaluation of them (“interpretive mythography”); and some show a mixture of these tendencies. Even within these general categories, there is wide variation among the surviving examples. Systematic mythography includes attempts at organizing the whole of Greek myth into a single narrative (Pseudo-Apollodorus, which covers everything from the reign of Ouranos and Gaia to the generation after the Trojan War), but also works in which the same material is organized as individual stories (Hyginus’s Fabulae), as well as more specialized treatments that focus on a particular subset of myths, such as transformations, love stories, and star myths (Antoninus Liberalis, Parthenius, and Pseudo-Eratosthenes, respectively). Interpretive mythography is likewise varied, but in general it has the aim of making sense of myth in light of other intellectual and philosophical developments, for instance, by attempting to reconcile myth and the observable facts of the real world (Palaephatus) or to explain it as philosophical or religious allegory (Cornutus and others). Many scholars use the term “mythography” solely in reference to the systematic sort. Mythography as a genre is normally seen as a Hellenistic and Imperial phenomenon, but antecedents appear alongside the earliest prose writers of history and philosophy in the 5th century bce. One area of important investigation remains how to distinguish early mythography from these allied genres, a vexed question because later authorities may often call the same author a historian, genealogist, and mythographer without distinction, and the sources are not well preserved. Mythography remained a continuous activity from these origins until the end of Antiquity, and even beyond. The early Hellenistic examples of the genre, which seem to have been crucial in establishing the central forms and varieties of mythography, are themselves poorly preserved, but we have rather more texts surviving from the 1st century bce onward, and these often give us our only glimpses of their predecessors. For purposes of convenience, mythographic works here are divided into chronological categories—(1) early (that is, Archaic and Classical), (2) Hellenistic, and (3) Imperial—but it should be remembered that precise chronology is difficult to establish.

Article.  7541 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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