Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity

ISBN : 9780198831037

Greta Hawes
304 Pages
138 x 216 mm
Pub date
Oct 2018
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The Greek myths are characteristically fabulous; they are full of monsters, metamorphoses, and the supernatural. However, they could be told in other ways as well. This volume charts ancient dissatisfaction with the excesses of myth, and the various attempts to cut these stories down to size by explaining them as misunderstood accounts of actual events. In the hands of ancient rationalizers, the hybrid forms of the Centaurs become early horse-riders, seen from a distance; the Minotaur the result of an illicit liaison, not an inter-species love affair; and Cerberus, nothing more than a notorious snake with a lethal bite. Such approaches form an indigenous mode of ancient myth criticism, and show Greeks grappling with the value and utility of their own narrative traditions. Rationalizing interpretations offer an insight into the practical difficulties inherent in distinguishing myth from history in ancient Greece, and indeed the fragmented nature of myth itself as a conceptual entity.

By focusing on six Greek authors (Palaephatus, Heraclitus, Excerpta Vaticana, Conon, Plutarch, and Pausanias) and tracing the development of rationalistic interpretation from the fourth century BC to the Second Sophistic (first to second centuries AD) and beyond, Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity shows that, far from being marginalized as it has been in the past, rationalization should be understood as a fundamental component of the pluralistic and shifting network of Greek myth as it was experienced in antiquity.


1 Palaephatus. Peri Apiston
2 Heraclitus. Peri Apiston
3 Anonymous. Peri Apiston
4 Conon. Diegeseis
5 Plutarch. Life of Theseus
6 Pausanias. Periegesis
Appendix One: The date and authenticity of Palaephatus, Peri Apiston
Appendix Two: Translation of Anonymous, Peri Apiston
Index Locorum
General Index

About the author: 

Greta Hawes is a lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the Australian National University. She specializes in the study of Greek myth, particularly the examination of ancient contexts for storytelling, the Greeks' assessment of mythic phenomena in their own culture, and the modes of interpretation to which these gave rise. Her first book, Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity (OUP, 2014), charts ancient dissatisfaction with the excesses of myth and various attempts to cut them down to size; it argues that this rationalizing tradition offers important insights into the practical difficulties inherent in distinguishing myth from history in antiquity and into the fragmented nature of myth itself as an emic concept.

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