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Palaephatus was the original author of a rationalizing text on Greek mythology, the work of paradoxography
Paradoxography is a genre of Classical literature which deals with the occurrence of abnormal or inexplicable phenomena of the natural or human worlds.Early surviving examples of the genre include:* Palaephatus' On Incredible Things...

 On Incredible Tales , which survives in a (probably corrupt) Byzantine edition.

This work consists of an introduction and 52 brief sections on various Greek myths. The first 45 have a common format: a brief statement of a wonder tale from Greek mythology, usually followed by a claim of disbelief ("This is absurd" or "This is not likely" or "The true version is..."), and then a sequence of every-day occurrences which gave rise to the wonder-story through misunderstanding. The last seven are equally brief retellings of myth, without any rationalizing explanation.

Palaephatus' date and name are uncertain; many scholars have concluded that Palaephatus is a pseudonym; the evidence, such as it is, is all of it consistent with the late fourth century BC.

On Incredible Things

Palaephatus' introduction sets his approach between those who believe everything that is said to them and those more subtle minds who believe that none [of Greek mythology] ever happened. He sets up two premises: that every story derives from some past event, and a principle of uniformity
Principle of uniformity
The principle of uniformity may refer to* The assumption is that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now, have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe: Uniformitarianism....

, that "anything which existed in the past now exists and will exist hereafter"; this he derives from the philosophers Melissus
Melissus may refer to:People:* Melissus of Samos , Greek philosopher* Melissus of Thebes, Greek athlete contrasted to Orion by Pindar* Gaius Maecenas Melissus, , Roman writerOther:...

 and Lamiscus of Samos
Samoš is a village in Serbia. It is situated in the Kovačica municipality, in the South Banat District, Vojvodina province. The village has a Serb ethnic majority and its population numbering 1,247 people .-See also:...

. So there must be some probable series of events behind all myth; but the "poets and early historians" made them into wonderful tales to amaze their audience. Palaephatus then claims to base what follows on personal research, going to many places and asking older people what happened.

A typical, if short, example of Palaephatus' method and tone is his handling of Callisto
Callisto (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Callisto or Kallisto was a nymph of Artemis. Transformed into a bear and set among the stars, she was the bear-mother of the Arcadians, through her son Arcas.-Origin of the myth:...

"The story about Callisto is that while she was out hunting she turned into a bear. What I maintain is that she too during a hunt found her way into a grove of trees where a bear happened to be and was devoured. Her hunting companions saw her going into the grove, but not coming out; they said that the girl turned into a bear." (§14, tr. Stern)

As usual in Palaephatus, the miracle is told baldly and without context, and the action of the gods is not mentioned; in the traditional story, Artemis
Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. Some scholars believe that the name and indeed the goddess herself was originally pre-Greek. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: "Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals"...

 transforms Callisto, because she was an unfaithful priestess. Palaephatus rarely mentions the gods, and when he discusses Actaeon
Actaeon , in Greek mythology, son of the priestly herdsman Aristaeus and Autonoe in Boeotia, was a famous Theban hero. Like Achilles in a later generation, he was trained by the centaur Chiron....

, his statement of disbelief is: "Artemis can do whatever she wants, yet it is not true that a man became a deer or a deer a man" (§6, tr. Stern); his principle of uniformity applies to human beings. Jacob Stern distinguishes this from the more wide-ranging rationalism of Euhemerus
Euhemerus was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Euhemerus' birthplace is disputed, with Messina in Sicily as the most probable location, while others champion Chios, or Tegea.-Life:...

: Palaephatus retains Callisto and Actaeon as historic human beings; rationalism extended to the gods can make them deified human beings or personifications of natural forces or of the passions, but does not leave them gods.

Palaephatus uses four principal devices for explaining the wonders of myth, and a number of minor devices:
  • The monster or animal was actually a man or thing bearing that name: Cadmus
    Cadmus or Kadmos , in Greek mythology was a Phoenician prince, the son of king Agenor and queen Telephassa of Tyre and the brother of Phoenix, Cilix and Europa. He was originally sent by his royal parents to seek out and escort his sister Europa back to Tyre after she was abducted from the shores...

     didn't fight a dragon, but a King of Thebes named Draco, who had some ivory tusks; his followers scattered abroad with the tusks, and raised armed men against Thebes (§4). Scylla
    In Greek mythology, Scylla was a monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water, opposite its counterpart Charybdis. The two sides of the strait were within an arrow's range of each other—so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis would pass too close to Scylla and vice...

     was a pirate ship with an image (presumably of a dog) on her prow, which attacked Ulysses and inflicted casualties (§20). Hercules attacked a fort named Hydra, with the assistance of a Carian named Carcinus (which means "Crab", §38).
  • Other double meanings: Mēlon in Greek means both "sheep" and "apple"; so the real story was that Hercules raided a flock of sheep of especially fine, "golden", quality from the daughters of one Hesperus of Miletus; but the poets prefer the golden apples of the Hesperides
    In Greek mythology, the Hesperides are nymphs who tend a blissful garden in a far western corner of the world, located near the Atlas mountains in North Africa at the edge of the encircling Oceanus, the world-ocean....

     (§18). Geryon
    In Greek mythology, Geryon , son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe and grandson of Medusa, was a fearsome giant who dwelt on the island Erytheia of the mythic Hesperides in the far west of the Mediterranean. A more literal-minded later generation of Greeks associated the region with Tartessos in southern...

     and Cerberus
    Cerberus , or Kerberos, in Greek and Roman mythology, is a multi-headed hound which guards the gates of the Underworld, to prevent those who have crossed the river Styx from ever escaping...

     didn't have three heads, they came from Tricarenia, a city, whose name means "three-headed" and which Palaephatus has invented for the purpose. ($24, 39) Similarly, Bellerophon
    Bellerophon or Bellerophontes is a hero of Greek mythology. He was "the greatest hero and slayer of monsters, alongside of Cadmus and Perseus, before the days of Heracles", and his greatest feat was killing the Chimera, a monster that Homer depicted with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a...

     killed, not the monstrous Chimaera
    Chimera (mythology)
    The Chimera or Chimaera was, according to Greek mythology, a monstrous fire-breathing female creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, composed of the parts of multiple animals: upon the body of a lioness with a tail that ended in a snake's head, the head of a goat arose on her back at the center of her...

    , but the lion and the serpent who lived by a fiery chasm on Mount Chimaera in Lycia
    Lycia Lycian: Trm̃mis; ) was a region in Anatolia in what are now the provinces of Antalya and Muğla on the southern coast of Turkey. It was a federation of ancient cities in the region and later a province of the Roman Empire...

     (by burning down the surrounding forest). Mt. Chimaera is called that by other authors, and is not Palaephatus' invention. (§28)
  • Metaphorical expressions which became widespread, and which the poets then took literally: Actaeon
    Actaeon , in Greek mythology, son of the priestly herdsman Aristaeus and Autonoe in Boeotia, was a famous Theban hero. Like Achilles in a later generation, he was trained by the centaur Chiron....

     wasn't eaten by his dogs; he spent so much on them that "His dogs are devouring Actaeon" became proverbial (§6). A statue of Niobe
    Niobe was a daughter of Tantalus and of either Dione, the most frequently cited, or of Eurythemista or Euryanassa, and she was the sister of Pelops and Broteas, all of whom figure in Greek mythology....

     was put up over her children's grave; passersby began to speak of "the stone Niobe". (§8) Amphion
    There are several characters named Amphion in Greek mythology:* Amphion, son of Zeus and Antiope, and twin brother of Zethus . Together they are famous for building Thebes. Amphion married Niobe, and killed himself after the loss of his wife and children at the hands of Apollo and Artemis...

     and Zethus would only play if their hearers would work on the walls of Thebes; only in that sense were the walls "built by a lyre", and the addition that the stones moved themselves is fiction. (§41)
  • When things were first invented, people saw them as even more wonderful than they were: The Centaurs were not half-man, half-horse; they were the first to learn to ride. (§ 1) Lynceus
    In Greek mythology, Lynceus was a king of Argos, succeeding Danaus. He is named as a descendant of Belus through his father Aegyptus, who was the twin brother of Danaus. Danaus had fifty daughters, the Danaides, while Aegyptus had fifty sons including Lynceus, whose name when translated means "wolf"...

     could see underground, because he was the first miner, and invented the miner's lamp. (§9) Daedalus
    In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a skillful craftsman and artisan.-Family:...

     was the first to make statues with their feet apart, so men said his statues "walked". (§21) And Medea
    Medea is a woman in Greek mythology. She was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later wife to the hero Jason, with whom she had two children, Mermeros and Pheres. In Euripides's play Medea, Jason leaves Medea when Creon, king of...

     didn't boil old men to make them young; she invented hair-dye and the sauna. Poor feeble Pelias
    Pelias was king of Iolcus in Greek mythology, the son of Tyro and Poseidon. His wife is recorded as either Anaxibia, daughter of Bias, or Phylomache, daughter of Amphion. He was the father of Acastus, Pisidice, Alcestis, Pelopia, Hippothoe, Asteropia, and Antinoe.Tyro was married to Cretheus...

     just died in the steam-bath. (§ 43)

The author's identity and the Suda entries

Palaephatus is a very rare name, and many scholars have concluded that it is a pseudonym; as an adjective in epic poetry, it meant of ancient fame; it could also mean speaker of old tales. If Palaephatus wrote (as is perhaps most likely) in Athens in the fourth century BC, rationalizing Greek mythology could be dangerous; Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than...

 had been sent into exile in the previous century for no more.

The only accounts of the life of any Palaephatus are four entries in the Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

(pi 69, 70, 71, 72), a Byzantine biographical dictionary, compiled about 1000 AD:

"Palaephatus of Athens"

Palaephatus of Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, an epic poet, to whom a mythical origin was assigned. According to some he was a son of Actaeus
Actaeus was the first king of Attica, according to Pausanias. He was the son of Erysichthon, father of Agraulus, and father-in-law to Cecrops, the first king of the city of Athens. Actaeus is said to have ruled over a city named Acte or Akte. The location of this city is uncertain...

 and Boeo, according to others of Iocles and Metaneira, and according to a third statement of Hermes
Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and a guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Kyllini in Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves, of orators and...

. The time at which he lived is uncertain, but he appears to have been usually placed after Phemonoe
In Greek mythology, Phemonoe was a Greek poetess of the ante-Homeric period. She was said to have been the daughter of Apollo, his first priestess at Delphi, and the inventor of the hexameter verses, a type of poetic metre. In some studies, attributed to the phrase "know thyself" found inscribed...

, though some writers assigned him even an earlier date. He is represented by Christodorus
Christodorus , a Greek epic poet from Coptos in Egypt, flourished during the reign of Anastasius I .According to Suidas, he was the author of Patria , accounts of the foundation, history and antiquities of various cities; Lydiaka , the mythical history of Lydia; Isaurica Christodorus , a Greek epic...

 (Anth. Graec.
Greek Anthology
The Greek Anthology is a collection of poems, mostly epigrams, that span the classical and Byzantine periods of Greek literature...

, i. p. 27, ed. Tauchnitz
Tauchnitz was the name of a family of German printers and publishers.Karl Christoph Traugott Tauchnitz , born at Grossbardau near Grimma, Saxony, established a printing business in Leipzig in 1796 and a publishing house in 1798...

) as an old bard crowned with laurel. The Suda has preserved the titles of the following poems of Palaephatus: (The Making of the World, 5000 lines) (The Births of Apollo and Artemis, 3000 lines) (Speeches and sayings of Aphrodite and Eros
Eros , in Greek mythology, was the Greek god of love. His Roman counterpart was Cupid . Some myths make him a primordial god, while in other myths, he is the son of Aphrodite....

, 5000 lines) (Contest of Athena and Poseidon, 1000 lines) (Leto
In Greek mythology, Leto is a daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. The island of Kos is claimed as her birthplace. In the Olympian scheme, Zeus is the father of her twins, Apollo and Artemis, the Letoides, which Leto conceived after her hidden beauty accidentally caught the eyes of Zeus...

's Lock)

"Palaephatus of Paros"

Palaephatus of Paros
Paros is an island of Greece in the central Aegean Sea. One of the Cyclades island group, it lies to the west of Naxos, from which it is separated by a channel about wide. It lies approximately south-east of Piraeus. The Municipality of Paros includes numerous uninhabited offshore islets...

, or Priene
Priene was an ancient Greek city of Ionia at the base of an escarpment of Mycale, about north of the then course of the Maeander River, from today's Aydin, from today's Söke and from ancient Miletus...

, lived in the time of Artaxerxes
Artaxerxes may refer to:The throne name of several Achaemenid rulers of the 1st Persian Empire:* Artaxerxes I of Persia, Artaxerxes I Longimanus, r. 465–424 BC, son and successor of Xerxes I...

. Suidas attributes to him the five books of Incredible Things [also five books of On Troy], but adds that many persons assigned this work to Palaephatus of Athens.

"Palaephatus of Abydos"

Palaephatus of Abydos
Abydos, Hellespont
For other uses, see Abydos Abydos , an ancient city of Mysia, in Asia Minor, situated at Nara Burnu or Nagara Point on the best harbor on the Asiatic shore of the Hellespont. Across Abydos lies Sestus on the European side marking the shortest point in the Dardanelles, scarcely a mile broad...

, an historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 who lived in the time of Alexander the Great, and is stated to have been loved (παιδικά) by the philosopher Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, for which the Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

quotes the authority of Philo, Peri paradoxou historias, and of Theodorus of Ilium, Troica, Book 2. Suidas gives the titles of the following works of Palaephatus: Cypriaca, Deliaca, Attica, Arabica.

(Smith explains that some writers believe that this Palaephatus of Abydos wrote the fragment on Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n history, which is preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

, and which is quoted by him as the work of Abydenus
Abydenus was a Greek historian, and the author of a History of the Chaldeans and Assyrians, of which some fragments are preserved by Eusebius in his Praeparatio Evangelica, and by Cyril of Alexandria in his work against Julian. Several other fragments are preserved by Syncellus. These were...

; but Abydenus is that author's name, not the adjective meaning "from Abydos".)

"Palaephatus the Egyptian"

Palaephatus, an Egyptian or Athenian, and a grammarian, as he is described by Suidas, who assigns to him the following works: (Egyptian Theology) (On Myths, one book) (Solutions of problems with Myths) (Introductions to Simonides
* Simonides of Ceos, , a lyric poet* Semonides of Amorgos, an iambic poet* Flavius Simonides Agrippa, son of Roman Jewish Historian Josephus* Constantine Simonides, 19th-century forger of 'ancient' manuscripts...

) (On Troy), which some however attributed to the Athenian (No. 1), and others to the Parian (No. 2).
  • He also wrote a history of himself.

One author behind these traditions

Of these, the first Palaephatus is, like Phemonoe, entirely legendary; modern scholars regard the other three as different literary traditions relating to the author of On Incredible Things. The Troica did once exist, and was cited in antiquity for geographical information on the people of the Trojan War, the Troad itself, and the surrounding area of Asia Minor; ancient authors cited the work's seventh and ninth books, so it must have been fairly long.

If the Artaxerxes mentioned by the Suda is Artaxerxes III Ochus, these data are all compatible with a student of Aristotle about 340 BC, who came from the area around the Hellespont to Athens, and is called the Egyptian, sometimes, because he wrote on Egypt. The only internal evidence in the surviving book are citations of the two philosophers in the introduction and two literary references; if Melissus is Melissus of Samos
Melissus of Samos
Melissus of Samos was the third and last member of the ancient school of Eleatic philosophy, whose other members included Zeno and Parmenides. Little is known about his life except that he was the commander of the Samian fleet shortly before the Peloponnesian War. Melissus’ contribution to...

, he lived in the previous century, and one possible Lamiscus is a Pythagorean contemporary of Plato. The literary references are one citation of Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

 and the presentation of Alcestis
Alcestis is a princess in Greek mythology, known for her love of her husband. Her story was popularised in Euripides's tragedy Alcestis. She was the daughter of Pelias, king of Iolcus, and either Anaxibia or Phylomache....

, which is quite similar to Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

' Alcestis.

Transmission of the text

There are a dozen manuscripts of the present text, differing in length and in order, dating from the thirteenth through sixteenth century. How much of it derives from Palaephatus himself is open to question, although there is general agreement that the seven chapters of straight unrationalized mythology at the end are not. Festa, who edited the text in 1902, believed that Palaephatian texts became a genre, and our present text is a congeries of texts in that genre, most not by Palaephatus himself; Jacob Stern believes that this is a selection from all five books of the original.

Modern editions

Palaephatus' book was first printed by Aldus Manutius
Aldus Manutius
Aldus Pius Manutius , the Latinised name of Aldo Manuzio —sometimes called Aldus Manutius, the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, Aldus Manutius, the Younger—was an Italian humanist who became a printer and publisher when he founded the Aldine Press at Venice.His publishing legacy includes...

 in his 1505 edition of Aesop. It became popular as a school-text because of its simple but Attic Greek, and because the Renaissance approved its approach to classical mythology; it was edited by six more editors before the nineteenth century because of its popularity. Although Aldus did not include a Latin translation, later editors included one; many reprinted Cornelius Tollius
Cornelius Tollius
Cornelius or Cornelis Tollius was a Dutch scholar.-Life:Tollius was the son of Johannes Tollius and his first wife Maria Gordon. He probably studied in Utrecht and certainly in Amsterdam under the friendly guidance of Gerhard Johann Vossius...

' Latin version, included with his Greek text (Amsterdam, 1649).

Recent editions include:
  • J.H.M. Ernesti, Paläphatus, Von unglaublichen Begebenheiten, griechisch: mit erklärendem Wörterbuche nach den Kapiteln des Paläphatus : sowohl zum Schulgebrauche als zum Selbstunterricht, Leipzig, 1816.
  • A. Westermann, in Μυθογράφοι: Scriptores Poeticae Historiae Graeci, Braunschweig, 1843, pp. 268-312.
  • N. Festa, Palaephati Περὶ ἀπίστων (Mythographi Graeci, vol. 3, fasc. 2), Leipzig: Bibliotheca Teubneriana
    Bibliotheca Teubneriana
    The Bibliotheca Teubneriana, or Teubner editions of Greek and Latin texts, comprise the most thorough modern collection ever published of ancient Greco-Roman literature...

    , 1902.
  • J. Stern, Palaephatus: On Unbelievable Tales. Wauconda, Ill.: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1996 (photoreprint of Festa's Greek text and textual notes, with a translation into English and extensive critical notes).
  • K. Brodersen, Die Wahrheit über die griechischen Mythen. Palaiphatos' "Unglaubliche Geschichten". Griechisch/Deutsch. Stuttgart, 2002 (Greek text and German translation; the Greek is based on Festa's text, but also takes into account the Codex Harrisianus).

External links