Childrens Folklore: A Handbook (Greenwood Folklore Handbooks)

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But in the second century a. Fountains of Tradition 31 Pausanias, like Herodotus in his digressions, could be described as a periegete, or tour guide8: he takes us round mainland Greece, in this instance, region by region, often, but not always, using extant monuments as the prompt to record local myths, legends, and folktales connected with them.

Sometimes the material has an obviously civic, official, and authored status, but more particularly, in remote rural areas he is able to point to what he regards as immemorial rites and traditions, and he is particularly outstanding for his reliability. He may be occasionally guilty of erroneous interpretation, but falsehood, propaganda, or forgery are foreign to him, and his value as a folklore resource is enhanced accordingly.

He describes what he sees and what is locally said about it. On the whole he is interested in the sacred rather than the secular, a preference that again augurs well for information about folklore. He still believed in the traditional gods and made sacrifices on his own account; he also had a belief in oracles and their connection with divine justice. The pious objectivity of his makeup is implied in the description of a rain-making ceremony in Arcadia: 8. When he has stirred the water a vapour rises like a mist; and after a short period the mist becomes a cloud, gathers other clouds to itself, and causes rain to fall on the land of the Arcadians.

In spite of his own generally rationalistic style of observation, Pausanias will, however, acknowledge the work of what he sees as magical or demonic forces, as when he notes the deterioration in the appearance of Megalopolis and attributes it to supernatural powers: 4.

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He has a similar complaint at Argos over a local claim to possess the Palladium from Troy, when general consensus had it brought to Italy by Aeneas. Here you are shown the threshing-floor of Triptolemos, as it is called, and the altar. My dream has forbidden me to write what lies within the sanctuary wall, and the uninitiated clearly should not know about the things they are not allowed to see. They say the hero Eleusis from whom the city takes its name is either the son of Hermes and Daeira the daughter of Okeanos, or others have it that his father was Ogygos.

When the ancients had no poem to follow, they made up a great deal, particularly on the genealogy of heroes I. One has a sense, all too often, of serendipitous compilation rather than systematic exposition. But what of the explanation of specific instances? A few decades earlier than Pausanias, we have two invaluable sources, which bridge the gap between scientific and philosophic approaches to the primitive and the presentation of raw data: the Greek Questions and Roman Questions of Plutarch,12 not only a biographer in his Lives, but a scholar and moralist in a large number of short ethical and other treatises, the so-called Moralia.

Often, several conflicting explanations are offered, with or without any attempt to evaluate them. Plutarch represents a more intellectual and interactive attitude to folklore than does Pausanias. The Cymaeans would bring a woman taken in adultery into the market place and make her sit on a particular stone where everybody could see her. And after this they held the stone to be unclean and conducted a purification ceremony.

In this case Plutarch is well informed about the custom and does not have to resort to conflicting interpretation. He does not have to tell us the actual reason for the choice of animal: the donkey was depicted both in literature and art as having lustful associations and an enormous member. Roman scholar, antiquarian, and man of letters is setting out to record information on all aspects of the natural world that is as factual, and therefore as scientifically informed, as possible. Licinius Mucianus concerning a temple of Dionysus that was capable of flowing with wine16 or a temple in Lycia where a letter was preserved that had allegedly been written by a Trojan war hero.

These matters have been determined by those who believe the gods to be present in all their dealings and at all times, and so they have left the gods reconciled to us, even to our faults. Indeed it has been noted that a gathering suddenly falls silent, but not unless an even number are gathered, and the harmful effect of this report still extends to each person present.

Also, food fallen from the hand is not put back on the table at least between the courses, and it has been forbidden to remove it to clean. And there are auguries relating to what people say or think during such an occurrence, and it is particularly inauspicious if it should happen to a priest officially present at the meal; to put food back on the table and burn it in the presence of the Lar is an act of sacrilege.

Medicines put on the table by accident before use are said to be ineffectual. Many feel it to be a religious obligation to cut nails on Nundinae Romanae, and to begin with the index finger; but to cut their hair to ensure against hair loss and headache on the seventeenth and twenty-eighth of the month. The peasant custom in many regions of Italy forbids women to turn their spindles as they walk on a journey, or to carry them uncovered, as this gives rise to disappointment in all things, especially in relation to crops.

Servilius Nonianus, an important figure in the city, was not afraid of eye-strain until he mentioned it himself or someone else spoke to him about it, but hung a piece of papyrus round his neck inscribed with the two Greek letters PA, and tied round with a thread; while Mucianus, three times consul, used for the same reason a live fly in a little white bag; the two declared that thanks to these cures they were always free from eye-strain. The notion that sudden silence can be harmful may be because demons are able to approach they are often kept off by loud noises.

Occasional modern instances of associating silence and odd numbers are known; it may be that the odd number was potent enough to ward off demons—on the other hand, a widespread primitive notion was that enchantment by the evil eye was most likely to occur during meals. Fountains of Tradition 35 Evil spirits were thought likely to make malicious use of hair or nails, which, as part of the living person and still growing, have a special status and could be thought, in particular, to control weather magic.

The significance of the 17th or 29th of the month would be after full moon or just before the new moon. The taboo on exposing the spindle on a journey may relate to the prophetic or fatal power of women spinners by analogy with the fates themselves.

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Apart from the relative objectivity of Pliny and his perhaps revealing lack of selectivity , we have some sense from so brief an extract of the extent and variety of superstitions and irrational notions and the thought world of folklore reaching even to the highest ranks of society.

We shall notice, from time to time, the trust in aristocratic authority for this or that phenomenon or practice: all too often, educated writers are distrustful of those who could have furnished much more detail about popular belief. In the course of a sequence of literary character sketches, Theophrastus, a fourth-century b.

And if a weasel runs in front of him, he will not go one more step until someone else overtakes him or he has thrown three stones to the other side of the road. And if he should see a snake in the house, if it is a harmless one, he invokes Sabazios, but if it is poisonous, he sets up a stone to Heracles on the selfsame spot.

ANTH 340 Folklore and the Supernatural (Fall 2016)

When he goes past the smooth stones at the crossroads he anoints them with oil from his flask, falls on his knees, and reveres them before he can go on his way. And if a mouse gnaws through a bag of barley, he goes to the expounder of omens to ask what to do; and if he is told to give the bag to the cobbler to stitch it up, he pays no attention, but turns tail and performs a sacrifice to expiate the omen.

And he is adept at frequently purifying his house, claiming that something has happened to attract Hecate. And he does not like to set foot in a tomb, or go near a corpse or a woman in labour, 36 Greek and Roman Folklore but says he has to avoid pollution.

And on fourth and seventh days of the month he tells his household to boil the wine, while he goes out and buys myrtle-berries, incense, and honey-cakes, and comes home and puts garlands on the figures of Hermaphroditus; and when he has a dream, off he goes to the dream-interpreters, the soothsayers, or the interpreters of birds, to ask what god or goddess he should pray to. When he is intending to be initiated he goes to the Orphic initiators month after month, with his wife or the nurse, if his wife is too busy and his children.

And I imagine he would be one of those who scrupulously sprinkles himself with salt water on the seashore.

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And if he sees a mad person or an epileptic, he spits into his bosom with a shiver. Not only can the great majority of details be supported from other sources,19 but the author has afforded an entertaining caricature of someone almost unbelievably addicted to the observation of petty taboos.


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An interesting sidelight of the passage is the reference to a whole range of consultants available to interpret the omens and avert any potential bad luck incurred. His authorities range from the relatively reputable Orphic again, with strong associations with purity, but already derided by Plato , to the wise woman, little more than a fortune-teller. He has to ingratiate himself with any and every deity, including the relative newcomer Sabazius; he needs to flatter Athene as the deity in charge of the otherwise ominous owl, which he presumes he has startled; the fourth day is sacred to Hermes, the seventh to Apollo in whose regard he chews the bay leaves ; Hermaphroditus is presumably honored as a son of Hermes; the stone at the crossroads is in honor of Hecate.

He is particularly sensitive about potentially ill-omened sights seen en route and so liable to prejudice the outcome of any expedition, hence the throwing of stones against the evil of the weasel or the spitting to counteract an ill-omened human contact. No less revealing is the nuance that his wife may have better things to do with her time than join in the endless round of purifications.

One notes, once again, the emphasis on avoidance of bad luck, which far outweighs the acquisition of good: it is fear rather than hope that drives the deisidaimon, and that fear is of an obsessive-compulsive kind. Both authors establish an ambience of the provincial superstition of the lower classes, as viewed by the highly educated and sophisticated observer.

His freedmen friends are similarly inclined, all of them heavily reliant on the vagaries of luck. As he was saying this, a cock crowed. Trimalchio was thrown by this and ordered wine to be poured under the table, and even the lamp to be sprinkled with undiluted wine. A rather stranger and part-fictional confection has come down to us from the less familiar thought world of the early third century a. His companions tried to discourage him—for the Dioscoridai and Phaidimoi and the whole company of such disciples were already attached to him: they claimed that Achilles was still dreadful as an apparition; for the people of Troy were convinced of this.

If we are telling the truth, show me your own appearance; you would derive great benefit from appearing to me, as you would have my eyes to witness your existence. At that there was a tremor round the mound, and a young man five cubits in height emerged, clad in a Thessalian cloak, but he did not have an arrogant appearance, as some imagine. When I first saw him he was five cubits in height, but he grew to more than twice that height. For the Thessalians have for a long time neglected to make offerings to me, but I do not yet think it right to show my anger against them.

I am warning them gently not to violate tradition custom, and not to prove themselves inferior to the Trojans, who. So then that I do not reduce the Thessalians to the fate of the Trojans , serve as my envoy to their assembly on the matter I have raised.