From Cinderella to The Boy Who Cried Wolf to The Dragon Slayer to the Judgment of Solomon, certain legends, myths, and folktales are part of the oral tradition in countries around the world. In addition to their pervasiveness, these stories show an astonishing longevity; many such tales are found in classical antiquity.
Ariadne's Thread is an encyclopedia of more than a hundred such international oral tales, all present in the literature of ancient Greece and Rome. It takes into account writings, including early Jewish and Christian literature, recorded in or translated into Greek or Latin by writers of any nationality. As a result, it will be invaluable not only to classicists and folklorists but also to a wide range of other readers who are interested in stories and storytelling.
William Hansen presents the familiar form of each tale and discusses the similar ancient story or stories, examining how each corresponds with and differs from that form. He then gives principal sources and, where appropriate, comments on the cultural factors affecting the shape and content of the ancient story, the context of transmission, and issues raised in the secondary literature. Finally, he provides a bibliography of scholarly studies and the pertinent reference in the standard folk-narrative index, The Types of the Folktale by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson.
Again and again, Hansen demonstrates how ancient narratives are often best understood in the context of the larger tradition. He forces us to rethink the nature of Greek mythology by encouraging an appreciation of the extent to which Greek myths and legends parallel international stories. By virtue of their durability, he says, these orally transmitted stories rank among the world's most successful artistic creations.
"Hansen traces the origins of more than 100 folktales to their roots in the literature of antiquity.... A valuable source for classicists and students of folklore."
Library Journal, September 2001
"For classicists, the fascination is to discover not two or three but many stories from different genres which are related to international folklore. For other readers, the reward will be to encounter long-familiar stories and follow their different permutations in a variety of cultures."
Philip A Stadter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"Hansen has written a useful survey demonstrating how both popular and learned tradition in the classical world drew on the narrative riches of Indo-European and Near Eastern oral tradition. A clear introduction discusses folktales in classical antiquity and the comparative study of folktales.... The complete table of contents, series of indexes including tale-type index, and broad bibliography make the material extraordinarily accessible, whether one wants to hunt down classical Cinderellas or check on how much Herodotus or Cicero drew on traditional narrative. The work of a lifetime of reading and annotating, this book is a browser's dream. Recommended for all libraries."
Choice, September 2002
"Of the many rewards in Hansen's masterpiece, coverage and accessibility deserve special mention. Not just poets and mythographers, but historians, philosophers, travel writers, orators, grammarians, and novelists too are scoured for stories, yielding a treasury of tales. Twelve dense index columns of ancient sources join the forty-two-page bibliography, the general index, and the 'Index of Tale Types' in the backmatter. Far from merely a reference book, the volume mirrors the multiformity of its subject, making a fine text for advanced myth classes, a resource for scholars in comparative studies, and a delightful bedside reader."
Richard P. Martin, The Classical Review, 2003
"In Ariadne's Thread, classicist and folklorist William Hansen leads readers through a maze of about 100 migratory stories with versions in ancient Greek or Latin sources. Hansen thus connects stories from Greco-Roman antiquity with a wealth of tales found in locales ranging from China and India to Scandinavia, Africa, and the United States. The result is both fascinating and fun, as Hansen repeatedly demonstrates the versatility and vitality of the stories he treats."
Rebecca Resinski, The Key Reporter, Fall 2003
"Ariadne's Thread may prove an invaluable sourcebook not only for classicists but, perhaps more importantly, for folklorists.... Written in Hansen's clear, pleasant style, it is overall a fascinating collection that, one hopes, will encourage folklorists to learn more about the earliest extant versions of many tales and motifs and the labyrinthine paths they follow in their migrations."
Marvels and Tales Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies
"Hansen's volume will be an indispensable addition to the libraries of classicists working on traditional tales and myths, but the audience that will benefit from it is much wider... Pleasant surprises and interesting connections lurk on almost every page.... This is an important reference and a joy to use."
Stephen M. Trzaskoma
Religious Studies Review