Palae'phatus4. An Egyptian or Athenian, and a grammarian, as he is described by Suidas.
WorksSuidas assigns to Palaephatus the following works: (1) Αἰγυπτιακὴ θεολογία. (2) Μυθικῶν βιβλίον ά. (3) Λύσεις τῶν μυθικῶς εἰρημένων. (4) Ὑποθέσεις εἰς Σιμωνίδην. (5) Τρωϊκά,, which some however attributed to the Athenian [No. 1], and others to the Parian [No. 2]. He also wrote (6) Ἱστορία ἰδία. It has been supposed that the Μυθικά and the Λύσεις are one and the same work; but we have no certain information on the point.
Τρωϊκά seems to have been the most celebrated, as we find it frequently referred to by the ancient grammarians. It contained apparently geographical and historical discussions respecting Asia Minor and more particularly its northern coasts, and must have been divided into several books. (Comp. Suidas, s. u. Μακροκέφαλοι; Steph. Byz. s. u. Χαριμάται; Harpocrat. s. u. Δυσαύλης.)
Παλαίφατος περὶ ἀπίστων (Concerning Incredible Tales）
There is extant a small work entitled Παλαίφατος περὶ ἀπίστων, or Concerning Incredible Tales, giving a brief account of some of the most celebrated Greek legends.
That this is merely an abstract of a much larger work is evident from many considerations; first, because Suidas speaks of it as consisting of five books [see above, No. 2]; secondly, because many of the ancient writers refer to Palaephatus for statements which are not found in the treatise now extant; and thirdly, because the manuscripts exhibit it in various forms, the abridgement being sometimes briefer and sometimes longer.
It was doubtless the original work to which Virgil refers (Ciris, 88): Περὶ απίστων consists of 51 sections, of which only the first 46 contain explanations of the myths.
The remaining five sections are written in an entirely different style, without any expression of distrust or disbelief as to the common form of the myth; and as they are wanting in all manuscripts at present extant, they are probably the work of another hand.
In the first 46 sections Palaephatus generally relates in a few lines the common form of the myth, introducing it with some such words as φασὶν ὡς, λέγεται ὡς &c.; he then expresses his disbelief, and finally proceeds to give what he considers a rational account of the matter.
The nature of the work is well characterised by Mr. Grote (Hist. of Greece, vol. i. p. 553, &c.) :--
Another author who seems to have conceived clearly, and applied consistently, the semi-historical theory of the Grecian myths, is Palaephatus. In the short preface of his treatise 'Concerning Incredible Tales,' he remarks, that some men, from want of instruction, believe all the current narratives; while others, more searching and cautious, disbelieve them altogether. Each of these extremes he is anxious to avoid: on the one hand, he thinks that no narrative could ever have acquired credence unless it had been founded in truth; on the other, it is impossible for him to accept so much of the existing narratives as conflicts with the analogies of present natural phaenomena. If such things ever had been, they would still continue to be-but they never have so occurred; and the extra-analogical features of the stories are to be ascribed to the licence of the poets. Palaephatus wishes to adopt a middle course, neither accepting all nor rejecting all; accordingly, he had taken great pains to separate the true from the false in many of the narratives; he had visited the localities wherein they had taken place, and made careful inquiries from old men and others. The results of his researches are presented in a new version of fifty legends, among the most celebrated and the most fabulous, comprising the Centaurs, Pasiphae, Actaeon, Cadmus and the Sparti, the Sphinx, Cycnus, Daedalus, the Trojan horse, Aeolus, Scylla, Geryon, Bellerophon, &c. It must be confessed that Palaephatus has performed his promise of transforming the ' Incredibilia' into narratives in themselves plausible and unobjectionable, and that in doing so he always follows some thread of analogy, real or verbal. The Centaurs (he tells us) were a body of young men from the village of Nephele in Thessaly, who first trained and mounted horses for the purpose of repelling a herd of bulls belonging to Ixion, king of the Lapithae, which had run wild and did great damage: they pursued these wild bulls on horseback, and pierced them with their spears, thus acquiring both the name of Prickers (κέντορες) and the imputed attribute of joint body with the horse. Actaeon was an Arcadian, who neglected the cultivation of his land for the pleasures of hunting, and was thus eaten up by the expense of his hounds. The dragon whom Cadmus killed at Thebes, was in reality Draco, king of Thebes; and the dragon's teeth, which he was said to have sown, and from whence sprung a crop of armed men, were in point of fact elephant's teeth, which Cadmus, as a rich Phoenician, had brought over with him: the sons of Draco sold these elephants' teeth, and employed the proceeds to levy troops against Cadmus. Daedalus, instead of flying across the sea on wings, had escaped from Crete in a swift-sailing boat under a violent storm. Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges were not persons with one hundred hands, but inhabitants of the village of Hecatoncheiria in Upper Macedonia, who warred with the inhabitants of Mount Olympus against the Titans. Scylla, whom Odysseus so narrowly escaped, was a fast-sailing piratical vessel, as was also Pegasus, the alleged winged horse of Bellerophon. By such ingenious conjectures, Palaephatus eliminates all the incredible circumstances, and leaves to us a string of tales perfectly credible and common-place, which we should readily believe, provided a very moderate amount of testimony could be produced in their favour. If his treatment not only disenchants the original myths, but even effaces their generic and essential character, we ought to remember that this is not more than what is done by Thucydides in his sketch of the Trojan war. Palaephatus handles the myths consistently, according to the semi-historical theory, and his results exhibit the maximum which that theory can ever present: by aid of conjecture we get out of the imposible and arrive at matters intrinsically plausible, but totally uncertified; beyond this point we cannot penetrate, without the light of extrinsic evidence, since there is no intrinsic mark to distinguish truth from plausible fiction.