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4. An Egyptian or Athenian, and a grammarian, as he is described by Suidas.


Suidas 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.


Of these works the 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):
Docta Palaephatia testatur voce papyrus.

Respecting the author of the original work there is however much dispute, and we must be content to leave the matter in uncertainty. Some of the earliest modern writers on Greek literature assigned the work to the ancient epic poet [No. 1]; but this untenable supposition was soon abandoned, and the work was then ascribed to the Parian, as it is by Suidas. But if this Palaephatus was the contemporary of Artaxerxes as Suidas asserts, it is impossible to believe that the myths could have been treated at so early a period in the rationalizing way in which we find them discussed in the extant epitome. In addition to which we find the ancient writers calling the author sometimes a peripatetic and sometimes a stoic philosopher (Theon, Progymn. 6, 12; Tzetzes, Chil. 9.273, 10.20), from which we murt conclude, if these designations are correct, that he must have lived after the time of Alexander the Great, and could not therefore even have been th native of Abydus [No. 3], as others have maintained. It is thus impossible to identify the author of the work with any of the three persons just mentioned; but from his adopting the rationalistic interpretation of the myths, he must be looked upon as a disciple of Evemerus [EVEMERUS], and may thus have been an Alexandrine Greek, and the same person as the grammarian spoken of by Suidas, who calls him an Egyptian or Athenian. [No. 4.]

The work 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.


It has been already remarked that the manuscripts of the Περὶ Ἀπίστων present the greatest discrepancies, in some the work being much longer and in others much shorter. The printed editions in like manner vary considerably. It was first printed by Aldus Manutius, together with Aesop, Phurnutus, and other writers, Venice, 1505, fol., and has since that time been frequently reprinted. The following is a list of the principal editions:--By Tollius, with a Latin translation and notes, Amsterdam, 1649; by Martin Brunner, Upsala, 1663, which edition was reprinted with improvements under the care of Paulus Pater, Frankfort, 1685, 1686, or 1687, for these three years appear on different title pages; by Thomas Gale in the Opuscala Mythologica, Cambridge, 1670, reprinted at Amsterdam, 1688; by Dresig, Leipzig, 1735, which edition was frequently reprinted under the care of J. F. Fischer, who improved it very much, and who published a sixth edition at Leipzig, 1789; by J. H. M. Ernesti, for the use of schools, Leipzig, 1816. The best edition of the text is by Westermann, in the Μυθυγράφοι: Scriptores Poeticae Historiae Graeci, Brunswick, 1843, pp. 268-310.

Further Information

Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. i. p. 182, &c.; Voss. de Hist. Graec. p. 478, ed. Westermann; Westermann, Praefatio ad Μυθογράφους, p. xi. &c.; Eckstein, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyklopä die, art. Paldiphatus.

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