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Distributed for Karolinum Press, Charles University

Ancient Weeds

Contours of Popular and Trash Literature in Ancient and Medieval Times

This book blurs the line between high and low culture throughout literary history.

The common story in literary studies is that the emergence of popular and junk literature is related to the emergence of modern society due to the rise of literacy and the shortening of workdays. Ancient Weeds upends this misconception by demonstrating that antiquity had its fair share of literary pieces that fit the definition of popular, trivial, and junk literature. The authors analyze artifacts such as the ancient Egyptian Turin Papyrus, ancient love novels, Christian hagiographies and passion plays, lives of Jesus and Marian hymns, Byzantine parodies of liturgical procedure, Old Norse tales and lying sagas, Arabic maqams, and Spanish blind romances. Through numerous excerpts, it becomes clear that the line between junk and high literature is thinner than it seems. They reveal how seemingly low themes such as sex and violence often overlap with the themes of high literature. In many cases, low literature is more imaginative and subversive than canonical texts, and bizarreness and non-conformity do not necessarily equate to the ephemerality of a work. As Ancient Weeds shows, thousands of years after it was written, low literature can still be a great source of entertainment today.

544 pages | 6 1/2 x 9 1/4

Literature and Literary Criticism: Classical Languages, General Criticism and Critical Theory


“Cannibal priestesses and toilet demons… while earlier literary historians saw tales with such features as products of barbaric taste, this book reevaluates such harsh criticism… In fact, over the course of the chapters, the authors show that the boundary between trash literature and high literature is not as clearly defined as it may seem and provide a convincing case that so-called low themes, like sex and violence, constantly intersect with those used in the highest and most artistic literature.”

Table of Contents

Ancient and Modern Weeds: an Attempt at a Definition
Popular Literature and Pulp Fiction in Ancient Egypt
The Ancient Love Novel: Formula and its Innovation
Early Christian Passion Texts as Popular Literature?
The Paradox of High Popular Art and Formulaic Creativity in the Sagas of Icelanders
Coal-Biters and Their Journey Out: Popular Features of Old Norse Short Narratives
The Author, Schema and Originality: the Case of Old Norse Lying Sagas
Formulaic Elements and Structures in Central European Medieval Religious Drama
Alfonso X’s Attempt to Create Literature “for the People”
A Term Lacking in Specificty: Late Medieval Popular Literature
Romances of the Blind as Pulp Fiction

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