Chapter 1 provides an overview of ancient Greek and Roman descent tales, and a synthesis of themes that they share with each other and contemporary adaptations. The focus is on the Odyssean Nekyia; the history of the tradition of Heracles’ descent, reenacted by the god Dionysus in Aristophanes’ comedy Frogs (405 BCE); the catabasis of Aeneas in book 6 of Vergil’s Aeneid; two versions (from Vergil’s Fourth Georgic and Ovid’s Metamorphoses) of Orpheus’ trip to Hades to retrieve Eurydice; and finally the myth of Persephone in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Spanning a period of roughly eight centuries, these ancient tales convey a sense of the underworld as a literary space or intertextual archive that can be accessed and adapted by successive generations of storytellers. The chapter ends with a list of elements shared by ancient and contemporary descent narratives.
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