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Paradoxography is a genre of classical literature which deals with the occurrence of abnormal or inexplicable phenomena of the natural or human worlds.

Early surviving examples of the genre include:

  • Palaephatus's Περὶ ἀπίστων (ἱστοριῶν) ("On Incredible Things") (c. 4th century BCE)
  • The Ἱστοριῶν παραδόξων συναγωγή ("Collection of Extraordinary Tales") composed by Antigonus of Carystus (fl. 3rd century BCE), partly on the basis of a paradoxographical work of Callimachus
  • Apollonius Paradoxographus's Mirabilia (2nd century BCE)

It is believed that the content of the pseudo-Aristotelian On Marvellous Things Heard (De mirabilibus auscultationibus) originated in the Hellenistic period, while the final form reflects centuries of expansion at least as recent as the second century of the Christian era.[1]

Phlegon of Tralles's Book of Marvels, which dates from the 2nd century CE, is perhaps the most famous example of the genre, including various stories of human abnormalities. Phlegon's brief accounts of prodigies and wonders include ghost stories, accounts of monstrous births, strange animals like centaurs, hermaphrodites, giant skeletons and prophesying heads. Phlegon's writing is characterised by brief and forthright description, as well as a tongue-in-cheek insistence on the veracity of his claims.

Other works of this genre in Greek include Heraclitus the Paradoxographer's Περὶ Ἀπίστων ("On Incredible Things", c. 1st or 2nd century CE) and Claudius Aelianus's On the Nature of Animals (3rd century CE).

In Latin literature, both Marcus Terentius Varro and Cicero wrote works on admiranda ("marvelous things"), which do not survive.


  1. ^ Laura Gibbs, review of Gabriella Vanotti, Aristotele. Racconti meravigliosi (Milano: Bompiani, 2007), Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.02.22

Further reading[edit]

  • Westermann, Anton. Paradoxographoi, Braunschweig and London, 1839.
  • Wenskus, Otta, Lorraine Daston. "Paradoxographoi," in Der neue Pauly, vol. 9, Stuttgart, 2000, cols. 309–314.
  • Wansen, William (ed. & tr.). Phlegon of Tralles' Book of Marvels. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996
  • Leyra, Irene Pajón. "Entre ciencia y maravilla: el género literario de la paradoxografía griega". Monografías de filología griega, 21. Zaragoza: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza, 2011. 368. ISBN 9788415274612
  • Stern, Jacob. "Heraclitus the Paradoxographer: Περὶ Ἀπίστων, 'On Unbelievable Tales'". Transactions of the American Philological Association 133.1 (Spring, 2003), pp. 51–97. Introduction, translation, and commentary on the text.
  • Yu, Kenneth. "Paradoxography". Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2022.