The sewers of ancient cities were infested with monstrous octopuses. Roman emperors were constantly plotting against their own subjects, eliminating brilliant inventors who could have made life easier for everyone, and even plotted with the barbarians to destroy Rome. The Trojan War was unleashed by Zeus to address world overpopulation. To say nothing of the seductive organ thieves and the Etruscan demons, who made mysterious trails rain down from the sky. Later still, after the advent of Christianity, satanic messages were hidden in apparently harmless prayers, and the shocking contents of a memoir by Lazarus were hidden away by the Apostles. Does all this sound familiar? Many contemporary “impossible” news items did not originate with social media but are in fact old – indeed, very old. Not even the ancient Greeks and Romans were able to resist the allure of urban legends.
Tommaso Braccini teaches Classical Philology and Ancient Greek Language and Literature at the University of Siena.