The Antiquity of Fairy Tales

An article in Royal Society Open Science by Sara Graça da Silva and Jamshid J. Tehrani approximates the age of common Indo-European folktales. As Smithsonian Magazine summarizes, “Instead of dating from the 1500s, the researchers say that some of these classic stories are 4,000 and 5,000 years old, respectively. This contradicts previous speculation that story collectors like the Brothers Grimm were relaying tales that were only a few hundred years old.”

The Grimms themselves believed something similar. Wilhelm Grimm wrote in the introduction to the Tales that their origins “are coterminous with those of the great race which is commonly called Indo-Germanic, and the relationship draws itself in constantly narrowing circles round the settlements of the Germans.”

The researchers cite four story-types as belonging to the Proto-Indo-European civilization: “The Boy Steals Ogre’s Treasure” (i.e. “Jack and the Beanstalk”), “The Smith and the Devil,” “The Animal Bride,” and “The Grateful Animals.” Significantly more are common to Proto-Western-IE groups, including “Beauty and the Beast.” These latter date from the geographic separation of Western/European and Eastern/Persian PIE speakers five thousand years ago.

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