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:

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 AD is perhaps the most famous example of the genre, including in the main, 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 by a tongue-in-cheek insistence on the veracity of his claims.

Other works of this genre in Greek include Heraclitus the paradoxographer's On Incredible Things (1st or 2nd century AD) and Claudius Aelianus' On the Nature of Animals (3rd century AD).

In Latin, 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

  • Anton Westermann, Paradoxographoi, Braunschweig and London, 1839.
  • Otta Wenskus, Lorraine Daston, "Paradoxographoi," in Der neue Pauly, vol. 9, Stuttgart, 2000, cols. 309–314.
  • William Hansen (ed. & tr.), Phlegon of Tralles' Book of Marvels. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996
  • Irene Pajón Leyra, 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
  • Jacob Stern, "Heraclitus the Paradoxographer: Περὶ Ἀπίστων, 'On Unbelievable Tales'" Transactions of the American Philological Association 133.1 (Spring, 2003), pp. 51–97. Introduction and translation of the text, with commentary.