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I'm curious about the role authorial authority has played in the past, especially what the authors themselves believed it to be.

Therefore I'm looking for earlier examples of works meeting the following conditions:

  • A work of fiction based on another work of fiction (not oral tradition or myth, which cannot be accurately dated), namely something set in the same universe or using the same characters
  • Both created around the same time, preferably with the derivative being published within the original author's lifetime (this would be hard to know for some older works)
  • The derivative was not authorized by the original author (as was the case with Oz, for example)
  • Could be any type of creative derivative, such as a prequel (but no translations)

In other words, fiction that in the modern era that would be considered violations of copyright.

Even before the internet, the twentieth century had many such works in spite of copyright. Even before that there were a few examples (as per Wikipedia).

The earliest I know of is of Don Quixote:

In 1614 a fake second part was published by a mysterious author under the pen name Avellaneda. This author was never satisfactorily identified. This rushed Cervantes into writing and publishing a genuine second part in 1615, which was a year before his own death.

Though Cervantes had no copyright law backing him, he still defended his "universe" as something uniquely his. The fact that an unauthorized sequel could be published at all must have been facilitated by the printing press, but is there anything earlier than that?

Can you beat 1605/1614 for the date of such a work?

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    It is known that there were a lot of epics that told stories of the Trojan War around the Iliad.
    – Mary
    Jan 20 at 1:49
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    @Mary Does it make sense to talk of "unauthorized sequels" in a era when copyright protection didn't even exist?
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 20 at 12:54
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    I don't think it makes sense to describe a work as "fan fiction" prior to the existence of fans. Fan fiction is fiction written by fans for other fans, and so its existence requires a community of fans. Works using another author's characters are ubiquitous, but I don't think we gain anything from claiming that the Aeneid is fan fiction of the Iliad, or Agamemnon of the Nostoi. The intended audiences in these cases were not communities of fans. Jan 20 at 15:52
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    I can see some people arguing that The Bible qualifies.
    – Chenmunka
    Jan 20 at 21:28
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    @Chenmunka The Bible and other religious works are not fiction.
    – Laurel
    Jan 20 at 21:53

1 Answer 1

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The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) fit the conditions listed in the question.

  • They are works of fiction (more about this below) based on another work of fiction, in that at least one of them used at least one of the other gospels as a source, even though there exist various conflicting theories exist about which one is older. However, Mark is usually considered the oldest of the three (see next point) and was therefore probably a source for the two other synoptic gospels.
  • Composed around the same time: Most scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew "was composed between AD 80 and 90, with a range of possibility between AD 70 to 110". Most scholars date the Gospel of Mark "to c. 66–74 AD, either shortly before or after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD." "The most probable date for [the] composition [the Gospel of Luke] is around AD 80–110, and there is evidence that it was still being revised well into the 2nd century."
  • "The derivative was not authorized by the original author." We have no evidence that this would have been the case, especially since each gospel contains a lot of content that cannot be found in the other ones.

Since I did not expand on "fiction" in the first list item above, the following is an enumeration of elements from the gospels that can only be fictional:

These events cannot be explained based on current knowledge of physics, biology or other sciences and are therefore categorised as fictional here. They are also examples of plagiarism and would be considered copyright violations in the modern era.

The Acts of the Apostles, dated to around 80–90 AD, are a sequel of the same fictional story.

In addition to the official or canonical books of the New Testament, there are a number of other works, such as the infancy gospels and the non-canonical gospels. One such work is the Gospel of Judas, which Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, denied the historical credibility of the canonical gospels in his Easter sermon of 2006:

So it was no huge surprise to see a fair bit of coverage given a couple of weeks ago to the discovery of a "Gospel of Judas", which was (naturally) going to shake the foundations of traditional belief by giving an alternative version of the story of the passion and resurrection.
Never mind that this is a demonstrably late text which simply parallels a large number of quite well-known works from the more eccentric fringes of the early century Church; this is a scoop, the real, 'now it can be told' version of the origins of Christian faith.


Response to comments regarding the fictionality of the gospels

Labelling the gospels as fiction does not imply that they are entirely fictional. They are regarded as fiction here because they contain elements that cannot be historical based on current scientific knowledge and because they borrow from certain pre-existing literary traditions. Two books that discuss the latter aspect are Lords of the Scrolls:Literary Traditions in the Bible and Gospels by Donald K. Sharpes (Peter Lang, 2005) and The Making of the New Testament Documents by Edward Earle Ellis (Brill, 2002).

Labelling the gospels as fictional in this way does not imply that all of the New Testament is fictional (various literary genres are represented in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, so no overgeneralisations should be made or implied). Whether a text is fictional or not is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Setting apart texts merely because they are "presented as a factual account" (see Pete's comment) implies that the fictionality of a text should be determined based exclusively on internal evidence and not on external evidence. This would make it impossible to distinguish most fiction from fact; it would also make it impossible to prove many liars wrong (unless they contradict themselves). Looking only at how a text presents itself is clearly a flawed method for whether a text is fiction or not.

Basing the validity of a statement on how it makes someone feel (see Laurel's comment: "Your answer makes me uncomfortable.") is a fallacy. On Stack Exchange, the value of an answer is based on the quality of the arguments and evidence it produces, not on how it makes someone feel. Closing or deleting an answer based on how it makes someone feel looks like a violation of the rules of Stack Exchange.


Below is the original version of this answer, posted before the question was reworded to exclude the Gilgamesh stories.

The oldest examples that meet the conditions listed in the question are probably the Sumerian stories around Gilgamesh (or Bilgamesh) and Enkidu from Ancient Mesopotamia. These date from the first half of the second millennium B.C., beating Avellaneda by 30 to 35 centuries:

  • The Sumerian poem ‘Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living’, found at Nippur, of which 175 have been preserved.
  • The very fragmentary ‘Death of Gilgamesh’.

From around the same period, we also have Old-Babylonian texts or text fragments, especially the Pennsylvania tablet and the Yale tablet. It has been argued that the Old Babylonian fragments were part of larger poetic narrative, whereas the Sumerian texts probably weren't. For more about this question, see Is there really a single "Old Babylonian version" of the Epic of Gilgamesh?

(Sumerian is believed to be a language isolate, whereas Akkadian, of which Babylonian was a variant, was a Semitic language.)

Source: APPENDIX: SOURCES, in 'The Epic Of Gilgamesh' on Erenow.net.

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    I did exclude oral stories (and myths), but that got lost or muddied when I updated the question to ask only about "published" stories (which I should clarify). Your example doesn't tell me about authorial authority because whoever wrote those stories wasn't the original author.
    – Laurel
    Jan 21 at 16:56
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    As I said in the comments to the question, religious texts aren't fiction (this is based on the discussion on SFF meta, with the deciding factor to me being that there's no evidence the authors considered it to be fiction). Your answer makes me uncomfortable.
    – Laurel
    Jan 24 at 15:56
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    Even if people refuse to accept that the four Biblical gospels are all fictional, there are a lot of unofficial gospels, from the 2nd century onwards, which are rejected by all Christian churches. The fanciful Infancy Gospels form a body of fiction by different hands, and later works e.g. the 3rd or 4th-century Infancy Gospel of Thomas can be seen as sequels to the earlier fictions.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 24 at 17:50
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    Wrong on so many levels. First, religion is a separate thing from fiction. The Bible is presented as a factual account of things that happened. Fiction does not claim to be real. Even if it is untrue, religion is not fiction. Second, the four gospels aren't sequels. They are accounts of the same events, from different perspectives. And Acts was written by the author of Luke, so not unauthorized. I have other comments, but they are too large to fit in this margin.
    – Pete
    Jan 25 at 2:05
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    1. Setting apart texts by calling the sacred or religious is a strategy to protect them from the scrutiny to which every other text is allowed to be subjected. 2. "Fiction does not claim to be real." This is an incorrect generalisation: presenting a fictional text as real is a technique in fictional diaries and epistolary novels, for example. In film, there is the found-footage technique. 3. If religious texts must not be labelled as fiction, as you say, does that put them into a category that is neither fiction nor non-fiction? Doesn't that violate the principle of bivalance?
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 25 at 11:26

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