Ancient Greek Legend in Modern Japanese Literature: “Run, Melos!” by Dazai Osamu



Dazai Osamu (1909-1948), a modern Japanese writer, wrote “Run, Melos!” in 1940. The short story is a rework of an Ancient Greek legend of Damon and Pythias from the 4th century B.C., which was introduced to Dazai through Schiller’s version of the legend, “The Hostage”. The legend, based on a true event, represents the perfect friendship and was reworked a number of times by different antique writers. After having been forgotten for a while, it reappeared in the Middle Ages as a fictional story and has gotten many new adaptations from then on. One of them was Schiller’s ballad in 1798, which – alongside an anecdote from Dazai’s own life – represented the basis for Dazai’s story. Even though “Run, Melos!” is not an autobiographical work, Dazai managed to pass his own feelings onto the characters, add some biblical elements, and included a never-before-employed dark twist in the story, thus making his version more realistic than the preceding ones. Despite the distance in time and place between him and the legend, with “Run, Melos!”, Dazai managed to retell a Western literature story, making it a part of the Japanese literature as well, adding motifs and themes influenced by his own life, time, and place.


Dazai; “Run, Melos!”; literature; modern Japanese literature; Ancient Greek legend

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