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


  • Lija GANTAR University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts



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


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.


Download data is not yet available.


Brudnoy, D. (1968). The Immutable Despair of Dazai Osamu. Monumenta Nipponica, 13(3-4), 457–474. Retrieved from

Cicero, M. T. (1913). De Officiis. With An English Translation. (W. Miller, Trans.). Massachusetts, London, England: Cambridge, Harvard University Press. Retrieved from

Dazai, O. [太宰治] (1970a). Hashire Merosu [走れメロス]. In Hashire Merosu [走れメロス] (p. 167–184). Tokyo [東京]: Kadokawa bunren [角川文連].

Dazai, O. [太宰治] (1970a). “Tōkyō hakkei” [東京八景]. In Hashire Merosu [走れメロス] (p. 185–220). Tokyo [東京]: Kadokawa bunren [角川文連].

Dazai, O. (1988a). Eight Scenes from Tokyo. In Run, Melos! and other stories (p. 135–177). (R. F. McCarthy, Trans.). Tokyo: Kōdansha.

Dazai, O. (1988b). Run, Melos!. In Run, Melos! and other stories (p. 114–134). (R. F. McCarthy, Trans.). Tokyo: Kōdansha.

Dazai, O. (1985). Villon’s Wife. In D. Keene (ed.), Modern Japanese Literature: from 1868 to present day. New York: Grove Press.

Dazai, O. [太宰治] (1991). Dazai Osamu (chikuma nihon bungaku zenshū) [太宰治 (ちくま日本文学全集)]. Tokyo [東京]: Chikuma shobō [筑摩書房].

Different Accounts That History Offers Us Concerning the Story of Damon and Pythias. (3. August 1902). San Francisco Call. Retrieved from

Gantar, L. (2017). Kratka zgodba Dazaija Osamuja na ozadju Zahodne literature (Diplomsko delo). Filozofska fakulteta, Ljubljana.

Goethe, J. W. von, Schiller, F. (1845). Correspondence between Schiller and Goethe. From 1794 to 1805. Volume 1. New York and London: Wiley and Putnam. Retrieved from

Hijiya-Kirschnereit, I. [イルメラ・日地谷=キルシュネライト] (1996). Shizenshugi kara watakushi shōsetsu e [自然主義から私小説へ]. In J. Kubota [久保田淳] (ed.), Iwanami kōza nihon bungakushi (dai 12 kan) 20 seiki no bungaku 1 [岩波講座 日本文学史〈第12巻〉20世紀の文学1] (93–118). Tokyo [東京]: Iwanami shoken [岩波書店].

Ishibashi, K. [石橋邦俊] (2014). Dazai Osamu “Hashire Merosu” to Schiller “Hitojichi” [太宰治『走れメロス』とシラー『人質』]. Jōhō kōgaku kenkyūin kiyō 27 [情報工学研究院紀要27], 55–77. Kyūshū kōjō daigaku [九州工業大学]. Retrieved from

Keene, D. (1964). Japanese Writers and Greater East Asia War. The Journal of Asian Studies, 23(2), 209–225. Retrieved from

Lyons, P. I. (1985). The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

O’Brien, J. (1983). Introduction. In Dazai Osamu: Selected Stories and Sketches (1–15). New York: Cornell University East Asia Program.

Raschen, J. F. L. (1919). Earlier and Later Versions of the Friendship-Theme. I “Damon and Pythias.” Modern Philology, 17(2), 105–109. Retrieved from

Rimer, J. T. (1978). Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions: an Introduction. Princeton, Guildford: Princeton University Press.

Schiller, F. (1994-1999a). Die Bürgschaft. Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved from

Schiller, F. (1994-1999b). The Hostage. Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved from

Ueda, M. (1976). Modern Japanese Writers: and the Nature of Literature. California: Stanford University Press.

Vardaman, J. M. (1987). Dazai Osamu’s “Run, Merus!” and Friedrich Schiller’s “Die Bürgschaft”. Comparative Literature Studies, 24(3), 243–250. Retrieved from

Wolfe, A. S. (2014). Suicide Narrative in Modern Japan: The Case of Dazai Osamu. Princeton: Princeton University Press.



29. 12. 2017



Research articles

How to Cite

GANTAR, L. (2017). Ancient Greek Legend in Modern Japanese Literature: “Run, Melos!” by Dazai Osamu. Acta Linguistica Asiatica, 7(2), 51-68.