It was an almost isolated incident in Greek literary history, when Pythagoras claimed to remember his previous lives.
But in India this recollection of previous lives is a common feature in the life histories of the saints and heroes of sacred tradition; and it is especially mentioned by Manu as the effect of a self-denying and pious life. The doctrine of Metempsychosis, since the later Vedic period has played such an important part in the history of national character and religious ideas that we need not be surprised to find that Buddhist literature from the earliest times has always included the ages of the past as an authentic background to the founder's historical life as Gautama.
The Pali work, entitled "The Jatakas" or Birth Stories, which is a gem of a literature in the Buddhist chronicle, is presented to the reader in an English translation in its complete form in six volumes. The Jatakas themselves are of course interesting as specimens of Buddhist literature; but their foremost interest to us is their relation to folklore and the light which they often throw on those popular stories which illustrate so vividly the ideas and superstitions of the early times of civilisation.They are also full of interest as giving a vivid picture of the social life and customs of ancient India.