Like the European written genre history, court literature from the traditional kingdoms of Southeast Asia often relates historical events and possible or probable genealogies. Yet, like the myths of tribal peoples, these accounts are characterized by mythical elements and a somewhat repetitious style, and were recited aloud rather than read in private silence. But if we regard them as mixtures of historical and mythical elements, our understanding of their inner structure and meaning is inevitably compromised, for the notion of a mixture already imposes assumptions about the shape of the past and criteria of reality which are implicit in a historical consciousness. The form in which thought is couched, after all, is the thought, not a representation of something behind or outside it. This paper therefore attempts a rhetorical analysis of a Classical Malay text of the type called hikayat, one which dates from about the seventeenth century. It begins with an analysis of grammar and sentence structure, then moves to certain stylistic features of hikayat, contrasting them with some stylistic features of historical writing. I then comment on the context of texts—the meaning of audience, of performance, of language, of author—and end with some speculation about the notion of the past as revealed in Classical Malay hikayat.