Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Tim Whitmarsh, (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xv, 392 p. $36.99 (pb). ISBN 9780521684880.
Yun Lee Too (


The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel contains nineteen essays (including the introduction) on the ancient novel by well-known and established scholars in Europe and America. They have been arranged according to four different themes: Contexts, The World of the Novel, Form and Reception.

Whitmarsh's introduction takes on a whirlwind tour of issues to be identified with the novel. He identifies the novel canon, seven works from the imperial period, along with other texts associated either with or as the novel. He looks at what the ideal novel was, and then he treats love and paideia in the genre. The final part of the chapter considers the relationship between the novel and Christianity: novelists becoming bishops and Christian writers reading the novels.

'Contexts' comprises four essays, beginning with Ewen Bowie's 'Literary Milieux'. Bowie proceeds by dividing his discussion of the novel according to four specific time periods, 31 BCE -50 CE, 50-160 CE, 160-220 CE, 220-270 CE. In the first of these periods the author considers the various relationships of Greeks and Romans in the novels, for example, in Chariton. The second period comprises Dio and Plutarch of Chaeronea with their erotic themes, Musonius Rufus and Arrian with their moral concerns and a host of other authors with different concerns. The third period concerns Iamblichus' Babylonian Affairs, Lucian, Pausanias, and Athenaeus. Bowie goes on to look at the work of Heliodorus, which may or may not be as late as 270 CE and he acknowledges the rise of Latin as the language of choice for novelists in this final period. The author of this chapter finally considers the Latin novels as much more influenced by Greek literature than influencing it. Overall, he provides the volume with its historical context. 'The History of Sexuality' by Helen Morales begins by looking at how different readers have responded to sexually explicit scenes in the novel, whether it is excision or a misdirected focus on the male, as in the case of Foucault. Petronius' Satyricon is the gay male novel for Morales and she considers what is normal and not so normal in the depiction of pederasty. Women desiring women is the next concern as is the threat of rape to women. Susan Stephens' 'Cultural Identity' examines the construction of 'Greek' identity as a central concern in the writing of the novel. Only Petronius and Apuleius foreground Roman identity, playing down Greekness as associated with sexual immorality. Tim Whitmarsh gives us 'Class', initially observing that the Roman authors were socially prominent while the Greek writers are less easy to place. He observes importantly and perceptively that education, which can have the role of constructing social hierarchies, plays an important role in ancient novels, educating the otherwise naive reader. Novels may be 'literary-elitist', they may play with this status, or they may be populist as in the case of the Alexander Romance. Overall, novels are polyphonic, that is to say, they depict individuals of all classes.

Whitmarsh's essay provides a nice link into the next section of the book, 'The World of the Novel'. Froma Zeitlin's 'Religion' notes that the novels are populated by gods and the rites and rituals associated with them. Beauty is generally cast as divine in this genre and Eros plays a significant role in the working of a number of different plots. Zeitlin observes that she has not given attention to Jewish and Christian works, where the one God significantly forms the focus of religious identity. In 'Travel' James Romm examines the genre of novel as slices taken from the banquet of Herodotus. He proceeds to take us on a tour of Persia, the Achaemenid empire, Ethiopia, Egypt and the Far East, noting an orientalising impulse in the novel. We even end up on the moon in Lucian's True Histories. Jason Konig perceptively writes 'Body and Text', noting that one's social status left marks on one's body, although there was no direct correlation between physical form and personal identity: any correlation is often undermined. Beyond this, there is often a parallelism between body and the novel's plot and this is most apparent in Apuleius' Metamorphosis where Lucius' bodily transformations match the transformations of the Ass-tale at the hands of the author. Lawrence Kim's interesting chapter 'Time' begins with Bakhtin's observation that time in the ancient novel is poorly articulated. The novels tend to encompass rather limited time periods--say, two years -- but they also tend to be vague. This vagueness points towards other impulses, for instance, the lack of concern to mark change. One difference from this vague time structure is Apuleius' Metamorphosis, where time is especially definite and precise in book 11. 'Politics and Spectacles' by Catherine Connors looks at the depiction of large-scale scenes which are suited to the theatre and arena. She sees interaction between Roman spectacle and Greek society in Apuleius, since he offers his readers a Greece that looks very much like Rome. Connors concludes her chapter with the observation that all the ancient novels are Roman so that the audience may explore what it is to live and die in an imperial world.

'Form' begins with a contribution by Simon Goldhill, who discusses 'Genre'. Genre creates expectations and it provides the novel with limits. Novels help to express an educated Greek engagement with the world because they presuppose a reading subject who is pepaideumenos. As with Whitmarsh, education is seen to play an important role in the novel and its experience. Goldhill quite rightly concludes that the genre of the novel is porous, creating and playing with the reader's expectations, and engaging with other forms of writing. Andrew Laird's chapter 'Approaching Style and Rhetoric' considers narrative styles in the novel, noting a distinction between 'free indirect discourse' in the modern novel and the harder to categorize style of the ancient novels. Laird considers the role of rhetoric in establishing the style of the novel: which genre influenced which? Because first person narrative is not so distinct from rhetoric, rhetoric is essential to understanding the style of the novel. In 'Intertextuality' John Morgan and Stephen Harrison deal with the novel in the context of all Greco-Roman literature. John Morgan writes the first part of this chapter, observing that intertextuality marks the sophistication of a Greek novel. He argues that the novels are in some sense in a dialogue with each other. Stephen Harrison then focuses on the Roman novels of Petronius and Apuleius. He shows that especially Apuleius refers both to Latin and Greek literature, involving both high and low culture so that this genre is a polyphonic form. 'Narrative' by Tim Whitmarsh and Shadi Bartsch considers the novel from the viewpoint of the formal analysis of narrative structure. Whitmarsh begins the analysis with a discussion of narrative focalisation and continues by showing that Greek novels in particular enjoy multiplying perspectives upon the central action. Shadi Bartsch takes up the discussion with focalisation in the Roman novel, concentrating on the case of the narrator-author in Apuleius. She concludes that the Roman novel engages in a transgressive play with aspects of identity.

The fourth and final section of the book is 'Reception', one of the major concerns of Classics in the United Kingdom. Richard Hunter leads off the section with 'Ancient Readers', asking 'who read the novel?' The intended audience appears to be as varied and diverse as the texts themselves, although he sheds light on the possibilities of a female readership for the novel. Hunter's chapter, I suggest, forms an interesting complement to Morales' paper as it looks more broadly at the gendered gaze and the novel. Joan Burton's 'Byzantine Readers' examines how after some eight hundred years the novels of Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus were taken up and revived for the Christian world and its morals. For Eugenianos the revived novel was a means of reinforcing Hellenic identity among the audience. Overall moral content and rhetorical style were dominating concerns of the Byzantine novels, which were read by sophisticated audiences. Michael Reeve's 'The re-emergence of ancient novels in western Europe, 1300-1810' treats the novel's renaissance in early modern Europe. Reeve discusses the different forms of the novel in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the reworking of motifs from ancient novels in various works of this period. Gerald Sandy and Stephen Harrison cooperate on the writing of 'Novels Ancient and Modern'. Sandy is interested in the (re)discovery of the ancient Greek novel, dealing with French- and English-language adaptations. Harrison traces influences of the Roman novels on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century fiction. Petronius and Apuleius then make it into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with Edwin Shrake and Anthony Powell, amongst others. As for the current century, Harrison observes, it remains to be seen whether ancient novels will continue to influence writers. Massimo Fusillo concludes the volume with a chapter entitled 'Modernity and Post-Modernity'. He observes that Erwin Rohde devalued the Greek novel because of Victorian attitudes towards sexuality whereas now, in the twenty-first century, analysis of the novel has become increasingly complex and sophisticated. Longus' Daphnis and Chloe has received treatment from twentieth-century ballet to Yukio Mishima, while Petronius has been taken up by such figures as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bruno Maderna (in music), and Fellini (in film).

The book concludes with 'References', an 'Index of Greek and Roman Novelists', which provides very useful summaries of all the ancient novels (many more than the seven which Whitmarsh initially identifies) and a survey of their authors with texts and translations, and a general 'Index'.

Whitmarsh has edited an extremely rich and stimulating volume that demonstrates the sophistication of the literature it deals with and of the criticism of contemporary classicists. The contributors engage with the novel at an extremely high level and with impressive specialism, bringing their perspectives to bear upon the genre. It will certainly be of great use to scholars of the ancient novel.

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