Monday, February 15, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Michael Paschalis, Stavros Frangoulidis, Stephen Harrison, Maaike Zimmerman (ed.), The Greek and the Roman Novel. Parallel Readings. Ancient Narrative Supplementum, 8. Groningen: Barkhuis and Groningen University Library, 2007. Pp. 307. ISBN 9789077922279. €80.00.
Reviewed by Andreas Markantonatos, University of Peloponnese

This stimulating collection of sixteen articles from the Third Rethymnon International Conference on the Ancient Novel (RICAN 3, 22-24 May 2005) is the first to bring together in a single volume various interpretations of Greek and Roman novels. This beautifully produced edition is conveniently divided into three sections centering on a wide variety of issues such as chronology, religion, narratology and intertextuality.

The first section comprising general thematic studies opens with Jean Alvares' essay ("The Coming of Age and Political Accommodation in the Greco-Roman Novels", pp. 3-22) in which strong emphasis is laid on those elements of the Bildungsroman that are prominent in the novels of Apuleius, Longus, and Chariton. The author believes that most Greco-Roman novels comply with broader initiation prototypes involving a youth's long and arduous process of integration into society and consisting of a series of difficult trials that often takes the form of a long sequence of violent conflicts, with the assurances and axioms imposed upon the initiant by an inflexible social and political order. In the end, the protagonist finds his new place in society by coming to terms with the beliefs and principles of this same prevailing social and political order. Alvares draws attention to the special ways in which the youths in the three novels either reinvent themselves or even advocate an alternative, although socially and politically acceptable, way of life, as is particularly evident in Longus' Daphnis and Chloe where the eponymous heroes, though from city-bred parents, decide to live the rest of their lives in the countryside. It seems fairly certain that the pointed denunciation of city life in Longus' pastoral novel acts as a latent critique of the multiple insecurities and stresses of a crisis-ridden, class-divided society.

Gareth Schmeling ("Narratives of Failure", pp. 23-37) sets himself the ambitious task of discussing the extraordinary ways in which characters such as Encolpius, Lucius, Chaereas, and Callirhoe suffer defeat, or at best are robbed of lifelong achievement, constantly implicated as they are in an unfortunate concurrence of events that they can rarely command. Schmeling deploys the well-known, but highly controversial and rather schematic, Bakhtinian tripartite structure of (a) pre-adventure time, (b) adventure time, and (c) post-adventure time in an effort to reveal a model of action which allegedly underlies most of the Greek and Latin novels. In particular, he argues that certain characters lead exciting lives before the commencement of the actual story, only to slip into an otherwise peaceful, humdrum existence. He even goes so far as to suggest that Achilles Tatius undermines this happy novel-ending style by promoting the so-called "narrative circle" which allows him to throw into sharper relief the uninterrupted continuity of Cleitophon's narrative life. Schmeling's stimulating argument is too convoluted to be treated adequately within the limited frame of a few pages. The section on Bakhtin's rather overrated time scheme needs much more explication, though the section on heroes and heroines who lack success in their various escapades is clearer and more persuasive.

Consuelo Ruiz-Montero, "Magic in the Ancient Novel", pp. 38-56, and Niall W. Slater, "Posthumous Parleys: Chatting Up the Dead in the Ancient Novels", pp. 57-69, consider the occult element in the Greek and Roman novels, drawing attention, among other things, to characteristic instances of consultation with the dead. Ruiz-Montero takes a more comprehensive approach, alerting the reader to the role of Greco-Egyptian papyri in appreciating the numerous literary references to real-life magical beliefs and practices. Concentrating on the well-known novella of Nectanebo in the Historia Alexandri, plus a few nuggets of occult phenomena, such as the famous witches' stories in the first three books of Apuleius' Metamorphoses, she shows how widespread the use of technical magical terminology is in the Greek novels. The author of the Nectanebo novella is possibly "a genuine connoisseur of Egyptian magic" (p. 53), perhaps related more directly than previously presumed to Egyptian priestly circles centered around the Serapeum at Memphis. Slater goes into detail about two necromantic scenes: Heliodorus' Aethiopica 6.14.3-4, where the priest Calasiris and the heroine Charicleia witness from afar an old woman reanimating her dead son on the battlefield, and Apuleius' Golden Ass 2. 28-31, where Thelyphron narrates a story about an Egyptian necromancer who compelled a dead man to testify against his false wife. These remarkable encounters reveal an essential novelistic typology for posthumous parleys with the dead: "a necromancer, a ritual involving both prayers and magical substances, a difficult physical reanimation, and a test of the validity of the prophecy" (p. 65). Slater then turns to the dialogue of Aristomenes and Socrates at the beginning of the Golden Ass, deftly but unpersuasively arguing that the whole story can be interpreted as a curious exchange with the dead.

Michael Paschalis, "The Greek and the Latin Alexander Romance: Comparative Readings", pp. 70-102, seeks to show that a lot is to be gained from meticulous comparisons between the early recensions of the Alexander Romance. He demonstrates that those even minor divergences in style and language in the Greek and Latin versions carry their own distinctive significance, affecting the way readers respond to the narrative. Further, he regrets that most critics have failed to turn their hermeneutic talents to the Alexander Romance with any sense of commitment to its literary merits. Although the Alexander Romance often seems to draw a dotted rather than a solid line between the causal links of the various episodes, the fine use of stylistic and linguistic revisions suggests alternative ways in which readers may assemble those assorted narratives into a coherent, smooth and compact overall structure.

The second section of the volume consists of comparative readings between the Satyricon of Petronius and other Greek and Latin novels. John Morgan, "Kleitophon and Encolpius: Achilleus Tatius as Hidden Author", pp. 105-120, attempts to throw more revealing light on the narrative machinery of Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Cleitophon by applying Gian Biagio Conte's model of the "Hidden Author" to Cleitophon's ego-narration.1 Although he makes some thought-provoking observations about the blurring of two distinct narrative voices, one dominant and the other carefully concealed but sufficiently strong to alter the readers' final take on Cleitophon as "an ordinary sort of guy, not very brave, realistically interested in sex with his girlfriend, and even tempted into adultery with Melite" (p. 117), he falls into the trap of treating the Contean approach as a Procrustean bed, chopping off the limbs of the text until it meets the dimensions of the proposed theory. His undue emphasis on certain rare glimpses into knowledge strictly pertaining to an omniscient narrator deflects attention from Achilles Tatius' remarkable use of the first person narration, not to mention of course the unappealing image of an average Cleitophon, so incongruous with the generic protocols of erotic romance. There is every reason to doubt that this drab alter ego of Cleitophon, progressively revealed before our eyes through barely noticeable narrative signs strewn across the tale by Achilles Tatius himself (or by his textual avatar), would have been picked up, much less appreciated, by ancient readers yearning for a dreamy escape from the boredom of their everyday lives.

Ewen Bowie, "Links between Antonius Diogenes and Petronius", pp. 121-132, Ken Dowden, "A Lengthy Sentence: Judging the Prolixity of the Novels", pp. 133-150, and Andrew Laird, "The True Nature of the Satyricon?", pp. 151-167, link previously unrelated Greek and Roman novelistic writers with one another, as well as uncovering hidden chronological connections. Bowie makes the attractive proposal that Antonius Diogenes' Incredible Things beyond Thule and Petronius' Satyricon are thematically associated. Aside from the obviously heavily controversial assumptions, there is plenty to be gained especially by pursuing further the relation of the two novels with the proposed lost Milesian-style original. Dowden, on the other hand, appears to be more confident in his hypotheses, treating the relationship of the Satyrica with a lost Greek predecessor as "overwhelmingly convincing" (p. 151). He puts forward the idea that his statistical graphs, if interpreted correctly, may lead one to argue staunchly for a chronological development in the prolixity of the novels and, more importantly, in the formation of the novelistic genre as a remarkably accomplished type of narration. Similarly, Laird examines possible intertextual associations between Petronius' Satyricon and the earlier tradition of Greek fictional texts, advising against adopting an inflexible posture on dating. He rightly draws attention to Richard Heinze, who as early as the end of the nineteenth century highlighted very well the numerous points of contact between the Satyricon and the Second Sophistic novels, and furthermore airs his opinion, eagerly acknowledged by Bowie and Dowden in the preceding papers, that perhaps "the author of the Satyricon had an early Greek model or a set of Greek models" (p. 163).2

The third section of the book deals exclusively with Apuleius' Metamorphoses and its detailed intertextual correspondences with other Greek prose romances. Romain Brethes, "Who Knows What? The Access of Knowledge in Ancient Novels: The Strange Cases of Chariton and Apuleius", pp. 171-192, Stavros Frangoulidis, "Transforming the Genre: Apuleius' Metamorphoses", pp. 193-203, Stephen Harrison, "Parallel Cults? Religion and Narrative in Apuleius' Metamorphoses and Some Greek Novels", pp. 204-218, and Steven D. Smith, "Wonders Beyond Athens: Reading the 'Phaedra' Stories in Apuleius and Heliodorus", pp. 219-237, offer enticing insights into the special ways in which certain narrative strategies as well as religious and social principles and beliefs, primarily associated with the earlier Greek novelistic tradition, are refracted through the prisms of Apuleius' amusing story-telling gimmickry. Brethes seeks to show that in Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe the possession of genuine knowledge about the past and the future gives characters a narrative edge over their adversaries, arguing plausibly that in Chaereas and Callirhoe, contrary to the extravagant pretensions of the work's impressive finale, Chariton refuses to place the last bits of his intricate narrative jigsaw so as to reveal a comprehensible consistency and closure in what has been an impossibly complex concurrence of untoward events. Although he somewhat overplays his hand with the idea of mystic patterns underlying the last books of both novels, his proposal of reading the concluding scene of Chaereas and Callirhoe in Platonic or neo-Platonic terms is really worth thinking about. Further, anticipating his most interesting book on Apuleius, Frangoulidis argues compellingly that it is possible to draw a parallel between Lucius' symbolic union with Isis and the wedding rituals performed most enthusiastically, even cathartically, at the end of the Greek ideal romances: especially the tale of Cupid and Psyche, he suggests, serves as a miniature version of Apuleius' novel, observing most closely the features of the Greek romance novels and thereby standing in total contrast to the low-life and bawdy adventures of Lucius-ass.3 In a similar vein, Harrison draws attention to Apuleius' celebrated gift of adopting important elements of the Greek novelistic traditions and wholly transforming them in ways that suit his genuinely humorous purposes. He too gives special focus to the tale of Cupid and Psyche, underscoring the divine action therein: he notes, however, that contrary to Greek romances, which place strong emphasis on communal rituals, Apuleius chooses to accentuate the personal religious experience involved in the dramatic event of Lucius' initiation into the mysteries of Isis. Smith mounts a fascinating analysis of Athenocentric Hellenism in Apuleius' ass-tale and Heliodorus' romantic account of the adventures of Charicleia and Theagenes, highlighting expertly how classical Athens is metamorphosed into a widely admired ideal, but at the same time a heavily problematized landscape. This at times openly irreverent reconfiguration of Athenian imperial grandeur serves as an implicit critique of unbridled Roman expansionism with all its attendant ethical risks.

Kirk Freudenburg, "Leering for the Plot: Visual Curiosity in Apuleius and Others", pp. 238-262, Ellen Finkelpearl, "Apuleius, the Onos, and Rome", pp. 263-276, and Maaike Zimmerman, "Aesop, the 'Onos' The Golden Ass, and a Hidden Treasure", pp. 277-292, offer valuable insights into such diverse issues as narrative dynamics and visual fascination, cultural identity and the Greco-Roman romance tradition, as well as the hermeneutic function of far-reaching variations on well-known thematic motifs. Echoing Peter Brooks' highly influential book on narrative design and intention, Freudenburg argues that, contrary to the romantic visuality of the Greek ideal novels, Apuleius takes pleasure in adding a spicy twist to his optical obsessions.4 By building on the stimulating work of Helen Morales and Luca Graverini, he suggests pathways for fresh investigations into the sexually explicit grammar rules of Apuleius' ocular dialect; in particular, he is definitely onto something when he makes a case for scenes of arrested gazing imparting a strong push to the course of the narrative by a massive discharge of ophthalmic energy.5 Finkelpearl puts forward the idea that the Metamorphoses with its ambivalent perspectives on Roman imperial administration mirrors the hybrid personality of the Romano-African author. She goes on to suggest that by taking on board the pseudo-Lucianic Onos's deprecatory judgments on Roman military authority, Apuleius underscores the plight of those living under Rome. It must always be remembered, however, that this vehement denunciation of Roman imperium bears the indelible stamp of a Romano-African author writing in Latin. Last but not least, Zimmerman deals with the wide-reaching narrative theme of "the stolen cup as unjust accusation of theft", making interesting comparisons between the different versions of this story motif as they are found in the Aesop tradition, the pseudo-Lucianic ass-tale, and Apuleius' Metamorphoses. Credit should be given to her for taking a much analyzed subject and producing an illuminating read, especially about the noteworthy changes applied to this widespread narrative cliché in the Greek Onos and Apuleius' Metamorphoses.

To sum up then: no one will read these essays without occasional disagreement, but no one can fail to learn from them, to obtain a wider perspective on the close relationship between Greek and Roman novels. Indeed, it is no small tribute to the originality of this volume's approach to ancient erotic romances that even some of the objections urged against certain readings rest on insights this reviewer would never have pondered if he had not learned from these sixteen learned scholars what to look for. Most importantly, this volume with its broad range of comparative interpretations is another eloquent testimony to the unbroken continuity of the Greco-Roman tradition.


1.   G. B. Conte, The Hidden Author: An Interpretation of Petronius' Satyricon. Sather Classical Lectures 60, trans. E. Fantham (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
2.   R. Heinze, "Petron und der griechische Roman", Hermes 34 (1899) 494-519.
3.   S. Frangoulidis, Witches, Isis and Narrative: Approaches to Magic in Apuleius' Metamorphoses. Trends in Classics: Supplementary Volume 2 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008).
4.   P. Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).
5.   H. Morales, Vision and Narrative in Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); L. Graverini, "Sulle ali del vento: Evoluzione di un' imagine, tra Ovidio ed Apuleio", Prometheus 25 (1999) 243-246 and "L' Incontro di Lucio e Fotide. Stratificazioni intertestuali in Apul. Met. II 6-7", Athenaeum 89 (2001) 425-446.

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