Sunday, June 21, 2015


Edmund P. Cueva, Shannon N. Byrne (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Novel. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. Pp. xiii, 612. ISBN 9781444336023. $195.00.

Reviewed by Tim Whitmarsh, University of Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site


Novels may be destined to be read with one hand – but not, it seems, with one handbook. Blackwell, historically the most fecund press in this area, has published a new companion to sit alongside the comparable examples produced by Brill and Cambridge University Press.1 With 37 chapters and nearly 600 pages of text, however, this new volume edited by Edmund Cueva and Shannon Byrne is the heftiest example of the genre yet. There is no obvious editorial agenda; rather, the four sections intersect and overlap,2 like the beds of an ancient country garden. There is a refreshing vitality to the volume as a whole; and while there are certainly some weeds, there are unexpected delights hiding in the foliage too.

The first section ('Novels and Authors') offers text-by-text accounts, which vary between introductions for the benefit of neophytes and more exploratory essays. The Greek romances come first. Graham Anderson's opening chapter on Chariton is characteristically accessible, learned and bouncy, but engages with very little scholarship since 1996. Jean Alvarez, by contrast, offers a modern and zestfully original reading of Daphnis and Chloe, which he sees as focused primarily on the narrative of Daphnis' sexual awakening; this (he argues) represents a psychoanalytical archetype of the paradoxical nature of desire. James O'Sullivan's chapter on Xenophon of Ephesus is a more conventional account of plot summary and issues of authorship and dating. He also gives another airing to his theory that the Ephesiaca reflects an originally oral-formulaic work, and that Xenophon is the first of the extant novelists. Katherine Chew's chapter on Achilles Tatius offers an efficient survey of current thought on the most ludic of the romancers, together with a fruitful analysis of his skewing of the standard novelistic motifs. Marília Futre Pinheiro treats Heliodorus sure-footedly, with good coverage of the standard issues of authorship and date, together with a sophisticated analysis of narrative and temporality.

On to the Latin novelists. Heinz Hofmann's chapter on Petronius is unimpeachably learned on issues of transmission, authorial identity and reconstruction, but less good at capturing the text's subversive exuberance.3 Paula James, by contrast, offers a personal account of her own enthusiastic engagement with Apuleius over thirty years, her aspirations in promoting it to a wider readership, and her reflections on its impact on modern culture (e.g. in a 2002 production at London's Globe Theatre). Finally in this section, Giovanni Garbugino discusses Apollonius King of Tyre, making a strong case that the extant text – a sixth-century Latin version – is an original composition, and an interesting hybrid of Greek romantic and Latin 'realist' elements.

A third subsection of 'Novels and Authors' ('Related') sweeps up the paranovelistic literature, a far from straightforward category, since a volume published in 2009 rightly observed that survival rates reflect Byzantine-Christian preferences rather than ancient reading habits.4 Susan Stephens' chapter on 'the other Greek novels' deftly surveys the Greek fragmentary material, and opens up some necessary questions about the cohesiveness of the novel genre, and about which kinds of texts bore what kind of cultural value in antiquity. Barry Baldwin covers Menippean satire (up to the Apocolocyntosis), in his own inimitable style: jocular, learned and allusive, if occasionally baffling: it takes a while to work out the subject of the chapter (the title – 'Hell-bent, Heaven-sent: from Skyman to Pumpkin' – is unhelpful). David Konstan and Ilaria Ramelli discuss Christian narrative. They do not go so far as Ramelli's own book arguing for direct Christian influence on much of antiquity's ('mainstream') novelistic literature,5 but they do foreground the thematic continuities between Christian and romance narratives of endurance, bodily suffering and commitment. They also draw parallels between the biographical novels (the Life of Aesop and the Alexander Romance) and the Gospel Narratives. This section thus begins to explore where prose fiction sits on the map of cultural production in the Roman Empire, but also begs questions of a familiar but unavoidable kind: what counts as a 'novel'? Why are Menippean satires included in this section, while the Alexander Romance and Joseph and Aseneth are not specifically discussed in the volume at all?

Marília Futre Pinheiro opens the next section, on 'Genre and Approaches', with the promise of a 'theoretical approach' to exactly this question of generic definition. Her chapter argues, however, for a rather old-fashioned 'recipe list' of generic components ('a narrative structure, the verisimilitude of the story, and the erotic motif', p. 209). F. P. acknowledges the tradition of Alistair Fowler et al. (p. 202), but misleadingly speaks of a 'postmodern' desire to abolish genre altogether.6 Graham Anderson interestingly explores the handling of dialogue, primarily in the Greek romances and in Petronius, pointing the way to more detailed research. Koen de Temmermann discusses characterization, summarizing the findings of his excellent book on the topic: ancient writers manipulate the stock characters and semiotics of names and intertextual resonance to create expectations, which they then proceed to bend in inventive ways.7 Timo Glaser surveys the epistolary novels, with an emphasis on Chion and the Letters of Euripides. Consuelo Ruiz Montero considers the G recension of the Life of Aesop, analyzing its narrative elements in Proppian terms: a difficult chapter for those without the text in front of them, but rewarding for specialists. Glaser's and Ruiz Montero's chapters might have appeared in the first section on 'Authors and Texts'; there is little that is methodological in Glaser's, at any rate.

The third section is 'Influences and Intertextuality', although again there are crossovers. The first chapter is Stavros Frangoulidis', which is anthropological rather than intertextual in focus, exploring the different modes of hospitality displayed in Apuleius' Hypata and Cenchreae. Luca Graverini's chapter on the novelists' reuse of epic models for characterization (which might have benefitted from cross-referencing to de Temmerman's) is a rich, innovative and thoughtful discussion. Judith Hallett and Judith Hindermann are also impressive on the Roman novel's reuse of elegiac motifs (I missed reference to Ellen Finkelpearl's work in this area).8 Next Paula James' second chapter on Apuleius, again personal in tone, reflects on Apuleius' variety and narrative inventiveness, combining observations on the Latin text with peregrinations through modern reception. Françoise Létoublon discusses metaphors of magnetism, and their literary ancestors, in Achilles and Heliodorus: a niche topic for a handbook, but it leads into a good discussion of the intertextuality of desire. The English translation of this chapter might have been better copy-edited (e.g. p. 332 'confer' for 'compare', 'ordalic'; p. 341, 'pretend' for the French prétendre; 'metaphor on' rather than 'of'; p. 342 'Platonician', rather than 'Platonic'; etc.) In the following chapter, a more conventional survey, L. teams up with Marco Genre to catalogue the theatrical features that appear in the Greek romances. Aldo Setaoli discusses poetry in the Satyrica, synthesizing his own findings in a series of articles to produce a helpful, immersive discussion. Niall Slater discusses the relationship between the various Ass narratives, including P.Oxy. 4762, published in 2006. Setaoli concludes, surely correctly, that the Ass traditions are not reducible to a conventional stemma, and should be understood instead as a 'text network' (in Daniel Selden's influential phrase).9 Giuseppe Zanetto explores the Greek romances' relationship to Homer, sampling some familiar and less familiar instances (cross-referencing to Graverini's chapter would have helped). Finally in this section, Angela Holzmeister discusses ekphrasis. Holzmeister initially offers an overview of others' approaches, before suggestively arguing that ekphrasis has an agential role in the Greek romances, functioning as a character in its own right.

Part four is 'Themes and Topics', and opens in miscellaneous style with Barry Baldwin's 'Miscellanea Petroniana': eleven numbered observations ranging from reception to textual criticism, and if anything even more stylistically extravagant than his earlier chapter (e.g. 'borborological cocksman', p. 429). For all the erudite fun, these musings are not really handbook material. An anecdote on p. 430 is repeated on p. 435. Anton Bierl discusses mythic and ritual aspects in Longus, arguing that he 'remythologizes' and 'renaturalizes' pastoral tropes that had been denuded by Theocritus. Ellen Finkelpearl turns to gender, setting up and then problematizing an opposition between the prima facie conservatism of the marriage-focused Greek romances and the more ludic exploratoriness of the Roman novels. She also offers valuable warnings against hasty celebrations of the supposedly emancipatory nature of Christian gender constructs. Sophie Lalanne discusses gender acculturation in the Greek romances, recapitulating her argument that the romances are fundamentally gender-normative and modeled on a Gennepian rite de passage structure.10 John Makowski considers same-sex love in the Greek romances, arguing that pederasty – the ideological inverse of the dominant matrimonial ethos – is treated with surprising sensitivity and variety. Claudio Moreschini's chapter on Latin culture in the second century CE offers an adept tour through Fronto, Gellius, Apuleius' non-novelistic works etc., without really explaining how this helps to contextualize or conceptualize the novel. Peter von Möllendorff elegantly discusses Lucian, with an emphasis on the True Stories: this is a nicely handled chapter, which both proposes a coherent aesthetics to Lucian's works (based, he argues, on the idea of judicious hybridization) and shows how individual passages of the True Stories respond to readings along these lines. Judith Perkins' chapter on Christian narratives and imagined communities cleverly argues that these fictions allowed Christian readers to imagine themselves as elite dispensers of charitable largesse. Stefan Tilg considers why the Cupid and Psyche tale is presented as an anilis fabula, proposing that the old woman who narrates the story functions as a novelistic transposition of Plato's Diotima. Martin Winkler explores the trope of the unexpected surprise in Achilles and Heliodorus, comparing Alfred Hitchcock's cinematic technique. Maria Pia Pattoni presents the volume's one venture into reception, treating Daphnis and Chloe from Amyot to Mishima: the material is nicely handled, and gives a good sense of Longus' influence on modern literature (even if others have been here before).11

The Blackwell Companion is perhaps more sprawling and less systematic than its competitors, but it will surely find readers of its own. It offers a nice mixture of new discussions, including some that will be useful for students and the uninitiated, some that will provoke further research, and a number that will stand as important contributions to the field in their own right.


1.   G. Schmeling (ed.) The Novel in the Ancient World, 2nd ed. Leiden: Brill, 2003. T. Whitmarsh (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel. See also J. Prag and I. Repath (eds.) A Companion to Petronius, Malden: Wiley Blackwell, 2009.
2.   Thus Consuelo Ruiz-Montero's study of the Life of Aesop, Paula James' of Apuleius' Metamorphoses and Barry Baldwin's of Petronius' Satyrica appear outside the 'authors' section; and there is of course no firewall between 'approaches', 'intertextuality', 'themes' and so forth.
3.   See e.g. V. Rimell Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
4.   G. A. Karla (ed.) Fiction on the Fringe. Novelistic Writing in the Post-Classical Age. Leiden and Boston: Brill.
5.   I. Ramelli, I romanzi antichi e il Cristianesimo: contesto e contatti. Madrid: Signifer.
6.   A. Fowler, Kinds of Literature. An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982. I attempt such a dynamic model of novelistic genre in T. Whitmarsh, Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013: 11-48.
7.   K. De Temmerman, Crafting Characters: Heroes and Heroines in the Ancient Greek Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
8.   E. Finkelpearl, Metamorphosis of Language in Apuleius: A Study of Allusion in the Novel. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.
9.   D. Selden, 'Text Networks'. Ancient Narrative 8: 1-24.
10.   S. Lalanne, Une éducation grecque: Rites de passage et constructions des genres dans le roman grec ancien. Paris: La Découverte, 2006.
11.   See Reeve, Sandy/Harrison and Fusillo in The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel (n. 1).

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