Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 23.

Scopic Orgiasts and Catoptric Visualities

Helen Morales, Vision and Narrative in Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xiii + 270. ISBN 0-521-64264-7. UK£45.00.

J. L. Hilton,
Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

In 1960 T. F. Carney produced a commentary for undergraduates on Book 3 of Achilles Tatius' novel, Leucippe and Clitophon.[[1]] Carney's intention may have been to produce an introductory reading text that featured Blacks for students in what was then Rhodesia and Nyasaland, since it is in this book that the reader for the first time encounters the boukoloi, who are described (3.9.2) as 'black-skinned' (ME/LANES . . . TH\N XROIA/N). More recent research has argued that Achilles Tatius based this lurid episode on more or less contemporary events, coloured perhaps with elements drawn from an earlier Egyptian narrative, and featuring a sensational human sacrifice.[[2]] Morales makes very little of this cultural, historical, and literary context.[[3]] Instead, in her discussion of the revolt, she focuses her attention on the way the narrative presents the reader with an androcentric spectacle, Leukippe's scheintod. This emphasis is in keeping with the overall focus on gender and the gaze in the book.

Parts of Vision and Narrative will already be known to those who have read Morales' previous work on Achilles Tatius: a revised version of her Cambridge doctoral thesis (1997) forms the basis of the volume, while her 'Taming of the View' article in GCN (1995) appears here as the sub-section 'Women and Other Animals' (pp. 184-99), and 'Sense and Sententiousness' - - an article in an edited collection (2000) -- now features as 'Sightseeing in Alexandria' (pp. 100-06).[[4]] The focus of the original study has no doubt shifted in this time. The preface states that the 'primary' aim of this book is 'to further our appreciation and understanding of this novel through a series of close readings of the narrative, and discussion of its texture and structure, themes and ideology' (p. ix). However, it also makes the gaze 'an organising principle' (p. ix) in the narrative, and sets out 'to make a contribution to the cultural history of viewing' (p. x). The reader surmises that there is a certain tension between these two objectives and that what may have started as a monograph on Achilles Tatius (p. 1) has been overtaken by a wider-ranging investigation into vision, eroticism, and gender in Greek literature at the height of the Roman Empire. The obvious danger in a work with such different destinations in view is that it will arrive at neither. On the one hand, the present volume is not a traditional, comprehensive, and systematic study of all aspects of Achilles Tatius' novel (if that is still possible or indeed even desirable); for that to have been the case, in addition to the boukoloi episode mentioned above and the problem of cultural identity in the text, discussion would have been needed on the relationship between Achilles Tatius and the comic-realistic novel, the place of this text in the history of sexuality, the connection between Leucippe and Heliodorus' Aithiopika, and the nature of literary parody, to name only a few salient issues.[[5]] On the other hand, one can envisage a more widely discursive treatment of vision and gender in the second and third centuries of our era than is offered here. Nevertheless, this is a wide-ranging theoretical study that makes important observations about Achilles Tatius and brings Classical scholarship firmly up to date in the contemporary debate on the interrelationship between vision and gender.

As Morales observes (p. 1), before now Leucippe 'has been left on the shelf' by critics, originally at least because of negative perceptions of its morality -- so much is clear from the comments of Photius (87.66a.21; 94.73b.24 [Bekker], cf. Morales p. 73 and n. 117) and the omissions made by sixteenth-century translators (p. 7). To some extent the concerns of these early scholars were lessened by the didacticism and sententiousness of the work (p. 112 and n. 62), but even here and particularly today there are problems: the sententiae or rather gnomai (conveniently listed on pp. 109f.) are sometimes self-evidently hypocritical (p. 113), androcentric (pp. 113f.), or ethnocentric (pp. 114-17). For Morales, this problem is connected with the literary status of the text: 'Uncertainty about how to understand the moral attitudes of Leucippe and Clitophon, and whether or not it has a coherent moral agenda, is at the heart of debates about the extent to which Achilles strains the conventions of the genre or breaks them. It is an issue to which this book repeatedly returns' (p. 7). In addition, ancient attitudes to sexual morality and identity were profoundly affected by their 'visualities' (pp. 21-23). Thus, in Morales' view, our evaluation of this text depends to a large extent on a proper understanding of the way it handles 'vision and narrative'. In this book, the emphasis falls above all on vision rather than on narrative (there are, for example, eight subheadings under 'vision' in the index and none for 'narrative'). This is no doubt appropriate, since visuality and its relation to gender are the topics that are most original in this study.

Morales introduces the problem of vision in Achilles Tatius by contextualising 'visuality in Graeco-Roman imperial culture' and by tracing 'some important continuities and differences between ancient and modern theories and representations of the gaze' (pp. 8-35). Her subtle analysis of a mosaic from Antioch, illustrated opposite the title page of the book, illustrates the complexity of the visual dynamics at work in it (pp. 11-14). This section provides a brief survey of the mélange of Platonic and Stoic ideas of vision that were hotly debated in the second century, sets the intellectual context, and touches on issues such as the corporality of the process of sight, its directionality, its connection with desire and self-knowlege, the role of social identity (whether educated or not, masculine or feminine, subjective or objective, displayed or revealed), and its similarities and differences with modern visualities (similar especially in relation to the gendered 'metaphorics of the gaze', pp. 32f.): 'The gaze attempts to master and make meaning of the world' (p. 35). Vision is often the subject of gnomai (1.9.4-5; 5.13.4; 6.6.2-4, 6.7.1-3) that draw on Platonic, Stoic, and pseudo-scientific atomist ideas about vision. The eye is 'iconic' in the novel (pp. 140-143).

The problem that Morales poses with regard to much of this visual material is whether it is deployed teleologically or not (pp. 36f.). Her answer is that the narrative is frequently polysemous or at least 'bivalent' (p. 43), as in the case of the opening description of Europa, which can also be taken as a depiction of Selene (an interpretation in part based on a textual crux at 1.4.2-3). The narrative is a 'swarm' of 'Phoenician' (that is lurid and salacious) tales (pp. 48-60) with overtones of Platonic and Stoic philosophy, but with no 'coherent and exclusive ideologies' (p. 60). Platonism and Stoicism are not absent from the text, but are frequently parodied and subverted (pp. 66f.).[[6]] The narrative frequently reveals a theatrical or mimic character and in Book 2 (especially 2.35-38) delves into material derived from erotic handbooks that is characterised by 'extravagance and obscenity' (p. 75), particularly in the debate as to whether girls or boys are better able to provide sexual pleasure in kissing and intercourse.[[7]] From the opening paragraph of the novel, which describes in sexual terms the sea traffic into the kolpos of the mother city, Sidon, readers are unsure whether or not they are reading a pornographic text (cf. p. 76). However, the narrative is often ambivalent because of the way the world is read by the characters: Clitophon reads it as an erastes (especially in his tour of Alexandria, 5.1), Thersander as a 'beast', 'a stereotypical jealous husband and bully' (p. 83), Conops as a voyeur and polupragmon, and Callisthenes as a profligate (an akolastos).

The unity and coherence of the narrative is again at issue in the discussion of the parenthetic digressions in Leucippe, previously condemned as 'irrelevancies' that work against the coherence of the narrative.[[8]] Morales makes a systematic study of these elements, particularly the gnomai that are interspersed throughout the work. She argues that these may have a comic function, as in the case of Thersander's reaction to the rejection of his advances by Leucippe (6.19.1-5), or may 'operate as instruments of deferral' (p. 120) frustrating the reader's desire for closure. This strategy Morales sees as 'the basic resource of the novelistic genre' (p. 121) and the 'architectural principle' of Achilles' Leucippe (p. 126). It is exemplified above all in the ending of the novel, which notoriously finishes in Byzantium, rather than in Sidon where it begins -- the narrative does not return to its opening framework. According to Morales, this is 'designedly inconsistent' (p. 144) rather than an indication of authorial carelessness, and part of the 'hermeneutic patterns of the narrative itself' (p. 147). In other words, the lack of closure at the end of the novel is in keeping with the same inconclusiveness elsewhere (in the comparison between homosexual and heterosexual love and in the fables, for example). According to Morales, this does not simply compound the problem. Instead, the reader is deliberately left unsatisfied about the outcome of the narrative, since lack of satisfaction is the 'height of pleasure' (cf. 2.36.1). The structure of the novel is purposefully not teleological.

Another major issue that Morales addresses is the gendered nature of Achilles' discourse. She points out, for example, that Leucippe never lays down the law in sententious statements, as the male characters do, and that the novel is the 'least emotionally gynocentric of all the Greek novels' (p. 114). She begins her final chapter, 'Gender, Gaze, and Speech' (pp. 152-226), by observing that, in terms of sexual experience, there is little symmetry between Leucippe and Clitophon (p. 153). This lack of equivalence is most apparent in the directionality of the gaze in the novel, although this is not a simple matter. Leucippe is the target of male vision and 'scopic asymmetry' is a structural feature of the book, but this does not leave men unaffected by the visual experience. On the other hand, Leucippe is empowered through the exhibition of her body, but this is not a matter of her own volition. Moreover, the gaze in Leucippe is consumptive (women are often equated with food) and Clitophon is an 'optical orgiast' (p. 166). There is also considerable violence in the way Leucippe is viewed, especially in the 'catoptric' (p. 167) scene of her Scheintod at the hands of Menelaus (3.15), with its undertones of snuff drama, and in the emphasis on weapons in these descriptions. Similar violence occurs in the ekphrasis on the rescue of Andromeda (particularly her deathly pallor, 3.7.2) and in Achilles' treatment of the myths of Philomela (5.3.4) and Syrinx (esp. 8.6.10). Furthermore, the anthropomorphic, metaphorical accounts of the sexual intercourse of the viper (1.18.3) and the genital inspection of the phoenix (3.25.7) are contextually linked to Leucippe and serve to 'animalise' her (p. 198). Finally, Morales attributes the emphasis on Leucippe's sexuality and chastity to the popular male fantasy of the 'virgin whore' (p. 218). These gender stereotypes are, however, to some extent contested by the countertype of Leucippe in the novel, Melite (pp. 220-26).

The bibliography (pp. 232-58) is wide-ranging, but almost inevitably not comprehensive.[[9]] At a rough count it consists of some twenty-seven pages with about 700 entries, approximately 118 of which are interdisciplinary rather than strictly Classical. These latter citations can be crudely broken down into the following categories: gender (42), literary theory (32), vision (30), the media (8), and psychology (6).[[10]] Morales also has a good knowledge of French literature as her references to the flâneur, 'the modernist urban viewer' (p. 103), the sententiousness of eighteenth-century French fiction (p. 108), and the sixteenth-century French genre of poems on the body parts of women, the blasons anatomiques du corps féminin (p. 138 and n. 109) indicate.

To conclude, this is an ambitious book that succeeds in its aim of contributing to 'the cultural history of viewing' (p. ix). It brings Classical scholarship up to date on a number of contemporary issues in the fields of gender studies and psychology. It also frequently delights in the rhetorical exuberance of Achilles Tatius that makes it such a pleasurable (and at times disturbing) text to read. As such Morales’ monograph is to be highly commended.


[[1]] T. F. Carney (ed.), Achilles Tatius: Leucippe and Clitophon Book III (Salisbury 1960). Although hardly adequate by today's standards, this is still the only introductory text on Achilles Tatius in English, to my knowledge.

[[2]] For the historical context, see Richard Alston, 'The Revolt of the Boukoloi: Geography, History and Myth' in Keith Hopwood (ed.), Organised Crime in Antiquity (London 1998) 129-54. Ian Rutherford discusses the antecedent story in 'The Genealogy of the Boukoloi: How Greek Literature appropriated an Egyptian Narrative Motif', JHS 120 (2000) 106-21. A. Henrichs (ed.), Die Phoinikika des Lollianos: Fragmente eines neuen griechischen Romans. Papyrologische Texte und Abhandlungen 15 (Bonn 1972) argued that the sacrifice was based on the religious rites of the boukoloi, whereas J. J. Winkler, 'Lollianos and the Desperadoes', JHS 100 (1980) 155-181, found the incident 'aesthetic rather than religious' (p. 155).

[[3]] Alston [2] and Rutherford [2] are omitted from the otherwise extensive bibliography. Morales briefly recapitulates the debate on the religious nature of the sacrifice of Leucippe, however (p. 168, n. 27), and quotes Keith Hopwood, 'All that May Become a Man: The Bandit in the Ancient Novel' in L. Foxhall and J. Salmon (edd.), Thinking Men: Masculinity and its Self-Representation in the Classical Tradition (London and New York 1998) 195-204, for the similarity with the oath of the Catilinarian conspirators (p. 201).

[[4]] Helen L. Morales, 'The Taming of the View: Natural Curiosities in Leukippe and Kleitophon', GCN 6 (1995) 39-50; A Scopophiliac's Paradise: Vision and Narrative in Achilles Tatius (PhD Diss., Cambridge 1997); 'Sense and Sententiousness in the Greek Novels' in Alison Sharrock and Helen Morales (edd.), Intratextuality: Greek and Roman Textual Relations (Oxford 2000) 67-88.

[[5]] On these issues the following references should be added: Dagmar Bartonková, 'Das Verhältnis des Romans von Achilleus Tatios zu den komisch-realistischen Romanen', SBFB 40 (1991) 115-19 (admittedly in Czech but pointing to a significant problem); Kathryn Sue Chew, 'Achilles Tatius and Parody', CJ 96.1 (2001) 57-70; idem, 'The Chaste and the Chased: Sophrosune, Female Martyrs and Novelistic Heroines', Syllecta Classica 14 (2003) 205-22. On Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus, see P. Neimke, Quaestiones Heliodoreae (Diss. Halle, 1889).

[[6]] On this problem, add Ian Repath, Some Uses of Plato in Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Cleitophon (Diss. Coventry: University of Warwick, 2002).

[[7]] See also Michael Robert Klabunde, Boys or Women? The Rhetoric of Sexual Preference in Achilles Tatius, Plutarch, and Pseudo-Lucian Cincinnati (Ohio: University of Cincinnati, 2001).

[[8]] See B. E. Perry, The Ancient Romances: A Literary-historical Account of their Origins (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1967) 119, and other references cited by Morales (p. 96f.).

[[9]] In addition to the references in notes 2, 5, 6, and 7, add the following: Edmund P. Cueva, 'Anth. Pal. 14.34 and Achilles Tatius 2.14', GRBS 35 (1994) 281-86; Roger David Dawe, 'Some Erotic Suggestions: Notes on Achilles Tatius, Eustathius Macrembolites, Xenophon of Ephesus and Charito', Philologus 145.2 (2001) 291-311; Andreas Fountoulakis, 'A Theocritean Echo in Achilles Tatius', C&M 52 (2001) 179-92; Simon Goldhill, 'The Erotic Experience of Looking: Cultural Conflict and the Gaze in Empire Culture' in Martha Craven Nussbaum and Juha Sihvola (edd.), The Sleep of Reason: Erotic Experience and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome (Chicago 2002) 374-99; Maria Liatsi, 'Zur Theorie der Traumfunktion bei Achilleus Tatios Leukippe und Kleitophon 1.3.2-3', Hermes 131.3 (2003) 372-79; K. M. Phillips, 'Perseus and Andromeda', American Journal of Archaeology 72 (1968) 1-23.

[[10]] Editors of journals will note with concern the rising numbers of chapters in books and the corresponding decline in journal articles cited in this book; Morales refers to 159 journal articles of all kinds (including articles on textual criticism and reviews) and no less than 136 chapters in books. Some errors have made their way into the bibliography. In particular, some edited books are not given their own entries, although normally they are. See, for example, the entries for H.-G. Beck (1976), 'Marginalia on the Byzantine Novel', in Reardon (1976) 59-74 (Reardon 1976 is not in the bibliography, unless Reardon 1977 is meant); E. L. Bowie (1991) `Hellenism in Writers of the Early Second Sophistic', in S. Saïd (Saïd is not cited separately). D. H. Roberts, F. M. Dunn, and D. Fowler (1997) lacks its title (Classical Closure : Reading the End in Greek and Latin Literature). Patrizia Liviabella Furiani's article 'Il corpo nel romanzo di Achille Tazio', which is listed in the 2000-2001 volume of Ancient Narrative is cited as 2002 on p. 142 and as 2003 in the bibliography. In general, the book is well produced, but occasionally references are incorrect (for example, on p. 190 the reference to the phoenix cited as 3.2.7, should be 3.25.7).