Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 17.

L. Graverini, W. Keulen, and A Barchiesi, Il Romanzo Antico: Forme, testi, problemi. Rome: Carocci, 2006. Pp. xi + 247. ISBN 88-430-3795-1. Euro18.20.

John Hilton
Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

This is an introduction to the study of the ancient romances aimed at Italian university students and members of the public interested in the history of story-telling in Classical antiquity (p. 12). The authors have translated all quotations into Italian and assume no prior knowledge of the subject. A list of references for further reading (Approfondimenti) follows each chapter and this makes an extremely useful guide to the most recent publications in the field, especially those of continental European scholars, where much interesting work has recently been done[[1]] and, judging in part by the present volume, continues to be done.

The editors, who are also the authors of the work, have approached their subject thoughtfully. They have not sought to be comprehensive, partly in view of the difficulty of defining the genre and its sub-genres, and partly as a result of their own research interests (p. 13). Instead they provide a survey of the terrain, an anthology of critical responses to the genre by ancient readers, three historical chapters -- on the Greek ideal romances, the Latin comic-realistic novels, and related genres (narrativa di confine) -- and a glimpse into future lines of research. While some repetition inevitably results from this plan, it nevertheless avoids fragmentation and draws together to some extent the observations of the three contributors on what is a very disparate and complex area of study.

Luca Graverini, who has built up an impressive record of research into the ancient romances,[[2]] is responsible for roughly half of the book. His overview (una visione d’insieme) covers all the appropriate issues: definition, origins, intellectual and social character, theatricality, historicity, religiosity, eroticism, and readership. Graverini presents this material well - his discussion of the definition of ancient romance, in which he focuses on the imaginative plots, the theme of love, and the intent to entertain, is particularly readable. It is unfortunate however that the issue of cultural alterity, mentioned in passing on p. 12, was later excluded, as many of the authors of ancient romances do not come from the centre of the ancient world, but rather from its periphery, and Heliodorus in particular makes otherness an important theme in his work.[[3]]

Graverini’s anthology of references to ancient romance in antiquity with its associated list of further reading provides a useful checklist of the most important passages for anyone who teaches the ancient romances. If space had not been an issue he might also have considered including Isocrates Panath. 1-5, Cicero Fam. 5.12.4-5, and indeed Euanthius De Fab. 4.1 (referred to by Keulen on p. 160).[[4]]

In his chapter on the Greek ideal romances, Graverini certainly devotes sufficient space to the big five: Chariton, Xenophon of Ephesus, Longus, Achilles Tatius, and Heliodorus, but he also sets these works within the wider context of Greek narrative fiction, including the Ninus fragment, Antonius Diogenes, Lucian, and Iamblichus. In keeping with the character of the book, the discussion is systematic, and deals with the standard elements of plot, characterisation, style, and so on, but also makes some excellent comments on individual features of these works. For example, Graverini has a good account of the functions of the literary quotations in Chariton (also discussed by Barchiesi, pp. 204f.), he notes the verbal and thematic parallels between Chariton and Xenophon of Ephesus (pp. 86f.), discusses the degree to which Lucian can be said to have been a writer of romance (pp. 95f.), briefly debates the religiosity of Longus (p. 114), touches on the relationship between Achilles Tatius and Petronius (pp. 100f., cf. also p. 162), and remarks on the strong division between Books 1-5 and 6-10 of Heliodorus Aethiopica (p. 125). In short, this is not a dry, textbook account, but an insightful and fresh discussion based on an up-to-date knowledge of the relevant scholarship. The emphasis might have fallen elsewhere, of course. For example, Photius comment that Antonius Diogenes Marvels Beyond Thule was the source of Lucians True History, the Metamorphoses of Lucius of Patrae, and the romances of Achilles Tatius, Iamblichus, and Heliodorus, warrants rather more extensive discussion than Graverini gives it.

Wytse Keulen discusses in one chapter the Latin novels by Petronius, Apuleius, and the anonymous History of Apollonius of Tyre, and in another Philostratos Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Here too the discussion brings out the complexity of these texts, especially the relationship between Petronius and his predecessors on the one hand and that between Petronius and Apuleius on the other (pp. 132-35; 158f.), the question whether Petronius is satire or a parody of Greek romance (pp. 139-42), the mixture of stylistic levels and the complex intertextuality of the Satyricon (pp. 143-45), and, finally, the inverse relationship between the active voice of satire and degraded and passive sexuality in the work (pp. 145-47).[[5]] The debate over the relative importance of the philosophical and religious elements in Apuleius in relation to the Milesian delights and satirical comment that it provides is well balanced (pp. 147-149; 154-57), as is the issue of the degree to which the Metamorphoses is autobiographical or not. Particularly interesting is Keulens comparison between Petronius and Apuleius as [fabulae] tabernariae ab humilitate argumenti ac stili (stories from the marketplace, from the lowness of the plot and style Euanthius De Fab. 4.1) - perhaps a misleading description in view of the considerable sophistication of these texts (p. 162). Keulen stresses the importance of the connection between sex and ritual initiation as a feature that unites these two narratives (pp. 163-68).

Keulen’s chapter on genres related to ancient romance is very short - no more than thirteen pages, half of which are devoted to a plot summary. It actually consists of a brief consideration of Philostratos Life of Apollonius of Tyana only, without any account of the Life of Aesop, for example, or the Alexander Romance. Given that this could have been the longest chapter in the book, it is a little surprising that it was included at all. However, the discussion does at least give the reader an example of the sub-genre of fictional biographies of famous historical figures, and the Life of Apollonius certainly contains enough fictional material to bear comparison with the romances. Rather more discussion of the political aspects of the Life - indicated in the list of further reading - would have been useful.

The final chapter of the book by Barchiesi presents some fascinating insights into new areas of research within the field of ancient romance. Barchiesi begins with a discussion of earlier views on the relationship between the Latin novels and the Greek romances and the importance of the papyri, such as the Phoinikika of Lollianus, in changing the thinking of scholars on this issue. He then widens the perspective to include comparisons with themes outside of Graeco-Roman literature. For example, Ascyltus threat to cut Giton in half (Sat. 79.12) finds a parallel in the famous Judgement of Solomon (1 Kings 3.25.1), which in turn appears in a fresco in the villa Farnese and in a fragment of Philiscus of Miletus discussed by Turner[[6]] (p. 198). Such linkages suggest that Greek and Latin narrative fiction are less rigidly distinct from one another than was previously supposed. Similarly Barchiesi brings together the Iolaus fragment, the Oxford fragment in Juvenal 6 (Ox. 1-34),[[7]] the Quartilla episode in Petronius and the Syrian galli in Apuleius. In formal terms the protagonist in the Iolaus fragment and the cinaedus in the Petronius passage utter Sotadean verses in an almost identical way, creating a comic effect by contrast with the narrative frame (p. 202), while the allusion to Euripides in the Iolaus fragment reflects a similar mixture of high and low forms of literature to that found in Petronius and Chariton. Finally, a new papyrus fragment (P.Oxy. 4762) containing two iambic trimeters provides a new poetic level to the erotic encounter between Lucius the ass and a married lady (Onos 51, Met. 10.21-22) and illustrates once more the mixture of low and high literary forms often found in ancient narrative fiction.

The final section of this chapter discusses the importance of space, plot, and cultural identity in ancient fiction. The various literary genres of antiquity deploy their plots differently over space and, in addition, for ancient readers at the time of the Roman empire, this space is coloured (p. 211) by their experience of the imperial government. According to Barchiesi, this fact has consequences for Bakhtins theory of the chronotope of ancient romance, which, to readers in antiquity at least, was less abstract than Bakhtin suggests.[[8]] Lastly, Barchiesi tackles Auerbachs theory that the realism of Petronius is not the same as realism in the modern novel, as Petronius freedmen do not undergo change in status over time and remain locked into a static subculture.[[9]]

In conclusion, this book provides a well-planned and readable introduction to the study of ancient narrative fiction. The scholarship is up-to-date and wide-ranging, the critical judgements are balanced and carefully weighed, and the writing is engaged and therefore highly readable. The book is relatively inexpensive and deserves a place in the libraries of all institutions in which research into the ancient romances takes place.


[[1]] An example of this is the five volume collection of work edited by Franco Moretii, Il romanzo (Turin 2001-2003), a selection of which was translated into English and published in 2006 by Princeton University Press.

[[2]] Most recently he has in press a monograph on Apuleius, Le metamorfosi di Apuleio: Letteratura e identità (Firenze).

[[3]] An example of the exclusion of alterity in this book is the absence of Ian Rutherford, 'The Genealogy of the Boukoloi: How Greek Literature appropriated an Egyptian Narrative Motif' JHS 120 (2000) 106-21 and the relative lack of attention paid to this authors article 'Kalasiris and Setne Khamwas: A Greek Novel and Some Egyptian Models', ZPE 117 (1997) 203-9.

[[4]] The text of Euanthius is provided by P. Wessner (ed.), Donatus Commentum Terenti (Stuttgart 1966) Vol. 1, pp. 13-20. In connection with Cicero's discussion of narrative, the omission of Karl Barwick, 'Die Gliederung der narratio in der rhetorischen Theorie und irhe Bedeutung fr die Geschichte des antiken Romans', Hermes 63 (1928) 261-87 and Richard Reitzenstein, Hellenistische Wundererzählungen (Leipzig 1906) 84- 99, is regrettable. With regard to Philip the Philosopher, Leonardo Tarán 'The Authorship of an Allegorical Interpretation of Heliodorus' Aethiopica' in SOFIHS MAIHTORES ‘Chercheurs de sagesse’ Hommage Jean Pépin (Paris 1992) 203-30, deserves to be included.

[[5]] The reference on p. 132 to K. Bürger, 'Der antike Roman vor Petronius'. Hermes 27 (1892) 345-58, is missing from the bibliography.

[[6]] E. G. Turner, The Papyrologist at Work (Durham, N.C. 1973) 8-14.

[[7]] Cf. Gilbert Highet, Juvenal the Satirist: A Study (Oxford 1954) 335f. and nn. 18-19.

[[8]] See also Catherine Connors, 'Chariton's Syracuse and its Histories of Empire', in M. Paschalis and S. Frangoulidis (edd.), Space in the Ancient Novel (Groningen 2002) 1-15.

[[9]] Eric Auerbach (tr. W. R. Trask), Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton 1953) 53.