Scholia Reviews ns 18 (2009) 16.
Michael Paschalis, Stavros Frangoulidis, Stephen Harrison and Maaike Zimmerman (edd.), The Greek and the Roman Novel: Parallel Readings. Ancient Narrative Supplementum 8. Groningen: Barkhuis & Groningen University Library, 2007. Pp. xxx + 307. ISBN 978-90- 77922-279. Euro80.00.
P. O. Box 90, London W1H 1PJ, England, UK
This collection of papers arose from the third Rethymnon International Conference on the Ancient Novel (RICAN 3). What emerges from this set of parallel readings is the idea that if you look carefully enough, you can find far more signs than had hitherto been noticed, that the Greek and Roman novels belong to the same tradition, or to closely related traditions.
In the introduction the editors do not seek to draw any extended inferences about quite what that common tradition might have looked like. They go as a far as they reasonably could in making, briefly, two points: first that Apuleius had a Greek model, Petronius may have had a Greek model, and Historia Apollonii resembles Greek novels; second, that recent work on chronology, particularly by Ewen Bowie, calls for a re- examination of the genre in the light of the possibility that it was born in and shortly before the reign of Nero.
Broadly speaking, most of the papers emphasise similarities between Greek and Roman novels, rather than contrasts. This is natural, since differences are obvious, and the proposition that the texts belong to tradition which is, in some sense, unitary, is innovative. One exception is the paper of Stavros Frangoulidis, 'Transforming the Genre: Apuleius' Metamorphoses’ (pp. 193-203), an illuminating article which proposes that Lucius' enslavement to pleasure, and the theme of marriage to a god, were aspects of the way in which Apuleius metamorphoses an 'ideal' ancient romance, a metamorphosis determined by the novel's religious conclusion. This is achieved by a series of comparisons between Lucius' story on the one hand, and Chariton, Xenophon, Achilles Tatius, and the Cupid and Psyche story (representing the 'ideal' romance) on the other. Stephen Harrison's paper, 'Parallel Cults? Religion and Narrative in Apuleius' Metamorphoses and Some Greek Novels' (pp. 204- 18), discusses the playfulness with which Apuleius reworks religious motifs, in particular the oracle given to the parents of Anthia and Habrocomes in Xenophon, and the oracle given to Psyche's parents, also by Apollo. Professor Harrison starts by pointing out that five of the six extant Greek novels pre-date Apuleius, and makes it clear that he assumes the possibility of direct use by Apuleius of the 'ideal' novel as represented by the extant Greek texts we are familiar with.
Of course, the 'ideal' novel is the Greek novel not only because the literary currents of the first and second centuries A.D. flowed in one direction only, but also because the Roman novels are so few that no ideal can be detected, or extracted, independently of their Greek counterparts. This difficulty is reflected in the way in which the editors have ordered the papers: the second part compares Petronius with 'others' (i.e. principally Greek others); the third part compares Apuleius with 'others', while the first part, headed 'General' has three papers which discuss both Apuleius and Petronius as well as Greek novels, along with a paper by C. Ruiz- Montero 'Magic in the Ancient Novel' (pp. 38-56), which compares magical papyri with several ancient narratives; and a paper comparing the Greek and Latin versions of the Alexander Romance by M. Paschalis, 'The Greek and the Latin Alexander Romance: Comparative Readings' (pp. 70-102).
Some of the articles compare narrative motifs. One such article is S. Smith, 'Wonders Beyond Athens: Reading the 'Phaedra' Stories in Apuleius and Heliodoros' (pp. 219- 37). By contrast, several articles compare narrative strategies in Greek and Roman novels. A particularly subtle example is J. Morgan 'Kleitophon and Encolpius: Achilles Tatius as Hidden Author' (pp. 105-20). Professor Morgan reminds us of the narratological limitations of narratives which are delivered by a character in the fiction cast as third person narrator. The third person narrator is, normally, restricted to the knowledge which would have been available to that character. Professor Morgan takes the idea of 'hidden author,' applied by Conte to Encolpius, and applies it to Achilles Tatius. He analyses Kleitophon's 'character- defined and character-defining' narration, and traces a 'hidden author' in his evident character weaknesses, his self-serving self-presentation, and in particular in the irony inherent in the emphasis he places on Leukippe's virginity, which after all she has retained only by accident.
Another major theme in this collection, besides the analysis of narrative motifs and narrative strategies, is the chronology of the ancient novel. In addition to the relevance of chronology to Stephen Harrison's argument, noted already, three of the four papers in the Petronius section deal with chronology. In an avowedly speculative paper, Ewen Bowie, 'Links Between Antonius Diogenes and Petronius' (pp. 121-32), suggests that either Antonius Diogenes knew Petronius, or Petronius knew Antonius Diogenes, or they drew on a common source. He goes on to discuss in detail the chronological implications of each of these three possibilities, assuming a Neronian date for Petronius. Andrew Laird, 'The True Nature of the Satyricon?’ (pp. 151-67), on the other hand, points out that our view of Petronius would be very different if one were to accept a second century date, principally because interpretation of the Satyricon would be easier if one could assume that Petronius knew the Greek novels which are still extant. Although Professor Laird says that he is merely raising the question of a later date for Petronius, the paper is cast in a sufficiently polemical form to read like a plea for a later date. The extent to which the question is still alive was underlined by a session on the Petronian question at ICAN 2008, where one speaker in particular pointed out that the name Petronius was common enough that arguments equating him with the Tacitean Petronius are weak.[] However, the doubters clearly remain in the minority.
Ken Dowden's contribution to the question of chronology, 'A Lengthy Sentence: Judging the Prolixity of the Novels' (pp. 133-50), is very different from the other papers. He presents a computer analysis of the sentence length in the extant ancient novels and some other texts. He proposes that in the novels, there are progressive levels of prolixity: (1) Petronius-Chariton, (2) Apuleius-Onos, and (3) Heliodoros. If the validity of this method, as a dating tool, were accepted, Chariton would be later than Petronius, and Xenophon later than Chariton, but earlier than Apuleius. Obviously the huge question is whether the method has any validity. Ken Dowden has undertaken computer counts without engaging at all with the theoretical work of corpus linguistics on the thorny issue of sample size. Some scholars will consider that his results may be significant, and others will reject them out of hand, but the argument among Classicists is unfortunately likely to end there. Professor Dowden calls the figures 'indicative rather than rock-solid' (p. 141). His figures involve an additional layer of difficulty because he distinguishes a progressive growth of sentence length in novels, from the patterns of sentence length in other genres. Furthermore, he treats Latin and Greek sources as likely to have similar sentence lengths. He cannot be criticised for not tackling the theoretical issues raised by this procedure, the narrow of scope of the paper in the present volume, and he should be praised for raising these broader issues, albeit he raises them only implicitly. However, there is scope for more engagement with the theoretical issues; in an age when corpus linguistics and corpus linguistics are well developed disciplines, Classicists need not simply assume that the evaluation of such data is matter of individual scholarly judgment, on which little more can be said.
On the whole the standard of papers in the present collection is high, and cohering themes do emerge from them, so that the volume represents an important and rewarding contribution to the understanding of the ancient novel.
[] Not published at time of writing. A summary can be found on the Internet: S. M. Bay, 'The Petronian Question within a Neronian Context' http://www.ican2008.ul.pt/ICAN2008_pt/Programa/22_July/H S_142_Stephen_Bay.pdf (retrieved 17 March 2009).