Scholia Reviews ns 6 (1997) 1.
Susan A. Stephens and John J. Winkler, Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments. Introduction, Text, Translation, and Commentary. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995. Pp. xvi + 541. ISBN 0-691- 06941-7. US$55.00, UKú45.00.
University College, London
This is the first really comprehensive text edition with commentary of the fragments, most of them preserved on papyrus, of ancient Greek novels for nearly sixty years.[] Since 1936, when Franz Zimmermann published his notoriously unreliable edition, a substantial number of further papyrus texts have come to light that can certainly or plausibly be attributed to this fascinating genre of Greek literature. These discoveries of 'new' texts have contributed decisively to the dramatic revival of scholarly interest in the 'Ancient Novel' over the last twenty years, first heralded and inspired by the conference which Brian Reardon hosted in Bangor in 1976 to commemorate the centenary of the publication of Erwin Rohde's Der griechische Roman und seine Vorlaufer.[]
The editors have collected 'all published papyrus texts that have a good claim to be thought novels' (p. 6). These fall into two unequal groups, (1) novel fragments: Ninos, Metiochos and Parthenope, The Incredible Things beyond Thule by Antonios Diogenes, The Love Drug, Iamblichos' Babyloniaka, Sesonchosis, Kalligone, Antheia, Chione, Lollianos' Phoinikika, Iolaos, Daulis, and (2) ambiguous fragments: ten shorter pieces which may or may not be parts of novels. Each text is preceded by an introductory note on the plot and a detailed description of the papyri or, in the case of Antonios Diogenes and Iamblichos, of the manuscript testimonia; where possible, the historical background, authorship and date of composition are also discussed. The Greek texts are presented with standardised accentuation and punctuation, gaps are indicated by square brackets, doubtfully read letters by dots. The critical apparatus underneath the text gives the punctuation and other critical signs preserved in the papyri, as well as their misspellings, corrections etc.; it also gives a selection of supplements of lacunae, sensibly restricted to those which the editors consider feasible. Translations, facing the texts, have been added wherever possible; here, too, words supplied in gaps are enclosed in square brackets. The detailed notes which follow each text cover first the more general issues of interpretation, placement within the story etc., and then textual matters such as supplements; they amount to a running commentary which is very welcome as it gives the reader all possible help he or she may need to make sense of these broken and mostly rather fragmentary texts.
Although the editors do not seem to have checked the editors' readings on the original manuscripts (they say nothing about it), they have invested much careful thought into the presentation of the Greek texts, taking into account all corrections to their first editions and all reasonable proposals made up to about 1991.[] The result has been a rich and extremely useful collection of texts, edited to a high standard of accuracy and made accessible even to those who do not know Greek through clear translations, which will remain the standard edition of these texts for a long time to come -- unless, of course, a whole lot of them are discovered tomorrow that will help us combine texts and interpret them differently (too much to hope for!). Until that happens, we shall use the new edition with gratitude and admiration.
A few statements will be greeted with scepticism; e.g. on p. 116 'Narrators adopt not structure but storyline' -- bearing in mind how much the structure of Heliodoros' Aithiopika owes to that of the Odyssey, one might disagree. The editors are inclined to believe (pp. 316-18) that the author of the Phoinikika may have been P. Hordeonius Lollianus, the orator and sophist but not everyone will be convinced. There are a few mistakes, too; on p. 161, P.Dublin inv.C3, the so-called 'Herpyllis' fragment tentatively assigned to the novel of Antonios Diogenes, is dated to the 'mid- second century B.C.E.' (on the next page, the date is correctly given as the 2nd century C.E.). On p. 319, Strabo is inexplicably 'writing in the second century C.E.', and on p. 438 the Homeric Theano is made the daughter, not the wife, of Antenor. There are a fair number of misprints, mostly of Greek accents and in German quotations and proper names, fewer in Italian and French words (in the bibliography alone, pp. 483- 504, I have counted 38 on 22 pages). But these are trivia, compared to the wealth of information which the editors have so conveniently put at our disposal.
Perhaps the most important achievement of this book will be its impact on our perception of the genre called 'The Ancient Novel'. While the five novels preserved complete (those of Chariton, Xenophon of Ephesos, Longos, Achilles Tatios and Heliodoros) all share the same essential ingredients of the love- cum-adventure story, which Tomas Haegg calls 'The Ideal Greek Novel',[] several of the fragments evidently represent stories of a rather different nature. The novel of Antonios Diogenes, though centred, like most of the others, on a male and a female protagonist, seems to have been a tale of fantastic adventures, perhaps not unlike Lucian's True History, and Iamblichos' Babyloniaka, and, even though it included a number of erotic encounters, it seems to have had a similarly outrageous plot. The greatest surprise with regard to the nature of the Greek novel has been the discovery of the Phoinikika, Iolaos, Daulis, and Tinuphis fragments.[] All four stories are set in a low-life milieu of crime, magic, deception, scandal, even ritual murder -- in short, of all the things we used to associate with Petronius and Apuleius. The traditional distinction between the Greek 'ideal' love novel and the Roman 'realistic' satirical novel no longer makes sense. As the editors put it (pp. 4-5): 'Fragmentary novels may well reveal . . . that the so-called ideal romantic is no more than a subclass of the whole, whose survival says more about the tastes of subsequent late antique and Byzantine readers than it does about the field of ancient novels itself.'
Another misconception likely to be exposed by the fragments is the idea that novels were 'popular' literature, written for entertainment and without literary pretensions. While this may be true of one or two pieces (like, for instance, the Sesonchosis fragment), the great majority display the whole panoply of rhetorical sophistication, so they were obviously not intended for an undiscerning public. The relatively modest number of copies suggests that demand for these texts was rather limited; they were not entertainment for the masses.
One question on which the fragments do not shed any new light is that of the (possibly oriental) origins of the novel. The editors rightly point to the many non-Greek heroes and heroines (like Ninos and Semiramis) and oriental (especially Egyptian) settings. One may suspect that the reason for this may have been the excitement among educated Greek readers generated by the discovery and exploration of 'Eastern' countries and civilizations, like India, Bactria, and above all Egypt, in the wake of Alexander's campaign. This seems more plausible than the assumption of Egyptian origins of the Greek novel; the Demotic stories of the Petubastis Cycle, for instance, can hardly have played that role.
[] R.Kussl, Papyrusfragmente griechischer Romane (Tuebingen 1991) reedits only Ninos, the so-called Herpyllis fragment (P.Dublin inv.C3 which he collated with a photograph), and the Apollonios fragments; he also adds interesting remarks on five other fragments, some of which, although occasionally mentioned by the editors in footnotes or the apparatus, would have deserved fuller discussion.
[] Erotica Antiqua: Acta of the International Conference on the Ancient Novel ed. B.P. Reardon (Bangor 1977).
[] On p. 391, the editors should have given credit to F. Conca for having linked the two papyrus fragments to the Apollonios story; see also Kussl [n.1] p.154.
[] T.Haegg, The Novel in Antiquity (Oxford 1983) p. 4; 'an ideal novel of love and sentiment', p.166.
[] In the Tinuphis fragment (P.Turner 8), line 11 H)=N AU)TO/SOFON O( TE/KTWN can hardly make sense ('the workman was cleverness itself', the editors); Kussl's suggestion (p. 171 n. 4) H\N AU)TO\S O( FONOTE/KTWN should be considered.