Gareth Schmeling (ed.), The Novel in the Ancient World. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996. Pp. x + 876, incl. 5 plates and 12 maps. ISBN 90-04-09630-2. NLG395.00 US$255.00.
University of Sydney, Australia.
Schmeling's edited collection makes a fairly massive tome and covers a far broader and more varied terrain than its title suggests. In fact The Novel in the Ancient World moves far beyond both the ancient world and the sorts of fiction that have hitherto been included in collections on the ancient novel into discussions of the genre's heritage and reception in Western Europe. It expands the range of European literatures covered in Tatum's edited collection from the 1989 Dartmouth ICAN 2 conference (but published in 1994)[] and covers later periods than Morgan and Stoneman's collection, which was published at about the same time.[]
In the first two parts of Schmeling's volume, a total of eighteen contributions range from discussions of general literary and cultural aspects of the ancient novel and its subject matter and context, to more specific discussions of the major novelists. A review of these first two sections has already appeared in Scholia.[] The rest of the collection (from p. 555), which is reviewed here, falls roughly into two further sections: 'novel-like works' ('fringe elements' as they are sometimes called) and fragments of lost novels, and the Nachleben of the ancient novel in Byzantium and Western Europe. These two sections comprise eleven contributions of which one, Niklas Holzberg's discussion on 'Novel- like Works of Extended Prose Fiction II' is actually made up of five separate discussions of different fictional genres.
Unlike the earlier parts of the collection where essays are underpinned by a more or less uniform frame for discussion (especially in the particularly good section dealing with the individual novelists),[] for the central part of the collection (especially dealing with novel-like works) it is hard to find any coherent or identifiable issue of theme (apart from novel as subject matter) or methodology in the grouping of contributions or their parts -- even in terms of the vexed question of the novel's definition (on which Selden's and Nimis's thoughtful and provocative papers should not have provided the last word).[] At first glance, a chronological frame for the collection seems to suggest itself with what might appear to be a movement through from the ancient novel and other works of prose fiction and lost fragments, to its 'becoming' Christian, to the novel or romance of later Byzantium, to its appearance and influence in sixteenth and early seventeenth century France and Britain and to its Nachleben in Iberian literature in the sixteenth century.
Chapter 13, 'Novel-like Works of Extended Prose Fiction I' (pp. 555-618) follows the format of the previous chapter, where the individual ancient novelists are discussed separately by different scholars and numbered alphabetically. Chapter 13 likewise groups together separate discussions by different scholars of prose fictional works of a 'historical' kind: 'something like historical novels, fictional histories, histories as fiction' as well as 'biography (a form of history), as it develops from the subject-as-model to the subject-as- holy man' (Preface, p. 7). These are: (A) Graham Anderson's 'Lucian's Verae Historiae (pp. 555-61); (B) Stefan Merkle's 'The Truth and Nothing but the Truth: Dictys and Dares' (pp. 563-580); (C) Bodil Due's 'Xenophon of Athens: The Cyropaedia' (pp. 581-99); (D) Richard Stoneman's 'The Metamorphoses of the Alexander Romance' (pp. 601-12); (E) Graham Anderson's 'Philostratus on Apollonius of Tyana: The Unpredictable on the Unfathomable' (pp. 613- 18). A similar frame is adhered to across each contribution that includes -- to greater or lesser extents -- points of dating, the subject matter of the work, its world and milieu, its author's aims and intentions, and questions of intertextuality. But common points of discussion across the different contributions provide only an impression of coherence.
Maybe the problem of incoherence or arbitrariness in this central part of Schmeling's collection lies in its (necessary) evacuation of the attempt to establish the genre's teleology (the familiar but now discredited route more or less adhered to in the first part), but what results is nothing more than a pastiche. I must stress here that my call for coherence is not a call for another teleology; rather it is for a different sort of passage between instances. In other words, what actually links the instances selected and discussed in this second half of the volume needs to be theorised.
Contributing particularly to an impression of arbitrariness in structure for this middle part of the collection is Holzberg's discussion of what the editor explains in his preface (p. 7) 'are often referred to as fringe novels' (chapter 14, 'Novel-like Works of Extended Prose Fiction II' [pp. 619-53]). Here we find grouped together 'novel-like' works of what might be called 'other' prose fiction from across a quite wide chronological space; this follows on from the chapter entitled 'Novel- like Works of Extended Prose Fiction I' but without any introductory discussion of what links or separates the two. Holzberg's essay or, rather, the grouping of separate essays (again divided into parts A, B, C, D, E) covers, in the following order, lost tales of utopias and fantastic travel, the 'historical text' of Ctesias of Cnidus of the 5th century B.C., fable and the Life of Aesop, the rhetoric of Dio Chrysostom, and epistolography and the Letters of Chion. Unfortunately in a volume as general as this one, any coverage of such wide- ranging genres and their relation to the ancient novel, as Holzberg has attempted here, is bound to be superficial. His main linking device for discussion of these genres of fiction seems to be his (mostly unquestioning) use of the term 'novel' to describe them all, but without providing any coherent or theoretical discussion of the definition beyond identifying motifs common to the Greek idealistic novels of love and adventure. This is not so much a criticism of Holzberg's contributions as it is of the over-ambitious attempts of the editor to provide 'in a single work more information and in-depth studies than are currently available' (p. 1).
Susan Stephens' important contribution on the fragments of lost novels (chapter 15, pp. 655- 83) forms the last of the volume's discussions of ancient fiction before the collection moves into works of the Christian era and Byzantium. Her 'Fragments of Lost Novels', which is based on her previously published analyses,[] surveys fragments of texts transmitted by various modes: via papyri fragments from the sands of Egypt, via the epitomes of Photius, the 9th century patriarch of Constantinople, via the Souda lexicon of the 10th century, and via quotations of varying length. Stephens isolates four fairly distinct categories of fiction type that she discusses in groups: 'Ideal-Romantic Novels', 'Nationalistic Novels', 'Criminal-Satiric Novels' and 'Antonius Diogenes'. Stephens' approach focuses on broadly interpretative issues and leads to her conclusion that the fragments present a picture of a higher degree of fictional interactivity than might be inferred from the extant complete novels.
With Pervo's contribution, chapter 16, 'The Ancient Novel Becomes Christian' (pp. 685- 711), we move into less charted waters. Pervo faced a difficult task; not only is the definition of the Christian novel an extremely difficult one, but any worthwhile treatment of the diversity and volume of narrative fiction that can, in some way or another, be associated with Christianity could be considered far beyond the scope of one essay. In terms of the latter problem, Pervo settles for a survey that adheres to the teleological focus of many of the earlier chapters in the volume. Pervo confronts the problem of definition immediately in his introduction. First he criticises the designation 'novel' in terms of 'privilege to the "entirely fictitious"' and our inheritance of nineteenth-century Romantic demands for 'unique and original creativity in literature and the arts' (p. 686). Unfortunately, possibly due to perceived restraints of the necessity for tailoring his contribution to the overall framework of the volume, Pervo adheres to a framework of comparison and difference by reference to the ideal romance as his starting point. He thereby loses the opportunity to question Romantic notions of agency and our Western projection of creative genius onto these cultures that he had started his chapter by confronting. Rather than taking 'the ancient novel becoming Christian' (his interesting title) to open a possible debate on cultural power, as it might operate within and across cultures and within and between levels of recording, storage and transmission, he opts for the well-trodden approach of representation.
But with the prefatory adjective 'Christian' Pervo faces an even more complicated task (even if, as he says, 'less perplexing', p. 686). Several obvious questions arise: Is literature to be classified by the criterion of its religious flavour or orientation (where it might mean no more than 'Latin' or 'Greek' as used to qualify novels)? Does it designate novels written by Christians? or ones that convey a Christian message? or ones used to edify and/or instruct the faithful and possibly to attract adherents? (p. 686). Pervo chooses to employ the last of these options.
In his discussion of the apocryphal Acts that flourished during the heyday of the ideal romance (for a more thorough study see Pervo's earlier work from which the present paper is largely derived),[] Pervo makes the important point that critics do a disservice to both texts and audience in assuming that the subject matter of the apocryphal Acts was to be taken concretely: a less educated audience was not bound to literal understandings of the rather fantastic subject matter of these popular texts. Possibly relevant to this question is the later Byzantine practice of allegorisation of literary texts. Pervo's conclusion acknowledges the problems of a survey approach and emphasises the 'great deal of variation in form, style, object, and viewpoint within early Christian fiction' (p. 709).
Roderick Beaton's 'The Byzantine Revival of the Ancient Novel' (chapter 17, pp. 713-733) summarises two centuries of Byzantine fictional narratives, from the twelfth-century so-called learned revival of the ideal romance novel, through the Byzantine epic Digenis Akritas (the appearance of which might have pre-dated the learned revival of the novel), to the later vernacular verse romances of the fourteenth century. Beaton's chapter provides an abbreviated account of the medieval Greek contribution to fiction that is more fully treated in his acclaimed book.[]
Beaton starts his section on the Byzantine twelfth-century literary activity by situating it within a broader picture of what was happening in the West with the appearance of the chanson de geste and the earliest Arthurian romances (p. 714). At about the same time, in the capital of the Eastern Empire, Constantinople, the Hellenistic pagan novels (which, as Beaton points out in his introductory paragraphs, had continued to be read and copied throughout the years of the Byzantine empire) were being used as models for four new works of literary fiction: Eustathios Makrembolites' Hysmine and Hysminias, Theodore Prodromos' Rhodanthe and Dosikles, Niketas Eugenianos' Drosilla and Charikles, and the fragmentary Aristandros and Kallithea by Konstantinos Manasses. But Beaton stresses the importance of difference: it is precisely those features of Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus that are so striking to the modern reader -- the vaudeville melodrama, the shock tactics and sadism of the former; the mysticism of the latter -- that the twelfth century revivalists have stripped away (p. 716). In dismissing the damning criticism of these works by Rohde, Beaton stresses that they are not merely examples of a Byzantine exercise in imitation, rather they are highly sophisticated and refined works of rhetoric that consciously adopt the skeletal structure of the ancient novels as a vehicle to pursue their own contemporary preoccupations, and adds that their readers would no doubt have recognised and appreciated the detailed allusions to their models (p. 718). Although there is no evidence of the intended audience for these revival works, the suggestion has been made that they were composed for reading or performing aloud before an exclusive audience that Beaton (again making a link with activity in the West) suggests might have been a precursor of the learned academies of the Renaissance (p. 714).[]
A brief section entitled 'Between Epic and Romance' looks at the problematic connection between the Byzantine epic, Digenis Akritas, and the novel. Although the epic has more in common with the contemporary Western chanson de geste than with the novels, it nevertheless displays an obvious acquaintance with the latter. But, Beaton asserts, the importance of the epic in the overall scheme of things is that it is the first fictional narrative to circulate in written form in the vernacular and in this respect must be contrasted with the four revival works that were composed in a form of ancient Greek. Even if the first appearance of the epic did not pre-date the revival of the novel, at the very least one of the epic's elaborations can probably be dated to that very time. Beaton thus concludes that Digenis Akritas may have 'represented a staging-post towards the fully fledged revival of the romance' (p. 719).
The final part of Beaton's contribution concentrates on the later vernacular romances in Greek that first appear (probably) in the early fourteenth century. Beaton emphasises two points: first, that these, due to the dwindling of the Empire, are to be seen as medieval Greek rather than Byzantine products, and, second, that they closely reflect what was happening with fiction in Western Europe. Romances were being translated from Italian or French into Greek, but, according to Beaton, any continuation of the tradition of the ancient novel in these translated works was in terms that had already been laid down in western European vernacular literature (p. 722).
But from some time in the fourteenth century, there also emerge three original vernacular romances in verse: Kallimachos and Chrysorrhoe, Belthandros and Chrysantza and Libistros and Rhodanne, which Beaton argues probably derived from, in or near the seat of the Byzantine court at Constantinople. Beaton discusses their features, language, plot and narrative techniques in terms of representation, that is, in terms of their relation to each other and to the works of both the late Hellenistic period and the twelfth- century revival. From this framework of analysis, Beaton cautions that the only conclusion to be reached is that these three works represent 'a significant and original contribution to the romance genre at this period, drawing on the past to break new ground in language, in subject matter, in the introduction of lyrical elements, and in narrative structure' (p. 729).
The final two chapters in the collection complement each other; Gerald Sandy's 'The Heritage of the Ancient Greek Novel in France and Britain' (chapter 18, pp. 735-73) and M. Futre Pinheiro's 'The Nachleben of the Ancient Novel in Iberian Literature in the Sixteenth Century' (chapter 19, pp. 775-99) and are devoted to the reception, imitation and adaptation of the ancient novel in France, England, Spain and Portugal. Pinheiro's discussion of sixteenth century Iberian novels is divided into three sections that survey in turn the chivalric novel, the pastoral novel and the sentimental novel. It is Sandy's contribution, however, that is the more relevant to the overall collection in its interesting discussion of modes of the ancient novel's transmission through time and place and its specific reception in Western Europe.
The contribution is described by Sandy as dealing with 'late sixteenth- to early seventeenth-century French and English novels modelled directly or indirectly on ancient Greek prose fiction' (p. 735). However, this chapter is not, refreshingly, a survey, nor does it pretend to be exhaustive. After providing a historical account of events and humanist activities surrounding the reception of the novel in early-sixteenth century France, Sandy restricts his study first, to a selection of post-medieval novelists and then, further, by focusing principally on the ways in which the early Greek novels were used as models for the manipulation of complex narrative.
Byzantium fell in 1453 with the Turkish capture of Constantinople. Taking Greek manuscripts with them, Byzantine intellectuals had fled the Byzantine capital and had established themselves in Italy. This important event, Sandy claims, was to result in France becoming the pre-eminent centre of Hellenic studies in Western Europe and, mainly through the accomplishments of Jacques Amyot (a name familiar to all Hellenists for his work on novel manuscripts and his translations of Heliodorus and Longus), was responsible for 'the impact that the ancient Greek novel had on the development of its equivalent in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Western Europe' (p. 739).[] The following section entitled 'Practice of the Novel' discusses the emergence of a literary enterprise in France from its roots in French Hellenism. It is not Sandy's concern, however, to simply describe correspondences between the sixteenth-century imitator and his model. Rather, his analysis is concentrated upon Montreux's use of the Aithiopika in the rapid progress made through the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in the art of narrative manipulation.
Sandy next turns to Great Britain where he devotes considerably less attention to the English-language adaptations of the ancient Greek novel. Two reasons are given for this abbreviation: the pattern for Western Europe had already been set by the French who had initiated the enterprise, and the difficulty of distinguishing between direct influence from the ancient novel and its mediation through French adaptation -- a problem that Sandy sees as an almost impossible one.
Overall Schmeling's collection provides an approach to the ancient novel that takes it out of the narrow realm of studies in antiquity and ancient literature. Despite the occasional problems of cohesiveness between contributions that might be expected from such a diversity of scholars with their different approaches, the volume is to be commended for its putting the ancient Greek novel firmly on the maps of antiquity, Byzantium and Western Europe. It is to be recommended for the general and detailed background/s it can provide for those interested in genres of ancient literature, narrative fiction and their modes of inscription, storage, transmission and reception.
[] James Tatum (ed.), The Search for the Ancient Novel (Baltimore and London 1994).
[] J.R. Morgan and Richard Stoneman (edd.), Greek Fiction: The Greek Novel in Context (London and New York 1994).
[] John Hilton, Scholia Reviews ns 6 (1997) 25.
[] Questions relating to the novel's rise, origins and readership underpin most of the papers in the first section, and see especially Hilton's comments (above n. 3) about the papers on the individual novelists (p. 5).
[] Daniel L. Selden, 'Genre of Genre' in Tatum (above n. 1); Steve Nimis, 'The Prosaics of the Ancient Novels', Arethusa 27.3 (1994) 387-411.
[] S. Stephens and J. Winkler (edd.), Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments, Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary (Princeton 1995).
[] R. Pervo, Profit with Delight: The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia 1987).
[] R. Beaton, The Medieval Greek Romance (Cambridge 1989; London and New York 1996).
[] For a study of the literary context of twelfth-century Byzantium, see P. Magdalino, The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos (Cambridge 1993) 1143-1188.
[] Developed arguments for these claims are to be found in Sandy's important articles: G. Sandy, 'Jacques Amyot and the Manuscript Tradition of Heliodorus' Aethiopica', Revue d'Histoire des Textes 14-15 (1984-85) 1-22; 'Italy and the Development of Hellenism in France', Studi Italiani di Filologia Classica 10 (1992) 892-97.